“Mai” The supervisor of the Vietnamese Kitchen workers.
Peeling potatoes in produce room
January 9, 1968
The 1st Marine Division, in its wisdom of displacing the local population into relocation camps, had a policy of training selected evacuees to work in our facilities. Certain families would receive compensation for their services in mess halls near where they had previously lived. Our Headquarters Battalion had three such workers.
The oldest of the three was “Mai,” and she was married to an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) officer. He was a Captain in the Rangers, and she had not seen him in over a year although she did get messages from him now and then.
Mai was the supervisor of the two younger workers. If we needed potatoes peeled, we would give instructions to Mai and she would communicate the task to the younger workers. They worked all day in their own space (a produce room) and were never allowed in the mess hall.
The land we were occupying (Hill 34) had been theirs, and in our compound behind the mess hall, were grave markers of their ancestors. I found this arrangement strange and a little uncomfortable.
Every morning at 0800 we would pick the workers up in Dog Patch and return them at 1600. The driver needed someone to ride shotgun while driving them back home, and I volunteered to go with him. It was only a five minute drive and supposedly “safe.” After dropping them off, we made a U-turn and headed back. My window was rolled down because it was hot and the driver said, “Roll your window up.” I started to question him and he said, “Just do it.” I rolled up the window just in time. “BANG!” A golf-ball sized rock hit the window and shattered the glass. Neither of us was hurt, but it was a lessen learned for me.
I lay on my cot that night listening to the rain patter on the galvanized roof and thinking of Dog Patch. These people were forced off their land into a cardboard shanty town. None of their faces were friendly, and I couldn’t help thinking, “for good reason.” If I were in their position, I may have thrown a rock too.