Tag Archives: Vietnam

Charlie Colasurdo’s Vietnam

Charlie Colasurdo is a Staples High School sophomore. He’s a longtime Wakeman Town Farm volunteer, online features editor for the school newspaper Inklings, and a talented photographer.

Last week I posted a story on Nora Kubach, a Staples grad finishing up a film about Americans whose fathers were killed in action there, and children of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong who died in the same war.

Charlie read it, and emailed me — from Vietnam.

That’s where he was spending April break. I invited him to share his unique vacation with “06880” readers when he returned. Here’s what he wrote — along with photographs he took.

I was incredibly fortunate and excited to spend 10 days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. Because I visited a family of expats who had lived there for 5 years, I got to explore and experience Saigon in a very nontraditional way, and to photographically document the people, places and rich culture that the city boasts.

Charlie Colasurdo, and Ho Chi Minh.

Charlie Colasurdo, and Ho Chi Minh.

Just weeks before I left, I watched “Last Days in Vietnam” in Mr. Drew Coyne’s US History Honors class. The movie showed Saigon at the end of the war, as Americans and their South Vietnamese allies were evacuating from the besieged city. Mr. Coyne and I agreed that revisiting those scenes on the historic avenues of Saigon was an excellent way to connect my trip to what I learned in Westport.

I found the city itself to be stunning — a unique juxtaposition of traditional Chinese, colonial French, and high-rise, modern architecture sprawling over several districts, or “quậns.”

The streets are overrun with motorbikes (almost 6 million!), which makes for interesting street crossing!

Venturing away from the more touristy areas of downtown, we took self-guided walking tours of the crisscrossing alleyways of Chợ Lớn, Saigon’s Chinatown. It’s where the majority of the working-class Saigonese live, away from the noisy main streets. Tucked away down these narrow alleys, vibrant markets sell everything from towers of just-picked coconut, purple basil and mint, and freshly picked mangoes to still-swimming fish to sweet sticky rice balls, which you can buy for 20,000 dong apiece (90 cents). It was a far cry from the Westport Farmers’ Market!

Charlie Colasurdo - Vietnam 3

Learning about the Vietnam War from the comfort of Westport, I was never able to get a complete idea of its scale and effects on a country 9,000 miles away. The War Remnants Museum was a necessary but difficult stop, featuring disturbing photo galleries of the atrocities of the war (or as it is referred to there, the “American War”). Despite this one reminder of a darker time, the Vietnamese people I encountered were cheerful and friendly to me as an American, and clearly desired to move on towards a brighter future.

Another highlight of the trip was a photography tour of Saigon’s hidden gems with Tanya Olander, who created the fantastic daily photoblog “Somewhere in Saigon,” featuring street photography throughout the city. My favorite stop was at Tao Dan Park’s “Bird Café,” where Vietnamese hang up songbirds in ornate cages and enjoy the morning songs with a coffee or cigarette.

Charlie Colasurdo - Vietnam 2

While there, I discovered how much more a vacation could offer than sitting on a beach or skiing down a mountain. In Saigon I was able to eat like a local, ride motorbikes through the city’s narrow alleys, and meet wonderfully interesting and colorful people, like the market vendors who had very little, and yet nearly always wore smiles.

Charlie Colasurdo - Vietnam 1

(Photos/Charlie Colasurdo)

(Photos/Charlie Colasurdo)

Al Hofacker’s Letters Home

Thursday’s post on Lance Corporal Tim Barmmer — the Staples grad killed in Vietnam — brought an email from Mary Gai.

Al Hofacker, in the 1969 Staples yearbook.

She remembers Al Hofacker. A member of Staples’ Class of 1969, he too served in Vietnam.

Al was more fortunate than Tim. He made it home.

Like Tim, Al’s letters home are available online (at Military.com). Here are some excerpts:

April 1, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, the party’s over. They’re sending me back out to the bush tomorrow. I’ll be at CAP 2-7-6. Lt. Grebenstein called me up on top of a bunker this morning and had me test fire a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. He wants me to take it out to CAP 6 and add some firepower.

The thing weighs a ton. You carry it in front of your chest held by a sling. It’s got a magazine that holds 12 HE (high explosive) grenades and you can fire it semi or auto. The Lieutenant’s sending a guy named Cooper out with me to carry my ammo. He’s REAL happy about that.

I’m not real crazy about going back out but I’ll take care of myself. Thanks for the care package with the stuff from Joyce in it. Tell her thanks. Remember staring tomorrow my address is CAP 2-7-6.

Love,
Big Al

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April 4, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

Here we go again. We got hit by a couple of RPG rounds last night walking down this trail they call “Frag Alley”. The rounds went right through our column and exploded behind us, but we all turned and opened up on the trees. You couldn’t see anything, it was almost dark. I fired off two rounds from the auto-bloop and got tree bursts and had to cease-fire and just sit it out because I don’t have a sidearm.

A photo posted on the page with Al’s letters, on Military.com.

Nobody got hurt and we never found the dinks. But I got on the radio to 7th Company this morning and told them I wanted a rifle because the auto-bloop ain’t worth a damn anywhere there are trees. So they came and picked it up and now I’ve got a 16 again. There’s just too much bamboo out here.

Most of the guys here are pretty cool. I’m hanging in there. Would really like a hamburger right now. Take care, I’ll write soon.

Love,
Al The Kat

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April 10, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad,

This afternoon we were out on patrol with Sgt. Tingen and we spotted 3 people sitting on a rice paddy dyke in green uniforms, two men and a woman. Our PF’s told us they were VC so we got behind them in a treeline without them seeing us.

Then Sgt. Tingen stood up and opened fire and we all opened up and killed all three. It kind of made me sick. They didn’t have weapons. Joe Nielson was with me and he’s been low all day. There was a lot of horsing around and joking about the whole thing that didn’t sit right with me. But when the PFs say they’re VC, you gotta take them at their word, cuz we sure as hell don’t know. And if they don’t have weapons on them right then, that doesn’t mean they won’t be shooting at you later.

There sure is a lot of B.S. over here. I hope 2nd CAG gets pulled out soon. Tell Jeff Hunn I appreciate the letters and I’m glad he’s been coming over to visit. He’s the only friend I have who hasn’t written me off as a dead guy.

Love,
Alan

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April 23, 1971

Dear Mom and Dad

I’M OKAY! I’M FINE! I don’t know what you have heard or what you haven’t heard but I’M GOING TO BE OKAY! I’m at the Army 95th Evac Hospital in Danang with a small grenade fragment in my face, had a piece taken out of my scalp, and a few pieces in my leg, but I’m okay. I don’t want you to worry. I’m not crippled, I didn’t lose anything important. I didn’t lose anything period. I don’t know and nobody can seem to tell me if they notify next of kin when you get wounded, so I wanted to write and let you know I’m fine.

We got hit bad on frag alley 2 nights ago and we got our asses WAXED by about 4 or 5 VC who’d got into the bamboo around us when we were sitting around at our Charlie Pappa 1 (check point one) and they just started lobbing grenades in on us over the trees. Just handfuls of frags that kept going off. It was unbelievable. Just about everybody got hit. I got hit, Ward got hit, the Corpsman was running around with a piece in his stomach, Henkle got hit bad, one of the PF’s got his eye blown out. It was insane. We had about 4 walking wounded (including me) and about 4 stretcher cases and we had to go about a click to get up to Hiway 1 where they could bring choppers down to get us out. Sgt. Tingen wasn’t with us. He was with the Alpha team who ran a react for us. We got up there finally and two Hueys came down on the road about 20 minutes later and they had some Cobra gunships work over the place with miniguns.

So anyway, I’ve been probed and X-rayed and picked at and had my trousers cut off, but I’ll be out of here in a week or so. PLEASE DON’T WORRY. I’m just fine and the food sucks. I’ll write again soon.

Love,
Al The Kat

(To read all of Al Hofacker’s letters on Military.com, click here.)