QL 4 Background

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The entrance to the MP compound outside Vinh Long in December 1969, before completion of the sandbag fortifications and bunkers. The “MP villa” in QL 4 is based on this compound, although the book’s version is different in some respects.


While the story told in QL 4 is a product of the author’s imagination, the setting and some of the incidents described are based on fact. In 1969–70, the author was stationed outside Vinh Long, the district capital of Vinh Long Province, located on a major branch of the Mekong River. The location of the novel is loosely based on Vinh Long and the area around it, but with much literary license to fit the story.

The MP Villa

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A view of the compound from the roof of the “MP villa.” Note the road to the canal, the perimeter, bunkers under construction, and the V-100 in a revetment.

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View from the roof of the villa, toward the rice paddies to the east.

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The author with a Cambodian flag following the invasion of Cambodia in May 1970. The flag prop was provided by a returning ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldier at the cost of a case of beer. More than flags disappeared from Cambodia during the invasion.

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The exterior of the “MP villa” and our basketball goal.

The Ferry

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Vendors at the My Thuan Ferry (if I remember correctly) on a branch of the Mekong River. In QL 4, the ferry is recast as the My Linh Ferry and Vinh Long is replaced by Van Loc, to avoid having geographical limitations on the descriptions in the book.

A bridge, completed in 2000, has replaced the ferry. Also, the road known as QL 4 is no longer. Instead, it is National Highway 1.

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On the ferry—greeting the passengers. The MP relationship with the Vietnamese public was generally quite friendly, although there were some rough moments, some of which are described in QL 4. Unpleasant contacts included confrontations with Vietnamese soldiers (involving firearms and grenades) and terrible traffic accidents, such as a boy being bisected by a deuce-and-a-half.


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More photos from the ferry, taken with a small Brownie Instamatic from an MP patrol jeep.

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Street toughs at the ferry, my guess about ten years old. It wasn’t unusual for one of them to tell you, “GI, tomorrow you die,” or some equally encouraging remark.

Impressions

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Travel on the Mekong River, near Vinh Long.


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Houses along a canal in Sa Dec.

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Front gate at Madame Nam’s house of pleasure. Were we dropping off customers or picking them up?

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Street scene with three-wheel lambretta truck. Given the nice sidewalks, this must have been taken in Sa Dec.

Race Relations

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A Black Panther newspaper that I brought home from Vietnam. Racial tensions were high in 1970, both in the States and in Vietnam. Black soldiers viewed their oppression as exacerbated by being sent to fight in a war to keep the Vietnamese “free” when they did not have many basic freedoms at home. Slave bracelets and segregated cliques were common. The “race riot” in QL 4 is described pretty much as it happened, although there probably wasn’t the critical mass for a real “riot.” The author did witness a real riot while a law student at Duke University the year before: phalanxes of police in riot gear, clouds of tear gas, and flying rocks. It made the front page of The New York Times (Feb. 14, 1969).