Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Biet Ðong Quân":The impossibility of coincidence.

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

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.

ARVN Rangers.

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?


drjim said...

Wow....that sure is one of those moments in life that grabs your attention.
Hope your feeling better, and hope things in general are OK with you. We all appreciate the immense amount of work that goes into something like "Absolved".
Take care, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear of your ill health being a problem. As we both are dying of the same malady, and we both have parallel attitudes concerning liberty, I feel a certain kinship with you.

I offer no pity or comfort and seek none. We have had good lives and lived them our way. I do however, commiserate with you that we may not be available to take part in the restoration. "May not", however, doesn't connote "will not". May we both last long enough.

Your encounter at the gunshow bespeaks of a higher order of hand in our lives. I pray it is true.

tjbbpgobIII said...

Hell, I wonder how anyone can keep up their blogs, day after day and still have a life. You're doing a good job Mike and I wish I'd of known about the gun show in time to go. Hope everything comes together.

MPA dragon said...

Ditto what dr jim said, hope that you are doing well. And honestly, Absolved is already an impressive work, just what you have posted online... Looking forward to the finished product.

Take care of Mike first, the book will come at it's own pace!

CorbinKale said...

I am not a deeply religious person, but I can't deny that I feel God's hand as events transpire. The storm is approaching, yet I am unafraid. There is no doubt I am on the right side in the coming fight.

Atlas Shrug said...

"There is no such thing as a coincidence."

I've been saying this for a while now, and it becomes more clear by the day.


tjbbpgobIII said...

Every one of you can express your feelings and opinions far better that I can. Straightarrow your second and third paragraphs went straight to what I feel. May we all last long enough.
Mike even though we were on diferent sides in the 60's I feel like you and I are kinderd souls.

Anonymous said...

cross posted from codrea's site:

it was probably a dns or routing issue, it happens all the time

does vanderboegh have a chapter in absolved about communications?

maybe the older generations take other means of communication for granted, but the younger generations would be lost without facebook or text messaging. i doubt they would even know where to begin

Brock Townsend said...

This brought back memories, and when I first saw the uniform, I thought I had an additional coincidence, but when I went to the closet, I realized that mine was Airborne, not Ranger. Anyway, you might find it of interest. From what I gather, there is no cure for you, but I've beaten the big "C" twice SO FAR. I'm sure you will keep a stiff upper lip, and may you prevail.

ARVN Airborne Division Uniform 1965 - 1975 +

Anonymous said...

The only cure Brock is a transplant. Something I will not do. I am old. I have lived. At my age I would not get the full benefit of a transplant, so I refuse to deny a younger person of the opportunity to realize greater use.

However, it isn't all bad. It is a slow and not particularly painful way to die, therefore, it is possible that we geezers could still achieve our reasonably expected years.

The physical limitations are maddening, especially for someone like me who has lived in the physical world and gloried in it. But all things considered, even this has been a blessing.

I consider myself one of the luckiest men ever to walk this earth. I have cheated death many times. So, I'm already way ahead of the game. I have people who love and whom I love. I lived my life my way,and have little of which to be ashamed. Not none, but little. I have been told I would die by daybreak, I have been told I would never arise from bed again, I have been told I would never walk again, I have been told I would be dead within two weeks (that was six and a half years ago). Yet, I just dug up and moved 6 cu.yds. of dirt and replaced it with sand and put up an above ground pool for my wife to enjoy. I have cut down trees on my place and done all sorts of things that I have been assured I could never do.

My first cheat of death came in 1954, my next in 1966, so you see I have been one of the luckiest men alive, not counting all the times I cheated and wasn't even hurt. I have spent a lifetime running between the raindrops. I have been one of the luckiest people alive.

Further, I have an advantage. I know what will kill me, barring enemy action. Considering that most in my family die of cancer, I have been one of the luckiest people alive.

Even moreso as to my good fortune is the fact that I have been blessed with the time to spend with my family without other distractions and the knowledge of my pending demise changes nothing ( we all die) except my full and total appreciation of the daily blessings I enjoy because I have been made more aware of the preciousness of them.

Hell! I look at and see our three dogs running balls to the wall for no other reason than the sheer joy of being a dog. And I feel blessed to have witnessed it. My grandchildren all think I am pretty cool for an ugly old cranky guy. I have been one of the luckiest people alive.

Nobody needs feel sorrow for me.

Now, all that was prologue for this and if Mike has heartburn with it, let him say so or not allow this to appear. But after months of reading him, and witnessing his courage both moral and philosophical I suspect his attitude is not much different than mine. He'll do to ride the river with. He'll do to cross the River Styxx with,also.

Sorry, for the length of this and for revealing more than I meant to and most probably more than anybody wanted to know. Just mark it down to a lucky, lucky guy bragging about his good luck.

drjim said...

You, sir, are a brave man. I'm honored to have met you through this means of communication.