Memoirs of an Insignificant Dragon
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by Marjorie Doughty
Description: Civilian families were in Vietnam before the military arrived and when Vietnam fell. Much has been written about the "blood and guts" role of the military, but little about other Americans who were there during the war era. That American women were a part of the scene comes as a surprise to most people. They had to fight their own battles behind the lines while ordered to ignore the tragedy of war and "bombs bursting in air." It was difficult enough living in Vietnam as a cohesive family. But after evacuation from that country, lengthy separations from husbands who stayed behind to work sometimes resulted in strained relationships and/or divorces. But these women stood tall during the good and bad times.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2005 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [345 KB]
Reading time: 219-307 min.
Civilian families were in Vietnam before the military arrived and when Vietnam fell. Much as been written about the "blood and guts" role of the military, but little about other Americans who were there during the war era.
That American women were a part of the scene comes as a surprise to most people They had to fight their own battles behind the lines while ordered to ignore the tragedy of war and "bombs bursting in air." It was difficult enough living in Vietnam as a cohesive family. But after evacuation from that country, lengthy separations from husbands who stayed behind to work, sometimes resulted in strained relationships and/or divorces. But these women stood tall during the good and bad times.
Now we have reestablished diplomatic relations with Vietnam and perhaps the time has come to look back in laughter as well as tears. There was life outside the war zones. Civilians were there and they were real.
"Memoirs of An Insignificant Dragon" is a collection of anecdotes, primarily of my own life, but it also shows the resiliency, toughness, and most of all, a sense of humor that kept the American woman balanced and functional while remaining the backbone of the family during these very challenging times.
And so did the civilian American man show his own strengths. When my husband, Harvey, joined the US Agency for International Development in 1962, he was one of the few advance people sent to Vietnam to help set up a new program called Rural Affairs. This was a well thought-out approach for helping Vietnamese people living in the provinces to develop self-help programs.
What and where was Vietnam? To us it was an unknown quantity somewhere in the South Pacific. And so we, and our five-year-old son, Jack, started on what was to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of our lives. We lived in Vietnam from the fall of 1962 until Jack and I were evacuated to Bangkok, Thailand, on Valentine's Day, 1965.
While living in Vietnam, I was an interim editor of the English-language section of the Vietnam Press, taught English at the Vietnamese American Association, and traveled in country. Jack and I spent four hours in the midst of the coup d'etat that overthrew the government of President Diem and Commissioner Nhu.
Harvey was transferred from Vietnam to Thailand in late 1965. After two tours in Thailand, one upcountry in the provincial town of Udornthani, Harvey was again assigned to Vietnam.
Even while stationed in Thailand, we were never fully divorced from the Vietnamese situation. When Harvey returned to Vietnam, Jack and I remained safe-havened in Bangkok. I again became an independent wife and mother, learning to raise a child by myself in a foreign country. We lived this way until Vietnam fell and we returned to the States.
Our lives changed dramatically during those years we lived in both countries. We learned to appreciate the differences as well as the similarities that exist in each culture. People are essentially the same, have the same need for security, a concern for their children. Only the approach may differ. I have written of incidents in both Vietnam and Thailand. There is a description of an upcountry Buddhist funeral and another of a Buddhist wedding to help give the reader some insight into Southeast Asian Customs and rites.
This book is a memorial not only to the American woman, but to Harvey and his belief in doing what he could to help others. He frequently quoted President John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
Many of the American civilian men who worked countless hours in Vietnam and Thailand during those war years believed in what they were doing. It was not their fault we failed in the war in Vietnam. Their fight was the good one. * * * *
The Dragon is the all-powerful symbol of Southeast Asia.
From the earliest recorded history around the world there is mention of dragons in various shapes all to be feared and honored.
In China, although the dragon is not easy to define, it symbolizes the ultimate in strength. It is considered a beneficent being, but at the same time, should never be crossed. If you unwittingly offend it, dragons cause droughts by gathering up all the water. If that's not enough to get your attention, they can also eclipse the sun.
The dragon represents ying and yang because it is part preserver and part destroyer.
During the Manchu Dynasty (1655-1912) the dragon was held in great esteem and everything used by the emperor reflected this. There were dragon beds, a dragon throne, a dragon boat, etc. Today the Chinese fly dragon kites during the New Year to keep the dragon happy, and that tradition has continued in spite of the influx of opposing religions coming into the country.
Because of this ability to control the fate of those in the Orient, the dragon represents guardianship and naturally it is thought to be male. The female dragon, which obviously must exist in order to produce more male dragons, is of little significance.
When I went into Vietnam in 1962 with my husband, Harvey, and young son, Jack, I fell into the insignificant category. Males with the US Agency for International Development, the agency for which Harvey worked, and the American Embassy, held the important jobs. They made the decisions while the women took care of the home front. Wives were strictly dependents. In the early 1960s, even the husband's social security number had to be put on a check before it could be cashed.
So, dependent wives learned how to survive under demanding conditions. They had to fight their own battles behind the lines while ordered by the State Department to ignore the tragedy of war. Proper calling cards and attendance at official teas and coffees were mandatory.
In spite of these stifling restrictions, I and other women often found ourselves in circumstances that had never been part of our orientation in Washington prior to departure. For example, no Washington official ever told Jack and me how to properly react while we spent four hours caught in the midst of the coup d'etat that overthrew the Vietnamese Government.
A sense of humor is what sustained us during those war years. We learned to bend with the wind and laugh, where others might have cried. At the same time we were living sponges, soaking up the cultures of Vietnam and later Thailand where we lived after evacuation from Vietnam in 1965.
This book offers an insight into the lives of civilians, particularly dependent American wives, for twelve years of the war. These women were the cement that held the families together. And, as they coped, often under stressful conditions, they attained a singular significance of who and what they were.