When the Birds Stopped Singing - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

November 30, 2016

When the Birds Stopped Singing

There was something else that happened on our way to Quang Ngai and I have written this:

When the Birds Stopped Singing

There is a lot of rain today, heavy at times; the remnants of a typhoon. After thirty seven miles dealing with large vehicles on the big, busy, noisy and very wet highway and once drenched entirely by a big bus through a mud puddle, we are finally on a tiny road, rough at times, but quiet. We ride in silence through large puddles we can’t avoid, flooded rice paddies on either side. I imagine Andrea is simply enjoying the quiet. The rice paddies are bright green but the ominous dark clouds dull that.

I am lost in thought about what might have been and what was. Right where we are riding is the area where the worst atrocities of the war were committed by American G.I’s. Maybe the worst atrocities ever by Americans in any war. I can’t help but be deep in thought.

I can almost see the G.I’s tramping along the raised clay paths that divide the rice paddies. It’s beastly hot and humid. They carry too much weight; stuff that is supposed to keep them alive camped in the jungle, keep them alive period. It’s insane to be out there in the open and they know it. Sitting ducks. Most of them have taken lots of drugs in order to diffuse and distract them from the reality that they could die at any moment. It’s too much stress for a person to handle. None of them volunteered in the army. None of them wanted to come half a world away to fight people they didn’t know anything about. Most of them are so young.

This is really an out-of-the-way small road even for us to be on. We’re adventurous but this feels really out there. And it’s in quite poor condition. But I like it way out here. It’s the real Vietnam. People we pass are surprised to see us but they seem very nice. They seem to be very gentle people. Life seems hard out here. People walk along the road with large hoes after working the soft clay in the fields. Cows wander. Houses are simple, humble affairs. You don’t need much in life to be happy if you have enough food. Family and community are most important here. I can feel that. Everyone must work together to get by.

We wait for others to pass the only section of the road above water. I am in no hurry. They live here. We are simply traveling through. The birds are singing, frogs are croaking and it’s so peaceful. I feel good here.

The G.I’s walk in silence but they can’t be silent with all the things rattling on their belts. They are happy when the birds are singing because if the birds stop singing that means something is very wrong and someone is probably watching them. The tension is too much and I can see how they might snap.

They enter a village and are tired of the whole mess that is war. One of them thinks he sees a woman holding a grenade and he freaks out and starts shooting. All the others do the same thinking they are under attack. They take no fire but they go berserk and kill everyone in the village. Then they spend the rest of their lives trying to forget.

If that’s how the massacre at My Lai happened I might, just might, be able to understand. But that’s not at all how the massacre went down.

The American Generals were sick and tired of not being able to get the upper hand in the war. They ordered men to go into the hamlet of My Lai and other surrounding hamlets to make an example. They ordered their men to kill every living thing in the villages including cats, dogs and livestock. They ordered all the buildings to be burned and the wells to be defiled. Unfortunately those orders were carried out.

Early on the morning of March 16, 1968 the Americans landed in helicopters and started killing everything in sight. Girls were raped and then their bodies mutilated. People were thrown down wells followed by grenades. Then, unbelievably, the murderers broke for lunch. They sat around eating their lunch and then went back to their killing spree! There was no so called enemy in the villages. They took no fire. On a beautiful day in March 48 years ago 504 old men, women and children were killed including infants for no reason at all.

To this day the American military places the figure of deaths much lower. No one spent any time in prison for these offenses. “Just carrying out orders,” was the defense. Those who gave the orders lied and said they never gave such orders and then they added, “These things happen in war.” And that was the end of the trial.

We ride through beautiful scenery, soft sounds, green fields and I think about all of this. As we pass older people our eyes meet. I wonder if maybe one of them will recognize something in me, an American looking face, or be stirred to remember that awful day. I can’t imagine what the survivors feel.

I smile at each person we pass and say hello not as enthusiastically as we have been saying it everywhere else in Vietnam. I feel great sadness as we ride through this place I never thought I’d ever find myself.

I look into their faces and everyone smiles. Everyone. Smiles.


These little girls live where the My Lai massacre took place. I can't imagine what happened to similar little girls there on March 16, 1968.
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Today's ride: 58 miles (93 km)
Total: 645 miles (1,038 km)

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Ron SuchanekThe reaction of the locals is remarkable, as is the narrative you wrote.
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1 year ago
Jen GrumbyHow powerful to ride through this place where the birds are singing again and children are smiling.

Thank you for your thoughtful reflection on the horror of the My Lai massacre.

Every person traveling as an agent of peace, sharing smiles and kindness as they go, helps to mend the wounds created by the atrocities of war.

Thank you for being an agent of peace.
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1 year ago
Bruce LellmanTo Jen GrumbyThank you, Ron and Jen, for your generous comments. I was quite affected by knowing what happened in this place we were riding through. But yes, as you say, it's good the birds are singing and people are smiling again. All I can offer is a peaceful smile but if that helps the healing process even in a tiny way it's certainly worth doing.
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1 year ago