- Politics and Social Issues
Memories of Vietnam 2
Books about Viet Nam
He remembers the boy as muscle and bone, small face with smiling teeth and a thick swatch of black hair that always looked the same. He'd walk into the village with a bag over his shoulder, and the children would come running. Running and laughing at the big blonde man with the smiling eyes.
The American was only a few years older than the boy, but at 19, he was a man among children. The children loved the American, who they called "Beo," the Vietnamese word for "fat." Beo would walk through the village with his bag full of candy, joshing and teasing the children, and they loved him for it.
He and the boy were friends. He saw him most days, days when he wasn't in the field. The Vietnamese boy would challenge him to fight, and they would punch and kick, just enough to tease, not enough to hurt.
The American was a fighter. He fought for fun when he was growing up. He remembers his first real fist fight. He was five years old, he and his friend angrily rolling around in the dust, fists in his face, arms and legs everywhere, his stomach aching, punching and kicking until he couldn't anymore. Laughing and falling into the grassy ditch, where they stopped, exhausted but happy.
He and the boy laughed as they circled, looking for an opening. The boy was fast, but no match for the American. Beo sneaked in a tap to the cheek, a little too hard, but the boy kept coming, trying to reach the American's face, chest, whatever he could touch. The children watched, happy to see Beo enjoying himself.
Now, years later, Beo is telling the story. His friend, who knows Beo only as "Bill," listens intently. His father came to America after the war and had many stories of his own, one of which he told many times. He spoke of an American who came to the village with bags of candy. The children loved him even though he was a soldier. They gave him a Vietnamese name, a name that conveys admiration.
Bill stops talking, aware his friend is studying him.
His friend says, "Did they call you by another name?"
Bill nods. "I was called Beo."
His friend smiles.