The Children of Vietnam...Part One
The Horrors of War


Author’s Note: The pictures on this page were not taken by me. They are for reference only and representative of the things I saw. Warning: some of the pictures are extremely graphic.

I left home at 19. I learned how to kill another human being before I learned how to do my taxes. I learned how to care about someone else’s life, more than my own. My friends and I didn’t know when or if we would come back. I wrote my own Will at 19. I didn’t get enough sleep most nights. I didn’t get paid much. I didn’t know the next time I would see my wife or family. I didn’t know much really. But I do know one thing... I have millions of brothers and sisters out there, and they make it all worth it.

Amidst all of this; I have some fond memories, and some terrible ones outlined in the story below.

The one memory that I have are the children of Vietnam; so young, so innocent, and in some cases; they were the enemy. I have written stories about the orphan that stole my heart during a Thanksgiving visit in 1968, and you just couldn’t help loving all the kids. We would see them on the roadsides when we rode in re-supply convoys, laughing and yelling when they saw the American soldiers. We would give them candy or soda pop, sometimes they would sell us soda pop; most likely stolen from us at one time. It really didn’t matter, hell; they were born into a war and as their families did, they did what they had to do to survive.

The kids were the innocent victims of a horrible war, but they were always laughing when we were around them. We would play with them, give them piggy back rides, laugh and joke with them….it was good for them as well as being good for us. Some of them smoked cigarettes, yep; as young as 9 or 10 years of age and we shared our cigarettes with them!! I can recall visiting the Montagnard villages when passing through on night patrols and how excited the children were to see us. We would always take a few moments to visit and play with them. We always had candy or chewing gum with us to give the kids, and they would smile, and we would smile, play some more, then back to the war.

I remember making what we called a “garbage run”, taking rubbish to a dump site. Heck, you didn’t have to unload your truck, the kids would swarm your vehicle removing all the rubbish. They would look for anything they could use, sell, etc. Their families were so poor that even something discarded by us could be a treasure to them. Despite all the poverty, death, and a history of war within Vietnam, the kids would always smile when the American G.I. was around……. they knew that we would cherish and protect them always.

It is unfortunate that the people of South Vietnam; especially the children were part of the collateral damage of this war. They indeed knew death, for it walked with them by day and accompanied their sleep at night. It is as omnipresent as the napalm that falls from the skies with the frequency and impartiality of the monsoon rain. The horror of what was happening to the children of Vietnam is ever present in the hearts and minds of every Vietnam veteran. Napalm, white phosphorus, rockets, mortars, artillery, machine gun fire are the weapons of war, and it is staggering to try to imagine the number of young innocent lives were lost. How many were wounded, maimed, crippled, burned, I guess we will never know.

I remember in horrid detail a visit to the Military hospital in Pleiku not too long before I was to leave Vietnam. I had gone to visit a friend of mine who had been injured when a truck in which he was riding hit a land mine. As I was walking through the emergency entrance to get directions to my buddie’s room, I heard the most horrible screaming and yelling that I have ever heard. I turned quickly to see what it was. What I saw lives with me to this day. There were about 15 children of various ages being brought in on stretchers…. their tiny bodies ripped apart by what, I don’t know. I could only assume that they were caught up in the middle of an enemy attack where they were; since we were going into the TET Offensive of 69. Some of them had limbs hanging on by nothing but skin; while others appeared to be torn by shrapnel. I saw one child with it’s insides hanging out (I believe the child was dead), I saw one child so mutilated I couldn’t tell if it were male or female. Some of the injuries were easily recognizable; some had bullet wounds, some with shrapnel; either from rockets or mortars, some severely burned and the unmistakable smell of napalm. Torn flesh, splintered bones, screaming agony are bad enough, but perhaps most heart-rending of all are the tiny faces and bodies scorched and seared by fire. Napalm, and its more horrible companion, white phosphorus, liquidize young flesh and carve it into grotesque forms. None of this is written in the history books, but it is burned into my memory forever. I did not visit my friend on this day; as you can imagine after being witness to this horrible event, it was all I could do to not break out in a run leaving the hospital. I did go see him a few days later.

It was our blessing to know these children of Vietnam and experience the young innocence in their hearts. We cannot imagine how it was to be born into war and see our homeland destroyed, but the fighting started long before the Americans got there and continued long after we left with the re-education or whatever you called it when all the American troops left and the communist moved in.

I will always consider the children of Vietnam as one of God’s blessings during that horrible war. How they could live, laugh, and love is beyond comprehension to me, but I am glad that I got to experience it amongst all the horrors and inhumanities I witnessed. I am sure that a lot of them survived and were able to go on with their lives, some, maybe even coming to the Unites States to become productive citizens and have children of their own.

©Copyright 2019 by Phil “Country” Crowley