The Vietnamese Rangers, called in Vietnamese the "Biet Ðong Quân," but more commonly known as the ARVN Rangers, were the most effective units of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Trained and assisted by American Special Forces and Ranger advisers, the Rangers infiltrated beyond enemy lines in daring search and destroy missions. Initially trained as a counter-insurgency light infantry force by removing the fourth company each of the existing infantry battalions, they later expanded into a swing force capable of conventional as well as counter-insurgency operations. . .
In the closing days of the war in 1975 most Ranger units were totally destroyed. Many fought back independently, refusing to surrender. In Saigon, Rangers fought until the morning of 30 April when they were ordered to lay down their arms, as their nation- The Republic of Viet Nam - capitulated to the communist force. Most of the Ranger officers were considered too dangerous by the communist government and sentenced to long periods of incarceration in the “reeducation” camps. -- Wikipedia.
There are mystic synergies and fateful intersections in life that cannot be the work of coincidence. When they occur, they pierce the soul with an illuminating flash of understanding. At such times, it is impossible not to see the hand of God in them, for blind chance cannot explain otherwise. The odds of random causality are simply too great.
I had one such event today.
As I told you earlier, yesterday I chanced to buy (at least I thought it was chance at the time), a uniform shirt and pants of CAPT Kenneth Ingram, an American advisor to the Rangers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The shirt is similar to this one pictured over at Militaria.com:
Ingram's shirt is missing the ranger tab on the right shoulder and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. It also lacks the zippers running beside the pockets. But it has the crossed swords, wreath and star of the B-D-Q Qualification Badge and the Black Tiger patch is as the one pictured at the top.
I took the uniform back to the gun show today, not to sell it, but rather to display it with the purpose of attracting further comment from Viet Nam War collectors in an effort to learn more.
I got far more than I bargained for, although few words were spoken.
I hung the pants and shirt on a simple wire hanger from the side of a book display box on the corner table, so the shirt fronted prominently on the side of our table which faced the back row. For most of the day it hung there, unnoticed and unremarked.
Sometime after noon, I glanced up from dealing with a customer to see two people staring at it. One was a young man -- I'd guess he was about twelve or thirteen. The other was an older man, with a pinched careworn face and iron grey hair. They were gazing at the shirt and speaking in low tones. The older man may have been the boy's father, or perhaps, his grandfather. There was a family resemblance, although the boy was beefier than the old man, the result no doubt of an American corn-fed diet rather than traditional rice.
That they were Vietnamese I knew without asking, but I asked anyway, and the boy confirmed it. The old man spoke little and halting English. I told the boy the story of CAPT Ingram, the shirt and the American advisors to the ARVN Rangers and how together the advisors and the Rangers had stopped the NVA tanks cold at An Loc during the Easter Offensive.
The boy nodded, and said something in Vietnamese to the old man who seemed entranced by the shirt. The old man looked up at me and smiled this infinitely sad, proud half-smile. He reached out and gently, reverently, touched the Black Tiger patch. Then, drawing his hand back, he tapped himself on the chest, nodding.
He had been an ARVN Ranger.
And it came to me in flash that there was a reason he didn't speak much English and that his face was so evocative of hard-used humanity. He had been taken, then, in 1975, when everything finally, irrevocably came apart after the Democrats in Congress refused to support the people that we had promised we'd never let down.
He had been taken, and he had suffered in the camps, and it had taken him a long, long time to finally make it to this country.
I asked the boy if this was true, and he nodded in the affirmative and began to explain. But the show was crowded at that moment and someone yelled, "Hey, Mike, how much is this?" from the other end of our tables. I answered the question, and then another one following the first and when I looked up afterward, they were gone. Disappeared. It took only a minute but I couldn't see them anywhere.
Don't get me wrong. They were real. I'd just missed my chance.
And yet, I didn't bitterly regret it. I'd gotten the message God was trying to send me with these two improbable messengers, even if I hadn't had the chance to truly make their acquaintance.
You see, I've been struggling to finish Absolved. Partly because of intervening events of life, partly the result of writer's block and partly because of ill health, I have not yet done what I promised myself and my readers I would do. It didn't help that I lost a thumb drive with two weeks' worth of work on it.
And finishing takes absolute concentration. It takes motivation and single-minded determination. I'd lost that for a while.
The old ARVN ranger gave me that back today. I am back on the hard road to completion, and the words are pouring forth.
And THAT was no coincidence.
Oh, and one other tiny little detail. Back in 1995, we needed an identification patch for the 1st Alabama Cavalry, Constitutional Militia. We chose the patch of the World War II tank destroyer force because it was obsolete and yet it contained an important element of Alabama history, the black panther. Many of my guys still use it today. The patch looks like this:
Remind you of anything?