Dining with the Enemy
During Tet-1968, we had a big feast in Gia Le combat base, which is located west of Phu Bai. A lot of Buddhist priests came from far away places.
I and nother Marine from our unit were invited to a Vietnamese woman's house for dinner. She had two kids living at home, 9 and 11 years old. Her third daughter, 17, was going to school and living in Hue but would also attend the dinner. Also coming would be the eldest daughter's fiancé.
As it turned out, the fellow Marine invited with me had to go on patrol that night, so I was the only Marine there. More surprising was the fact that the eldest daughter's fiancé was a second lieutenant—in the NVA.
What the hell was I going to do? I'd never had dinner at Vietnamese person's home before, and certainly never with an enemy officer.
I went to my sergeant (Sgt. Funke), and asked his opinion as to what I should do. He contacted our lieutenant and we decided that I'd go to the dinner as a gesture of good faith during Tet. It was made clear to me that I was not to make any aggressive gestures toward the NVA lieutenant, and that I should treat him with the respect due an officer.
So, I went. I treated the man with all the respect due an officer. I saluted him when we first met. He told me to relax, explaining that during Tet we were not soldiers, but just two men having dinner together. Boy, was I relieved.
I walked on eggshells all night, although everything turned out fine. It was a frightening experience at first, but after a while I got used to it and actually felt like a real diplomat of sorts. The NVA lieutenant acted like an officer and a gentleman at all times, and I simply acted like a gracious guest.
I guess people can act civilized—even in war—although those are eggshells I hope I never have to walk on again.
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Author: Jay Trina enlisted in the Marine Corps from Frankfort, Indiana in June 1966. Arrived in Vietnam in August 1967 with 81mm mortars platoon, H&S Co, 1/4, 3rd Mar Div. Transferred to Hotel 1, 3rd CAG, III MAF in the village of Gia Le in January 1968. Was wounded in action in June 1968 and medically retired from the Marine Corps 31 December 1968. Is still employed with the Department of Defense at Peterson AFB as a Logistics Management Specialist.