Christmas was just around the corner, reminding me of home.
I was tired of palm trees and rice for Christmas. Dad wrote and told me they had snow. I felt disconnected, edgy. My Peace Corps life was almost over but the Vietnam war wasn’t. Nixon had drafted another 163,000 kids and the madness and the killing continued.
I dropped by Wat Bovornives to give a check to the Headmaster. The money I made from the Ho Chi Minh article had pushed my student scholarship fund over $500. It wasn’t much in America, but it was something in Thailand, and Ajaan Prayud thanked me sincerely. I told him I preferred it to go to Isaan students at the school, kids like Chatichai who found themselves far from home in a foreign Bangkok. But he could spend it as he saw fit.
Before I left, I tracked down Peerachat. I waited outside his classroom until recess, hoping none of my old kids would come by. Peerachat was delighted to see me again and we went to the teacher’s lounge for tea. Thankfully, none of the other teachers were there. I didn’t feel like faking happy Volunteer. My life at Wat Bovornives was over.
“So what do you think of maw duu now?” he teased. “Khun Mae predicted you would change jobs and leave Wat Bovornives after one year, and you did. “
‘That she did,” I admitted. “She must have foreseen me getting Maw Saw 5.”
“Of course she also predicted you would leave Thailand early,” he grinned, “and you’re still here. She was wrong on that. ” I didn’t tell him about the Peace Corps discovering my stupid Air America stunt, Delany almost sending me home, and how uncomfortably close Khun Mae’s prediction had come to being true.
A bell rang. Another class was starting. We shook hands. “We’ll have to wait to see who you marry,” he laughed. “The best out of three wins.” And he was off.
Seagrave ran my Ho Chi Minh Trail piece in the Jan. 10, 1971 issue of Bangkok Magazine. I got my fourth cover story and everybody at the magazine was stoked. Seagrave told us we were finally hitting our stride, producing great features and in-depth reporting. We were gaining on the rival Bangkok Post in the circulation war. Afterwards, a gang of us headed for Patpong. None of that cheap Mekhong shit. Johnny Walker Black – on the World. The next day, I got a call from Seagrave.
“I got a visit this morning from two men in suits,” he told me. “Americans is my guess. They demanded to know who had written the Ho Chi Minh Trail story.”
My heart stopped. “Did they tell you their names, or who they worked for?” I asked.
“No. They wouldn’t tell me.”
We talked it over. Unger’s people were the most likely possibility. The American Embassy would naturally be upset. But Fred’s “friends” from Vientiane were also a possibility. The story had included information from Fred’s files. (I understood that Fred had given me permission to use the material as unattributed “background,” – no source, no individuals named. Instead, right after the story ran, I got a frantic letter from Fred telling me to hold off using anything else. He was in the States and planning to present the materials he had gathered in upcoming hearings before Congress on Nixon’s secret war in Laos).
Fortunately, I had used a new pen name for the story. Only Sterling and my family back in Connecticut knew who “John Boyd-Weibel” was. I thanked him and hung up.
In Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American, which eerily foresaw our debacle in Indochina, the naïve Bostonian ends up dead in a Saigon river because he was “young and silly and got involved.”
I needed to shut up and finish up my Peace Corps service before writing more about the war.