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Thirty Six Years Later: A Soldier's Return to Tri Ton

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It had been more than 36 years since Lloyd Sr last saw Tri Ton. When he left the town in August 1971 after a year's service in Vietnam, he was no doubt looking forward to being reunited with his wife, Ingrid and his son, Roger. And he must have been excited – too – knowing that he would soon be seeing, for the first time, his son, Lloyd, born in December 1970.

Armed only with photographs taken in 1970, we arrived in Tri Ton on Sunday morning after an hour long drive from Chau Doc. Our mission was to try and locate the US military compound that had been Lloyd Sr’s home during his service as part of Military Assistance Command. Of course, a town changes a lot in 36 years, so we had our work cut out for us trying to match the profile of a nearby hill, and read what clues we could from an old aerial photograph.

An aerial shot of Tri Ton taken by helicopter in 1970.

In the course of our search, several groups of local Vietnamese came out to see if they could help, invariably sending us off in a different direction than the last. Our interactions were always fun, however, with young mothers thrusting toddlers at us, urging them to respond in English to our hellos and goodbyes. Others joined the group to peruse Lloyd Sr’s old photographs, or simply to marvel at our white skin and alien demeanour. I managed the seemingly endless line of older kids anxious to try out their basic English phrases, and took photos of them with the digital camera resulting in the inevitable sniggers as they considered their own images.


It turned out, of course, that we had driven right past the old compound location as we entered the town! Identifying the correct place was more difficult because every single building had been pulled down to make way for what looked to be a Communist Meeting Hall. Lloyd Sr recognized a very old stone wall that ran one length of the perimeter, however, so he was confident that we had found the right place.

On the left, the two Lloyds at work. On the right, just a few of the locals who dropped by the check us out.

Immediately opposite the compound was – and is – a beautiful Cambodian temple. We spent almost an hour there, retaking some of Lloyd Sr’s old snaps. In contrast to the compound, not much had changed at all!! A few stupas had been added or painted, and foliage was considerably more dense. Orange-robed monks loitered around doors, curious about our intentions but too shy to ask. As we explored the grounds, young boys skipped around us, camouflaging their ‘hellos’ with embarrassed laughter while a scrawny old man arranged wood to dry in the fierce midday sun.

Temple - Then

Temple - Now. Lloyd Sr is holding the 1970 snapshot shown above.

Temple detail.

With our primary mission accomplished, we decided to check out nearby Tuc Dup, which became infamous as the "Two Million Dollar Hill" after a prolonged (and failed) US bombing campaign. While Ingrid enjoyed the gardens below, a group of kids ranging from maybe eight to fifteen years of age immediately took the three of us under their wing. We weren’t quite sure of their function at first, but the trail suddenly ended and we found ourselves clambering over and around giant boulders with only the young kids’ guidance in terms of footholds. If there was a difficult step (and there were many!), one or two tiny hands would appear almost from nowhere to offer support. As we stumbled around, the barefoot children bounced effortlessly from rock to rock, bantering all the while no doubt about their slow charges.

Our young guides, leading us into the depths of Tuc Dup.

This boy appeared to be part of a mining party we passed on our way down.

So while we got more than we bargained for in terms of the climb, the view from halfway up the hill was worth it, with flooded paddy fields stretching for miles. While us old folk rested for a few minutes and enjoyed the view, our guides entertained us by exploding leaves on their hands with the maximum ‘bang’ possible, tiny echoes – perhaps - of the bombs dropped here by the US more than 30 years ago.


Our day out to Tri Ton was memorable, for me, as it took us firmly away from the tourist trail and offered insight into a ‘real’ Vietnamese town. I’ve no doubt that, for the three Thyens, it was rather more significant and we’re working on Lloyd Sr to write a guest entry for the blog, sharing his own thoughts on today’s step down memory lane.

Posted by jacquiedro 20:49 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world

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