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The Artilleryman: Letter To A Whereabout Friend

One day in 1973, you, Artillery Lieutenant Cao Van Cat, were assigned as an artillery pointman to support the 81st Airborne Ranger Group in the operation at Ben The, Binh Duong. At that time, I served at the rear commanding post because of my infected eye. Actually, you had been with the 81st in the battle at An Loc last year, but we only came to known each other at Ben The and eventually became close friends. You called me "Bo Cu TY," meaning "Father Love". Love is the name my wife and I named our first-born son. You said it is a terrific and very meaningful name for TY is an abbreviation for LOVE.

In my memory, there were many quiet nights in which I listened to you play different western and Vietnamese classic tunes on your guitar; the music moved me very deeply. Do you still remember when you played the tune of "La Terre de Pharaon"?
I once jokingly said, "What kind of music is that? It sounds like a snake wheeze or an insect crying from the bottom of the Egyptian tombs."
But I never tired of listening to your guitar. "La Terre de Pharaon" carried a mysterious and wild tune, half angelic, half evil. Even with more than 20 years gone by, I could not remember the whole song, but its tune is always with me.
I remember, one day we missed the taste of "pho". You and I snuck out of camp and headed to a popular place called "Pho Tau Bay" in Saigon. When we got there, the jeep belonging to the Commander's assistant was parked in front. Afraid of being caught, we changed directions towards a coffee shop called "Lu" in Thi Nghe. Some friends of your artillery unit were already there, chatting. They asked us how it was in An Loc. I sat there while you excitedly responded to their questions. You talked nonstop about how we had fought that battle, about how quickly we finished the battle, about how we attacked them when they least expected. . . on and on about so many great things that we had done. I only nodded my head in agreement. The captivated audience thought that you were the real 81st Airborne Ranger. The most important thing, according to you, was that the 81st was successful in many battles because of their pride and discipline.
Finally, I could only humbly add, "We are successful at An Loc because the people who live there love us for performing our civic duty, so they support us."
Then, I left the 81st. You went on with the life of an artilleryman, and there is a guitar always with you. The few times that you get a pass, you go home to spend time with your mother and a handicapped sister; you love and care for them dearly. That is one of the reasons that you are not married and the tunes that you play have a longing sound. We rarely meet. Whenever I receive a letter addressed to "Bo Cu TY", I feel very comforted in knowing that you are still alive and that maybe you can get a pass so we can go out again to the familiar coffee shop or music club. I always feel safe when accompanied by you, a black belt in Vietnamese martial arts.

After April 30th, I looked for you many times. Nine years later, after I returned from what they call "re-education camp" I tried again to find you. I even returned to your old place, which had been changed; no one knew your whereabouts. I am so sad, walking without direction along Truong Tan Buu Street. which carries so many of our memories. I felt so lonely without the solemn echo of your music. . . Where are you now? Do you still play your mystic tunes of the old days - the tune that sounds like an insect crying from inside the tombs of Egypt?
Faintly, from nowhere, I hear some one calling out, "Hey! Bo Cu TY!"

Story by Nguyen Khoat Hai
English version by JC Chu

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