Hi, everyone. Please join me in welcoming David Millican as we celebrate his new release, Frontier Preacher. At the end of this blog, you will find all David’s information, including some ways to win fun prizes. But first, prepare your heart and read David’s true story. Thanks for sharing your story, David. Congrats on your book!
I have never told this story before. There are many reasons I have kept it a secret but it has come to a point where I feel the need to share it.
It was a hundred and two degrees with what felt like a thousand percent humidity as we tracked through the ancient forests. Our guide, a flat nosed Montagnard with a slight orange tinge to his hair hacked away at the overgrown forest in front of us. The cultural attaché from the government trailed behind us clucking his tongue in time with our footfalls. We were, by definition, breaking the law but unwilling to appear unsympathetic to the western tourist the government thug kept his disapproval to hostile sounds.
Mosquitoes feasted on my flesh like gluttons at a buffet. My friends, to their great joy and amusement, were only mildly irritated by the few stragglers not strong enough to elbow their way to the great trough of ambrosia that was my exposed skin. Mosquitoes are attracted by CO2 which I happened to be a boundless source of.
I was wearing jeans, sneakers, and button up short sleeve shirt, the exact opposite of jungle wear. We had been in the car on the way to the Da Nang for two days to rest at the beaches and to see where so many of our brothers had fought and died decades before. The attaché was supposed to have stayed behind in Ho Chi Minh City as we had filed our travel documents and gotten the proper approval for movement within the country. But as we traveled, I and another of my companions had spotted the tail early on.
It had once been common practice for all tourists to have to submit to such stringent travel regulations but it was changing as the communist government got western dollar signs in their eyes. But we weren’t normal tourists; we were military which meant stricter oversight. We had been told to expect the government to track our every movement when we came, so the tail hadn’t been a problem.
We did get nervous when a truck, which had been hit by a passing motorist, blocked traffic in both directions. The estimated clean-up time was twelve hours as it had been carrying some chemical. We’d been told detours were bad, no matter what. The government didn’t like us making detours and if the government arranged them it meant bad news for us. The tailing car took on a new sinister look as we headed up the QL26 to bypass the wreck. It’s strange after all these years that I still remember the numbers so vividly. Maybe because it was the only familiar writing I had seen in miles.
Tragedy piled upon bad luck as the detour was detoured when the road back to the coastal AH1 highway was blocked by a rockslide. Six people had been killed and a village had lost half of its homes. Most vehicles turned around, heading back instead of wasting the gas to travel the interior AH17 highway. I thought we were turning around as well but our guide drove on undeterred. The trailing car caught us in a hurry and waved us to the side of the road.
“You stay. I handle good.” The man said with a smile, his three cragged teeth stained blood red from chewing betel nut. Though I didn’t know that at the time and the vicious visage had disturbed us.
He trudged back to meet the government official who was yelling before he had even extricated himself from the vehicle. The screaming match escalated till we thought we were going to have to step in and subdue our guide. That would be a tragedy as the Mountain People, which is what Montagnard meant in French, had been allies of the Americans in what the Vietnamese called the American War. He had been eager to shuttle American G.I.’s around like his father had done before him and laying our hands on him would dissuade him of the inherent goodness of Americans he had come to believe in.
To his credit, though, he convinced the black-clad communist of his plan and we were on our way again. The AH17 ran close to the border of Cambodia and Laos where the unofficial wars occurred in some of the heaviest fighting. We were excited to see parts of the country we had been denied on our travel plans but with the armed men in the car behind knew danger was lurking just a single misstep away. Five hours into the trip, the speed limits low enough to qualify as school zones in places, we rounded one of the thousand bends in the mountainous country and the guide slammed on his brakes.
Skidding to a stop we missed the sixteen-year-old girl standing in the road by a hair’s breadth. She jumped back and stared at Henkles in the front seat with wide eyes. A six foot three red-headed Marine got that look a lot in the country of small people. We all got out of the car when the guide motioned us to and stood with our hands on the roof as instructed. I felt like a toddler in trouble for wandering off but I didn’t want to get an Ak-47 round to the back of my skull so I stayed put.
The guide, the attaché, and one of the guards with him stalked up to the girl and began yelling at her. She shrunk back in fear as the black-clad man loomed over her gesturing wildly in the air.
“Hey.” I barked using my command voice and they spun to face me, barrels rising to face the threat. “She’s just a girl. Give’r a break.” I said hand staying firmly planted to the hot roof of the car.
The guide smiled that horror smile again and began speaking in low tones with the girl. The cultural communist glared at me, I wasn’t sure he had understood my words. But he had understood my tone and was dissatisfied with it. His glare was meant to wither my soul but I wasn’t a teenage girl or a frightened citizen with no recourse against a corrupt government. The United States Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy knew where we were and when we were supposed to arrive at our destinations. We could not be disposed of quietly without repercussions so I held his gaze without flinching. He looked away first.
The guide led the girl back over to us and told us the problem. There had been an accident at her village and her father and brother had been injured. It was a deep in the mountains and there was no medical help to be found outside of a town still two hours away by car. She’d been headed there to fetch a doctor.
The decision was easy for us. We’d all been trained in field first aid which wasn’t as good as being a medic but was far better than traditional homebrew imbued with power by a spirit of the mountain. The attaché had to agree that helping the injured was important as the government had been under scrutiny from the worldwide community for human rights violations against the indigenous peoples. Our guide pulled the car off the road and the attaché and one of the two armed guards accompanied us into the jungle. The other drove to town to find help and bring them back.
Rather than take the time to backtrack forty minutes to the trail the girl had used our guide hewed a new one through the thick underbrush. Forty minutes into the hike and I had a new appreciation for the men who served in the forsaken land. I was in good shape, as were my companions, but the heat and humidity sapped us of our energy. As we crested a hill I was glad to see that we weren’t the only one. The communist thug was bent over at the waist breathing hard as the girl got her bearings.
Below us was a steep valley filled with tall pine trees, palm trees, and the shorter coniferous trees I didn’t know the name of. The floor of the jungle was hidden by the dense canopy but that was good news for us. The underbrush would be thinned from the lack of sun and we could make good time.
The girl pointed out her village, two hilltops away and the attaché said something under his breath. I didn’t understand the language but a curse was the same tone in every language. He spoke to the guide, the guard, and then turned around and headed back to the car. His goodwill gesture apparently didn’t include jungle treks. The guard stayed though and we thought that might be trouble without the steadying hand of the official that didn’t want us dead. At least he didn’t want to deal with the fall-out of us being dead. But the guard let his rifle swing freely at his hip for the first time since we had left the car and gave us a smile.
We picked up the pace. We broke into a jog till the Vietnamese couldn’t keep up anymore. It took us an hour and a half to get to the village and I realized we wouldn’t make it back before dark. I didn’t look forward to traveling through the jungle in the pitch black night. Who knew what was out there hungering for my blood.
The accident had been the explosion of the ancient propane generator the workers relied on to process the rice they grew in the fields down the hill. The son was burned, but stable. Williams checked him over, cleaning wounds when he found them. The father had a jagged four-inch piece of metal sticking out of his chest and another two small pieces of shrapnel stuck in his arm. His lips were blue and his chest twitched up and down with a slow rhythm as though he was trying to breathe but had no energy.
He had a collapsed lung, something we had been trained in but I had never actually dealt with before. We didn’t have our medical kit so we used a bamboo straw and the guard’s knife to release the air in his chest. We covered the new hole and the old one after I dislodged the shrapnel and waited with the man till real help arrived. There were probably better ways to treat him than we had but we did the best we could. The doctor said he had a fifty percent chance of pulling through as he and his two assistants set up a small sterile tent in the village center. It was easier to treat him there than trying to haul him out.
The people of the village fed us a meal of mushy rice and salted fish as they shook our hands and clapped us on the back. The food was disgusting but we ate it as we had been taught to do, not wanting to offend them. The guard took a simple hut on the outskirts of the village and went to sleep. We would head back in the morning.
We stayed up late watching the villagers put on plays and tell us stories of their people. There was an old woman in the village who translated for us; she had served the U.S. Army as a translator during the war.
Many of them expressed their joy over seeing our friendly faces again which confused us but we figured they just meant American faces. A couple of the younger men came to us with conspiracy on their minds looking at the hut where the guard slept. They squatted down low and with great secrecy showed us the U.S. Army patches of various units. The old woman said they kept them as reminders that the Americans would come back one day and free them. Aching sadness filled her eyes as she said it, knowing the truth.
We slept in the injured man’s hut that night, his wife and daughter on one side, the four of us on the other. In the morning we headed out before most of the village was awake. We left a good chunk of our money behind knowing that the medical treatment wouldn’t be cheap. The guide led us down the real trail rather than the one we had blazed the night before. The ambulance had been alerted of our arrival and gave us a ride back to our car.
The attaché was asleep in the back seat when we arrived and the guard waved us on without waking him. We drove in silence as the day warmed and the fog clinging to the jungle floors was burned away. It had been a strange journey, walking through the jungle as our brothers had years before, helping the mountain people of Vietnam as they had, and sleeping so far from civilization as they had. We had wanted to experience Vietnam, to know what those young men had gone through, to learn more about ourselves in the process, and we had been given more than we could have ever hoped for.
But the moment that changed me forever, the one that still sticks in my head and haunts my dreams, the one that had kept us silent for the rest of the day hadn’t been the poverty, the isolation, the lack of simple medical care. It had come as we woke and the girl and her mother sat by the door, a suitcase packed by the girl’s feet.
The mother spoke in broken, barely intelligible English. “You take. Marry.”
We all sat shocked. She was offering us her daughter to marry?
“No Ma’am. No, thank you.” I said as polite as I could.
“No, you take.”
“That wouldn’t be right.”
“Beauty.” She said as she tugged on the girl’s shirt trying to pull it over her head.
The girl was crying and we were horrified yelling at her to stop. The flap covering the door peeled back and the old woman walked in behind the mother. She looked at the situation, understood it, and took a seat against the right wall.
Groaning as she sat she said, “She wants you to marry her daughter so she won’t have to sell her as a whore.”
“What?” Henkles exclaimed.
“She can’t afford to feed her family now and with the medical bills she’ll never get out from under it. And she would rather one of you take her daughter to America with you than have her become a whore.”
We didn’t know how to respond to that. We stared at the old woman, at the mother, and avoided the girls eyes at all cost. What world was this that it was even an option? What life must this be that she could even dream of selling her daughter, or forcing her into a loveless marriage? We didn’t know how to answer it so we gathered our bags, dropped our money in the girl’s lap, and walked out the door without speaking.
To this day, her big black eyes filled with tears as I walked by her throwing money at her as though she had already been sold, haunt my dreams. I pray that her fate was not that which we left her to. I tell myself there was no other option for us, that marriage to an underage girl that didn’t speak or language and didn’t want to be with us wasn’t an option for any of us. But as I toured Da Nang, and a thousand other cities since then, I saw the horror visited upon women and men who felt they had no other choice.
Time has shown me that they were not unique, it wasn’t their environment, political climate, or socioeconomic situation that led them to such desperation. On the streets of America, in our wealthy cities and rural towns broken souls make such choices as that mother and daughter had a world apart in Vietnam. I paid attention from then on. I saw. I didn’t keep my eyes moving glancing over the suffering, I let it affect me. I can’t stop it all, I can’t even stem the tide, but I can help when I can, and I can care. You can too.
David was born and raised in Wyoming then spent his twenties traveling the world. He now spends his time in McKeesport Pennsylvania with his wife Emily. He has been writing since he was a child, enjoying success in the young authors program, local literary magazines, and blogging. You can follow David’s new projects and release dates on his Facebook author page. Connect With David: Facebook|Twitter|Website
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