Here’s a story you don’t have to hear but it’s on my mind. One late night in 1966 Saigon sent us a coded message, as Saigon did every night, containing the coordinates of the next day’s targets for the 388th fighter wing. The other airmen and I in the target room divvied up the targets and went to work. When the pilots came in for their predawn briefing I had the target materials ready for the flight of four F-105s going after Bac Ninh Interdiction Point, a railroad bridge north of Hanoi. The target materials were charts with the target symbol at designated ground zero, and with the anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missile defense perimeters, and aerial target photos.
I worked on other targets that night too, but I remember Bac Ninh because our flight of four F-105s expended all ordnance yet missed the target. In fact we didn’t take it out until the third try.
Last week a friend of mine, an American veteran of our war in Vietnam who lives in Hanoi and leads a project to educate people on how to handle unexploded ordnance, or UXO, sent me a Vietnam news article that told of a bomb left over from the raids on Bac Ninh going off and killing two children and taking down five buildings. So even as I tell you how good my life is now, I’m still destroying lives over there.
But my life is good, and I’d go completely nuts if I dwelled too long on those years, yet I owe it to everyone to tell about them, to work at my writing so I can articulate those times, so we can stop letting it continue to happen.
Denny Riley is an Air Force veteran of the U.S. war in Vietnam, a writer, and a member of San Francisco Veterans For Peace Chapter 69.