Our commitment to replant the rice paddy was scheduled for today. The same six Marines involved in the rice field crop loss assembled for the work party. We arrived at “ground zero” of our handiwork and reported for duty to the elderly Mama-San. We were greeted by a dozen young women dressed in knee-high black pajamas. They planned to teach us how to plant the rice shoots.
Captain Cavagnol initially interpreted as we got started, and he gave us a verbal outline of the task at hand. It was a small paddy and had been prepared for planting. We took off our boots, rolled up our trousers and stepped into the ankle-deep muck.
When we began to plant the rice shoots, there was a lot of laughter at our awkwardness, but it was a bonding experience between each Marine and his tutor. As we finished a row and doubled back, the planting went quickly. We finished planting the small paddy by noon.
While we rinsed our muddy feet and put our boots on, Captain Cavagnol approached me and said, I’m heading to Da Nang.” He reached in his pocket, handed me a small box and offered, “I want you to have this.” It was a brand new stainless steel Zippo lighter. “This is to replace the lighter you traded at Thuong Duc.” * He squeezed my shoulder, and we said goodbye. He sat shotgun beside his driver who gunned the Jeep, and they disappeared into the dust.
Our work was done so we said “Tam biet,” to the girls. It was a worthy experience, and we had made some friends. We drove back to Hill 65, and I lit a cigarette with my new lighter. Wilson said, “Captain says you earned that lighter.” He was curious, but I decided to keep the story private . . . no one else ever knew of the trade I had made. *
* See previous blog, “Special Forces Camp A-109” June 14, 1968