USMC Captain Earl Gorman has many memories of Vietnam that he would like to forget. Those who served here, fought here, know exactly what he means.
There are days you would like to forget, bad days, painful days. Memories filled with guilt, anger or heartache. But no matter how hard you try you can’t forget, and in a way you don’t want to forget. That’s because you think you at least owe them that, not to be forgotten, even if it’s not a pleasant memory. A lot of us have been there, done that.
For Earl, it was one day when an Amtrac (Amphibious vehicle that carried Marines) was crossing a river, sunk to the bottom, and got stuck. They couldn’t get it off the muddy bottom, and soon it began to fill with water. When the Marines inside tried to blow the hatches it didn’t work. Can you imagine the fear on the inside and panic on the outside as those Marines desperately tried to get the hatches to open.
If you saw the movie “Pearl Harbor,” think of the scene on the capsized battleship Oklahoma. With sailors trying to get out, there would be rescuers on the hull and water filling up their compartment that pushed the oxygen out, you can picture what happened next. Soon those on the bank of the river realized there was nothing else to do. How do you forget that?
Meet Earl, Tuat, her daughter Thuy and two grandchildren, Duyen and Tuyan.
Tuat was a 17 year-old “Manager” of the only “Store” in the village. This is 1965, and Earl and his Marines are living in an old French Fort. Tuat supplied the Marines in his unit with two valuable commodities, kerosene for lamps, the only source of light in the fort, and Coca-Cola! She also helped Earl with his laundry, supplied him and his buddies snacks, etc., and so on. Often he would go down to the store to deliver clothes and other goodies to Tuat and her friends. Then in 1966 Earl rotated out of Vietnam, and said goodbye to his friend. Never would he see her again. Earl had already decided that he’d never come back to this place.
But in 2007 Earl returned to Vietnam for the first time since the war with Vets With A Mission. After forty-plus years, he wondered if he could find Tuat. Was she even alive, did she survive the war? So many questions, but was it possible?
On a free day VWAM arranged for its number one volunteer from Da Nang, Quyen, who hired a van with driver Hai, to take Earl back out to the Que Son Valley. He was going to try to find Tuat, even though it was an incredible long-shot. So off they went. The first try came up empty; however, the next venture was successful. The incredible did indeed happen. Former Captain Earl Gorman, USMC, and village store manager Tuat, were reunited!
Since that day Earl has renewed this friendship with a second and now third trip back to Vietnam to see Tuat and her extended family. He and his wife, Bette Jo, have provided all kinds of help and assistance to them. Today, Earl smiles a lot when he’s in Vietnam.
And in the still of night or on weekends like Memorial Day, Earl hasn’t forgotten those Marines on that fateful day, but the melancholy that used to overwhelm him is supplanted now by wonderful memories, happy thoughts of Vietnam – and Tuat.
If you haven’t read Romans 8:28, you ought to do it now.
Chuck in Da Nang