Xuan Loc was where I was stationed for my last five weeks as an American soldier in Vietnam.
In a letter dated June 2, 1965, I wrote: We moved from Phuoc Vinh to Xuan Loc (pronounced SWAN LAWK) on May 31. This is to be the headquarters of a new division that is being formed. I’m not quite sure where Xuan Loc is: generally east of Saigon and Bien Hoa, on Highway #1 and on the railroad that goes up the coast from Saigon. For the moment we are living in tents: big tents with bunks. It is rather muddy around here, but otherwise not bad.
Since everyone around me was counting, I pretended not to know how many days I still had to stay in Vietnam before returning to the United States. “Six or eight weeks, I guess,” was my usual answer, though I knew perfectly well on the day I arrived in Xuan Loc that I had exactly 39 more days before I was scheduled to take off from Tan Son Nhut Air Base and fly to California to be “separated” from the army.
(“Separated”, not discharged, because I was kept on the books as a member of the inactive reserves for several years thereafter, so theoretically they could have recalled me to active duty and sent me back to Vietnam. But they didn’t.)
In a letter from Xuan Loc dated June 19, 1965, I wrote about a helicopter crash that had happened a week earlier:
I was there — not when it crashed but shortly afterwards; I was part of a search party that went out in jeeps to find it. Fortunately another helicopter located it from the air and circled overhead until we could find a road leading in to the crash site.
Needless to say, none of us were too happy about driving around the Vietnamese countryside at night in a driving rainstorm.
Eventually we found a way to drive in to the downed helicopter; it was lodged among three trees and was badly smashed up, especially the co-pilot’s side. There was no sign of the crew.
Soon we got word on the radio (that’s what I was along for, to operate the radio) that the crew had walked in to Xuan Loc, carrying the co-pilot who had a broken leg.
When we got back to Xuan Loc I talked to the crew chief, who said they had started walking away from the crash because they were afraid the Viet Cong would find them if they stayed by the helicopter. They didn’t know exactly where they were; fortunately they weren’t far from Xuan Loc; after half an hour of stumbling through jungle, underbrush, barbed wire, etc., they happened onto a Vietnamese army post on the outskirts of town.
Except for the helicopter crash, Xuan Loc was quiet during the five weeks I was there in 1965. I suppose I must have worked shifts in the radio shack, as in Phước Vĩnh, and occasionally we made feeble attempts at digging trenches in the sticky wet clay, but otherwise I don’t remember much.
Actually I went to Saigon twice during those five weeks, so I only spent about 27 nights in Xuan Loc.
Nearly ten years later there was a fierce battle in and around Xuan Loc, from April 9 to 21, 1975. This was the last major battle of the war. I was already living in Germany by this time, listening to the news on the radio every hour at least.
My son Nick was not quite four years old at this time. Every morning when he woke up his first question was: “Is the war over yet?” And one day it was, on April 30, 1975, when the North Vietnamese forces took control of Saigon.
Nick came with me when I returned to Vietnam in 1995 (in fact he organized the whole trip, since he was working as a travel agent at the time), but we decided not to visit Xuan Loc, since I didn’t remember much about it.
I suppose we went through Xuan Loc on the night train from Hue to Saigon in August 1995, and probably even stopped at Xuan Loc station, but we were asleep and didn’t notice.
10° 55′ 56.00″ North, 107° 14′ 3.00″ East