This first set of posts is about the journey I've dreamed of taking --- I've dreamed of it for the past 45 years. But first, I'm giving you a link to a short film I shot of the Soc Trang Army Airfield in 1968. If you were to stop the film at about eight seconds into it, you'll see the place I would end up at all these years later.
Here are the related facebook posts in the order that I posted them. Please let me know if I should include the people's comments after each post. I plan to send more dispatches --- each with its own theme. Feedback, please.
Thanks for your support.
- Don Ray This morning Pete and I are sorting out all of the expected emotions as well as the ones that are coming up the morning after. It's becoming very clear to me that, in one sense, my adult life began there at that little airfield. And in many ways, it became frozen in time. I never realized the impact that that one location could have on my life for the next 45 years. As we depart for the remote part of Laos, these feelings will become even more important.
- Milena Marold Danneker So glad you are doing this , for you, perhaps for others. I can't imagine what this means to you, what the feelings are. With caring, supportive thoughts.... and interested about your internet... connections. It is a global village... now a www. Thinking of you.
- Linda Chancler Just read one of Pierre's dispatches, great combnation of accounts - the writing. Really good, had no idea of the historical significance date-wise. Mind you i was thatlittle kid having dinner in front of the television, body counts, Mi Lai, The fall o...See More
- Michael Torres Enjoying your adventure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!April 30 at 2:21pm · Unlike · 1
- When we last left you in Soc Trang, Vietnam, a frustrated Don Ray had bailed out of the taxi and decided to go it on foot. His helpful entourage didn't seem to grasp that the sun was going down quickly and these were the last possible moments in which he could see that small airfield in which he had left some important part of his youth. 45 years of dreaming and longing to return had boiled down to a follow-your-nose-and-instincts run up the road. There was a wall that wasn't there before, but I knew in my heart that the airstrip was on the other side. A mound of dirt. It was just high enough to allow me to see over the wall, I thought. The helpful hotel clerk we had picked up, Hoa, was running behind me saying, "Mr. Don! Come back!" From the top of the mound, I could see buildings that hadn't been there in 1968. But it felt right. I couldn't see the ground on the other side of the wall. Then I saw the building to my left and it appeared to have a rear balcony that offered a view of what I knew was the old runway on the other side of the wall. With Hoa chasing behind me, I went up to the bars that protected the entrance to this residence. I put my hands in the prayer position as called out, "May I please take a picture from your balcony?"
Hoa caught up with me and started to tell me that I shouldn't be doing . . . "Hoa, please, please, please translate this." A woman and her teenager daughter were walking toward the gate. Hoa came through for me. The quickly opened the gate and escorted us up the stairs and to the door to the balcony. My heart erupted in joy and the tears nearly kept me from being able to shoot the place where I had somehow, strangely, left a part of me.
It was hard to focus the camera. The tears and emotions blurred my vision, but not my memories. I could see the end of the runway. I knew that the runway was the only thing left of the Soc Trang Army Airfield. While Hoa, the woman of the house and her daughter looked on (the girl was shooting with her camera phone), I saw the places on that airstrip where I had left a part of my youth. I could see the places where the mortars had pounded the ground. I could see where the dog kennels were and where our hooch had been. I saw the crashes of the UH-1 helicopter gunships and the moving shadows on the ground that the parachute flares would make when the wind would blow them past Fritz and me after we'd been hit. I could taste the C-Rations and see the faces of my Vietnamese friends --- friends who adopted me as their brother. I could hear them smiling when they'd see me. "Nguyen Van Don! Hello Nguyen Van Don!" They called me Nguyen Van Don because I was their brother.— with Pierre Beauregard at Soc Trang Army Airfield, Soc Trang, Vietnam.
I relived a lot in the three or four minutes I stood there. I could finally see the place where a young man first discovered that he could survive by his wits, by his intelligence and by his creative passion --- despite what everyone in his life had told him. For a moment, I mourned the loss of his youth, but realized that it's still there and it's moving me forward today. The 4-hour ride back to Saigon was peaceful.