The Little Girl

by James Leach

In 1965 I was like most teens, going to school with lots of others dating a girl and existing in my own little world. I had failed a couple of grades in grammar school and was older than most my class mates. I was attending a large school and had just come to grips with my school work, going from a D average to a B+ average in a short time. I was at odds with my father, he seemed to drink too much and I was getting to be of age. Any day the lid would blow off and we would come to blows. At about Christmas time my Art teacher came up with the idea of making Christmas cards to send to the soldiers in Viet Nam. Until that time I like many of the teens my age had not given the war in Viet Nam a second thought, after all it was on the other side of the earth. I guess that making the cards planted the seed in my mind, I started to watch the news and saw what was going on and heard the talk of the domino theory and all the other reasons we were fighting in a war in some distant country. Our art class made and sent the Christmas cards, we prepared Easter Cards to send later. The local news paper did a section on our efforts and my photo even made the paper along with some of my class mates and my art teacher. A nagging question in my mind was, "why we were in Viet Nam fighting a war that to me seemed none of our business?" Then one day I was walking down the main street of town and as I started past the Army Recruiting station I noticed a photo in the window of a Military Policeman. My ambition at the time was to become a Indiana State Trooper, something I had dreamed of from early child hood. I decided that if I went into the Army and served as a Military Policeman that it would enhance my chances to become a State Trooper. So I went in and talked to the recruiter, I found out that I could enlist and if I signed up to go to Viet Nam I would be guaranteed to be a Military Policeman. I had just turned nineteen so I could drop out of school and finish that or even get a GED after service, the Indiana State Police would accept that. I broke the news to my parents and after some discussion was allowed to do as I wished. My mother was worried I would join the Special Forces, I had the music album, "The Green Berets" and listened to it a few times, I worried that Viet Nam would be over before I could get there and find out why our country was involved. So I quit school and in March of 1966 joint the Army, I went through my basic at Fort Knox Kentucky then Military Police school at Fort Gordon Georgia, and last I formed up with the 127th Military Police Company at Fort Bragg North Carolina. We took our Jungle Warfare training and shipped out for Viet Nam on the USS Upshure. We arrived in country in the Qui Nhon area and started duty as road patrol MP's. Like many of the men I carried a 35mm camera around snapping pictures of the country side and the people that we were fighting for. Then one day I was driving down a country road some miles from the city when I went past a small hamlet, and on the drives side I noticed a family in front of their little shack. They were like many families nothing special, but for some reason I felt it necessary to take a photo of them. I turned the jeep around and drove back, I stopped and stepped out and took a photo of them standing there then left and went about my business. At the time the picture I took meant no more to me than a lot of the others I took at that time. I completed my tour and came back stateside, still the nagging question in my mind as to why we were fighting in Viet Nam was yet to be answered. Years passed and many times the question would come up in conversation and still the answer eluded me. Then one day I decided to dig out some of the photo's I had taken in Viet Nam, the war was long over and I had children of my own. I came across a color slide of the family I had taken the picture of on the road that day in what seemed like a dream that took place a life time earlier. I didn't have a slide projector so I got a small slide viewer and while looking at that photo the reason for me to be in Viet Nam fighting a war for some other country was looking back at me. At first the flood of emotions was too strong and I turned away, fighting back the tears as I am now while trying to type this letter. Many of us took similar photo's and I have others that now make me understand how I can justify our involvement if for nothing else but my personal peace of mind. Looking back from the photo is a little girl, perhaps four years old, it's hard to tell as the Vietnamese people are so very small. She is leaning against the back of most likely her mother, her younger brother is peaking out at me and a older woman most likely her grand mother is to the left. The little girl is standing there with her hands in front of her and looking straight at me and the camera. I don't know her name and most likely she is not alive today, lots of the people that were there during the time we were fighting that war are gone, however try as I may her face is burned into my memory, and the reason to be there is in her eyes. I feel we had a chance to give that little girl and millions like her a chance to grow up in a free society like ours. That is the only reason that I can find that makes any sense for us to sacrifice our young men, and risk tearing our country apart fighting a very unpopular war. We didn't get to complete our mission and for that I will be forever sorry. However we did our duty and followed our orders, the politicians of our time felt we should leave the country to the communist. I guess I will carry the frustration of not completing the mission our country set out to do to my grave as will many of the men and women that served in Viet Nam. I have recently acquired the means to place the photo from the color slide I took of that family with the little girl into a computer and have sent it with this letter. I hope that anyone that reads this letter and views the photo will share the same emotions I feel and perhaps find a reason for taking part in that conflict that will be acceptable to them also. Today I look back and can see that the war would have waited for me to finish school, and I now have a better understanding of my father. I could have waited to go in the service but if I did it's unlikely I would have taken the photo of that family, fate has a way of stepping in and helping us to accomplish things that at the time may be to vague for us to understand. I think back about my time in country and it all seems like a dream that happened to someone else. I am not ashamed of my time serving in the Viet Nam war, I am sad that we couldn't do what was necessary to allow that little girl and the millions like her to grow up like I did making the everyday decisions that all of us make and take for granted. Every day I thank God I am an American, free to choose, free to go wherever I choose, free to worship my God and work at a job of my choice. Our freedom should never be taken for granted, too many of our fellow Americans served to protect that freedom and many paid for our freedom with their precious lives. It's sad to think that our brothers and sisters that served in Viet Nam and those that died fighting there did so for nothing, our country was not successful in that war not because any of the men and women that fought there did not do their part. We lost because the rest of the country could not accept the politicians reasons for our young people going there and for those that died for a cause that was not acceptable. Perhaps if the news media had taken the time to get behind our fighting men and women as they did during the Gulf War of recent and W.W.I and W.W.II the end results would have been a free people of Viet Nam, able to choose as we do. WE can hold our heads high knowing we did our duty for God and country, the politicians the news media and others that made the decisions of those days long ago however are a different story. Thank you for taking the time to let me share with you my feelings and I pray it helps you too deal with the emotions all or us that served in Viet Nam share. Jim Leach