Phil “Country” Crowley
ORPHAN OF PLEIKU
Phil and the Orphan of Pleiku: 1968It has been a long, long time since Thanksgiving Day, 1968. That is when I met the little girl in the photograph with me. She was an orphan from the orphanage of Pleiku. On that day, we invited the orphans to our base camp to spend Thanksgiving with us. What was her name? Forgive me, I do not remember. She spoke very little English and was very shy around me. I do remember when it was time to serve dinner, she was excited, and it was probably the best meal she had eaten in quite some time. I had to teach her how to use silverware and had to help feed her until she got a little used to using utensils!
At that time in my life I didn’t know anything about children. What the heck, I was barely out of high school and really hadn’t had too much contact with kids. I do remember how attached we became that day. We walked and talked (or tried to talk) and she held my hand everywhere we went. Unknowingly, I guess this is when I developed the soft spot I have in my heart for children. I took her up to the top of the hill where our chapel was located to show her the inside and I guess expose her to the way we worshipped. There was a small PX at the top of the hill and I bought her some candy and a soft drink. We sat on top of the hill and had a real nice view of the area around us. It was a beautiful day and fortunately, there was no shelling going on near us.
I have no idea of what went through my mind on this day with this child. I mean I was in a war zone, with a victim of war – this little girl. The orphanage was full of children who had lost their parents. Now, I don’t know if the parents of these children were dead, or the children abandoned – maybe both. Even though it has been well over 30 years, I remember the children and I remember this little girl. I do wish I could recall her name, though; but like a lot of memories both good and bad I have about Vietnam, are fading with time. I have tried a couple of times to track her over the internet, but to no avail. It has been too long and without a name, she has disappeared into the darkness of a time long ago deep inside my memory.
When it came time for the children to leave; I remember how sad we all felt. We all had such a good time with the children and really hated to see them go, but it was time to get back to reality. I remember most of us going off alone, no doubt to cry. I was no different, I went back up to the top of the hill, and I sat a cried for a long time. We were in a war and it was time to put our joy into our memories for another time. It was time to do what we had come to do, fight for a reason that has also disappeared into the darkness of my memory.
I do have several photos of her and one item I still have and cherish to this day. Before she left, she gave me a small gold cross that she was wearing around her neck. I don’t know how or where she got it, but she gave it to me and I still have it today, thirty-plus years later. Like most veterans, I have a shadow box with my medals, etc. and this little cross is hanging with my medals, much too fragile to wear. It’s obvious that it came from the Vietnamese economy because it is made from what appears to be two small nails, soldered together on a very light chain, and plated with Vietnamese gold. It doesn’t matter where she got it, how it was made, or what it’s made of, it is the only material link that I still have to this beautiful little girl. I don’t know why she gave it to me, perhaps I reminded her of her father, or maybe her brother, I just don’t know. She had very little in the way of material possessions, so it had to be a very special meaning for her to give me this little gold cross. It doesn’t matter; it will be with me until I die; as a reminder of a day that I helped bring some happiness into the heart of a child.
Through the years, I have wondered what became of her. I remember Pleiku city being shelled several times during my tour and I have often wondered if she was killed. Seems to me that the orphanage was hit in a rocket attack, I can’t seem to remember. If she survived, did she remain in Vietnam, or did she migrate to this country? I guess I will never know.
As we think back to Vietnam, I hope that some of my Brothers will remember something during their tour of duty that will help erase some of the bad times that were experienced. For most of us, the war has never gone away and never will, but maybe somewhere deep inside each of our hearts is a special time or person that will bring a smile to our face if only for a brief moment.
©Copyright February 19, 2006 by Phil Crowley