November 18, 1966
Saigon, South Viet Nam--After taking a short tour around this country, it's easy to get the idea that America is building a nation here...from the ground up.
We are building a harbor at Cam Ranh Bay which will some day be the biggest port in Southeast Asia. The military installations at Cam Ranh, Da Nang, Pleiku, Phan Rang, Nha Trang, Vung Tau, and so many other places, are formidable military defenses.
We are pouring in United States dollars by the billions for such things as telephone systems, water purification plants, schools, and hospitals. The economy here, the government and all the facilities, probably would collapse overnight if the American servicemen were pulled out and the Vietnamese were left in complete control.
These observations were not made in haste, nor are they detrimental to the solid nucleus of intelligent, nationalistic, Vietnamese who know what they are fighting for—liberty and the right of free choice.
The problem is with the masses, most of whom have either limited education or none at all. The masses live from day to day hoping they can either earn enough, or steal enough, to survive.
The majority of the villagers do not know Diem is dead. He was their leader, a person and a cause with which they could be identified, regardless of his true value to the country.
Here are just a few scenes which are cause for wonder: In Saigon, a work crew of 11 men were digging a trench across a street to bury a telephone cable. A large truck with an air compressor was parked near the trench. But neither the air compressor nor the air hammer was in use as intended.
Instead, nine of the 11 men stood and watched while one man struck the drill with the large air hammer as the other man held the drill steady.
In every city of the country, tiny children are allowed to run naked in the streets. Filth and debris are not placed in trash cans or burned. It is thrown in the middle of the streets.
One evening, I watched an elderly woman, a shop owner, carefully sweep all the papers from the dirt in front of her shop into the street. In front of her door step was a rock, about the size of a saucer. Instead of picking it up, she carefully swept enough dirt around it to cover it up, and then patted it down with her bare foot.
At Nha Trang, I got the opportunity to watch a road repair gang at work. In some ways it rivaled the techniques used by some of our political hacks in the States, but it's so ridiculous here you'd have to see it to believe it.
First, an area about 12 square yards was roped off, and a crew of little old women moved in and swept the dirt with their brooms.
To fill the chuckholes, the women picked up rocks which had been dumped beside the road. They picked them up one at a time and carefully examined each one, and, with a tiny hammer, knocked all of the dirt off before tossing it into the chuckhole.
The only decent roads anywhere are the ones Americans built.
It seems the Vietnamese road builders fail to crown their roads and never provide for drainage, with the result that even their best roads become rutted quagmires because the road bed washes away.
In any sort of emergency, Vietnamese villagers seem to go into a trance. In Nha Trang recently, a fire broke out in some shacks on the edge of town.
The villagers ran from their flaming houses and stood and watched the flames consume their homes. Americans who saw the blaze fought their way through the crowd and put out the fire. An estimated 2,500 people were burned out of their homes.