There was a small village at the base of Hill 65 named Dai Phu. Although the children seemed friendly (there was a small school), the adults were always out of sight and only seen in the fields or rice paddies. One feature of the ville was a concentration of vegetation and palm trees; it was a mini-oasis, and the thatch hooches were shaded and sheltered from view.
I was thinking of using a couple palm fronds as decor for the Palm Sunday church service and asked Hua if it would be possible to acquire some from Dai Phu. He thought it over and said, “Yes, but you come with me.” I asked him if it was safe, and he laughed, “Too many baby-san for trouble.”
I agreed to visit the schoolyard with Hua on the return trip from the Hill 37 food run. We stopped the truck next to the school where Hua was waiting and were surrounded by kids. It was a little intimidating at first, but the kids were all smiles. We approached a thatch hooch and were met by an older Mama-San. Hua explained to her that I was interested in palm fronds for church services, and I heard the word “Catholic” in the conversation. She invited us into the hooch as a courtesy, and we waited as she barked orders to an older man.
As we waited, the Mama-San pointed to a small altar in the corner of the hooch. It was dark, and I could smell incense . . . I bowed to show respect, and the Mama-San smiled acknowledgment. The man returned with two long fronds, and the Mama-San ordered him to put them in our truck. I asked Hua if we needed to pay her, and he said, “No, it would insult her.” I thanked her, and we went back to the truck and drove up the hill.
All day I thought about Dai Phu . . . something was amiss; I couldn’t put my finger on it, but finally it came to me. The villagers were all too old to be the parents of the kids . . . Where were the parents?
I found Hua and asked him to interpret with Papa-San. I wanted to know where the parents of the children in Dai Phu were. Papa-San explained, Dai Phu was an orphanage, and the children’s parents were either dead or soldiers in local Viet Cong units.