A Minnesota PBS Initiative
The Grand Forks Herald announced that the half size replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall was scheduled to be in Cavalier, ND. Margo suggested going. Now I could go without suggesting it.
Part way to the wall I turned back for tracing paper and some black charcoal. Another return trip to the lady at the computer for directions to Chet Lee's name. I think only his Mom called him Chester.
Panel Six East, line Seventy Two. After a couple of false starts we found his name. The charcoal rubbing wasn't perfect, but I had his name.
It seemed there were a lot of old men at the wall. All these people looking for sons or daughters. A little arithmetic showed that their children were very young during the war. Then I realized that these old men were looking for people who were their age during the war.
The reflection in the wall showed an old man standing next to Margo. It was me! Was the war really that long ago?
Chet died April 1, 1966. Now it is June 25, 1998. Over thirty two years. I remember every detail of the day Chet died. For a while I thought it would be my day also. Best not to remember, not now, not here, not in front of this black wall of sadness.
Maybe later. Not now.
We stopped for Dairy Queen cones. Such a normal, all American thing to do. The day was hot and humid. The road smooth and flat and mostly straight. Not enough traffic to demand undivided attention.
I sometimes think I heard the sear release the firing pin in the MP's shotgun. In reality, the first blast out of his barrel had me reaching for my glasses and scrambling under the bunk while I shouted my Navy roommate awake. How could he sleep with a firefight on the street seven floors below.
The distinctive cycle rate of an AK 47 sub-machine gun seemed to go on forever. I could hear a carbine, shotgun rounds and a 45 cal. pistol both close by and farther away. The blast seemed almost puny. The windows didn't even rattle.
My roommate dashed for the bathroom. I started to get dressed. Fatigues and combat boots. This was not starting out as a class A day.
Back in North Dakota the sky is a brilliant blue. Off to the West a small plane is strafing (no, dusting) jungle green crops. The person I love most is sitting beside me. It is a beautiful day to be alive.
We went from room to room checking for seriously wounded. People were shouting for help on the eighth floor. My room was on the seventh floor. Room 711. Aren't they lucky numbers?
Shirt on, pants on, both boots. Now start to button and zip and lace. Suddenly my arms around my head. The glass wall of the balcony and glass door all seemed to try holding a meeting in my closet. Unfortunately, I was between the glass and the closet.
My roommate ran out of the bathroom and then ran back for towels so I could try to stop the bleeding. My glasses were still on but they were pooling blood in the curve of the lenses. It took a while to realize that I was alive and not blinded. When I tried to put my cap on the bleeding resumed. I decided to be out of uniform until the scabs hardened a bit.
We went from room to room checking for seriously wounded. People were shouting for help on the eighth floor. My room was on the seventh floor. Room 711. Aren't they lucky numbers? Later I tore the numbers off the wall. Still have them somewhere.
One man had been thrown into a rough concrete wall. The entire right side of his face was pushed back to his ear. His roommate was just running in circles. I grabbed him and forced him to sit with his friend. When he resisted, I gave him my best steely eyed look and used the "command voice" to convince him to calm down and sit down.
On the ninth floor I found Joe Dunnington, my assistant Security Officer heading down the stairs to check on me. We completed the check of the upper floors and worked our way down.
As we crossed the street towards the Provost Marshal Office, we looked back at the Victoria. Except for the support columns and the cistern, the entire first floor was blown away. Most of the facade was gone on the second floor. The rooms were a mess with glass, rubble and furniture slammed against the far inside wall. Pieces of facade were missing up to the fourth floor. Structural cracks were visible up to the sixth floor.
All of the glass balcony walls and doors were blown in. A crater ten feet deep and twenty feet across was located in front of where the doors used to be. On the way down the stairs there were whole sections of the walls missing. In some places there were only the stairs suspended between floors.
I was informed that once again I was rumored to be dead. Seems like every time I get blown up, someone decides I was killed.
I was informed that once again I was rumored to be dead. Seems like every time I get blown up, someone decides I was killed. Col. Vance gave me a captured AK 47 and had me pose for a Stars and Stripes photographer. Still have the clipping somewhere.
Joe and I decided to walk to the hospital to get the glass picked out and check for other injuries. I still couldn't wear my cap without bleeding and Joe had broken glass in his feet. We made quite a sight. Hobbling, bleeding, covered in dust and out of uniform. We looked so bad a Major pulled over to chew us out. One look and he gave us a ride the rest of the way.
The doctors started picking glass. We were in a hurry, refused stitches and grabbed Band Aids instead. We bummed a ride back to the Victoria to continue the cleanup and to rescue our stuff. Joe had built a four-masted model sailing ship. We got a lot of strange looks coming down the stairs.
Joe's feet still bothered him, so we headed back to the hospital. Someone told us that Chet Lee was wounded during the fire fight. He was the MP Duty Officer. As we walked into the Hospital, several officers from the MP Battalion came out.
They told us that Chet was dead. First person I knew personally that had been killed.
The VC drove a car bomb towards the Victoria. The MP and QC started shooting at them. The car crashed through the doors and into the lobby.
Chet and his driver were several blocks away. He started shooting his 45. This distracted the VC long enough for the MP and QC to push the bomb car out into the street. This saved the building from total destruction.
When Chet was a half block away his driver was shot in the face and the Jeep swerved to the side of the road. The next volley from an AK 47 hit Chet several times in the side. He didn't have a real chance of making it.
If Chet hadn't distracted the VC covering squad so that the bomb went off in the street, someone would be making a rubbing of the name of everyone in the Victoria that night.
In tribute to
the four heroes who saved my life:
CPT Chester L. Lee
SP4 Michael T. Mulvaney
PFC Patrick J. Brems
QC Pham Van Ngoc
Story Subject: Military Service
Military Branch: U.S. Army
Dates of Service: 1962 - 1975
Veteran Organization: American Legion Post 0062
Unit: 716th Military Police Battalion
Specialty: 716th Military Police Battalion
Story Themes: 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 716th Military Police Battalion, Army, Chester Lee, Grand Forks, Look, Memorial, Michael Harvey, Michael Mulvaney, Military Police, North Dakota, Patrick Brems, Pham Van Ngoc, Remembrance, Saigon, The Vietnam Memorial, The Vietnam Wall, Victoria Hotel, Viet Cong