Scrapbook Ninety Six…




War Trophy or…?

I made my first flight during the Vietnam War on January 18, 1968. The action was heating up and when the Tet Offensive started twelve days later I had already flown fifteen combat missions in the F-100.

My palatial hootch at Tuy Hoa where I lived for a year, a pilot on each end.

My palatial hootch at Tuy Hoa where I lived for a year, a pilot on each end.

Tet was the big push by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Regulars to take over South Vietnam and push America and her allies into the beautiful South China Sea. The last attack in that offensive was on February 10th. During the intervening eleven days 14,000 Vietnamese civilians were killed and 24,000 were wounded. I have maintained my sanity over the ensuing years by telling myself that none of them were in my target areas.

Sometimes the war interfered with farming.

Sometimes the war interfered with farming.

At 0300 on the morning of 31 January, Tuy Hoa, where I was stationed, was hit hard. I was jolted awake by the sound of explosions and machine gun fire. I didn’t know what to do. We weren’t allowed to have fighting weapons in our living areas, so I climbed on top of my hootch where I could hide and watch the action.


A Viet Cong who thought about coming through the concertina wire.

Enemy sappers breeched the base perimeter and threw satchel charges under our airplanes. Wings and tails were blown high into the black sky. The light from huge fires allowed our security forces to see enemy troops running around. Most intruders were killed but many disappeared back into the night.

One of our cargo planes in need of maintenance.

One of our cargo planes in need of maintenance.

About 0900 the fighting was over and we started taking inventory. The warm-eyed Vietnamese woman who did my laundry; a pleasant person whom I liked and gave soap to, was killed coming through the concertina wire. She was a Viet Cong soldier. Identifying her body was almost beyond the reach of my imagination.

It was a frightening scene at our Command Post, with AK-47s, hand grenades and rocket launchers littering the sand all around. I retrieved a small flag from the body of a Viet Cong soldier who didn’t make it through the razor wire. Our intelligence officer said the flag was one that had been hand-stitched in silk by a local Vietnamese family who was selling them as souvenirs to the GIs. The flags weren’t official, or issued, and had nothing to do with the war. All of that changed when the Viet Cong raided the small shop, killed the family, and took their inventory of flags.

War trophy or...?

War trophy or…?

So now, forty-six years after leaving the Vietnam War, I have successfully unremembered many details of my involvement. But I still wonder if my small 32-inch flag is a legitimate trophy from that conflict, or just the peaceful symbol of an unfortunate family that was caught in the middle, trying to make a living. What do you think?


67 thoughts on “Scrapbook Ninety Six…

  1. I feel very fortunate that at age 50 I never had to experience the Hell that must be war. I am thankful as well to men and women like you who fought and followed orders even when you may have had so many questions about our purpose, but now after all these years gone by you have to live with the memories of that time. I make sure to thank any soldier I see in any place now and I always make a point to give an offering to anyone on the street asking for help….I always give them the benefit of the doubt if their short printed signs and stories are true or not for they clearly have a greater need and deserve any help we can provide to them. They certainly deserve more. Thanks FF to you as well –you have been given much and you have given so much back!

  2. Thank you sir for serving willingly to protect our nation’s freedom. War and the scars it leaves on soldiers is appalling. May your memories be healed.

  3. In December 1972 I joined the marine Corp. Just as I was about to graduate from boot camp news came that Prez R. Nixon was recalling troops from Vietnam. I had lost many friends over there in previous years. I wanted vengeance, I wanted to defend democracy and freedom. For whatever it is worth I never made it to that land.

    My dear Mr. Fenn,
    We can not count the lives you may have saved during that era. We can only thank the God of our understanding for preserving us through adversities.
    Many burned their draft cards and fled to canada, others answered the call of the draft. I volunteered at age 17.

    In the end we all did what we felt compelled to. Sir I salute you.
    Although we the veterans of that era are all but forgotten we still have our self respect. In closing, I see that flag as representation of the complexity’s of war and peace.

    Be at peace my friend.

  4. I remember the Tet Offensive all to well. I lost my best friend then. I was with the 1st MarDiv. I can still see him lying there. That’s the hard part about PTSD, you never get to forget.

  5. Forest – I am a twenty year vet. Just want to say that There is a huge difference between survival and living. I think you know this because you come across as someone who will push the limits. You did what was right at the time and thats the best you can do. Forgive yourself and be at peace. I salute you, I respect you, and I thank you for your service.

  6. Forrest, that worn and battered flag can be seen as a symbol for the struggles and desperation of the Vietnamese people, but also as a reminder of all the death and destruction of war. It may not have been an official flag, but the star that’s stitched onto the dual colored flag appears to have had the hopes and dreams of that family posted within its making. I think it is a peaceful symbol of freedom.

    Two of my brothers served in Vietnam, one was in the Army and was wounded by shrapnel and left with a disability. The other served in Da Nang in the USAF and came back safely. One other brother served in the USAF and was sent to Korea. I served in the USAF and was sent to Goose Bay, Labrador, what a beautiful cold country. Young men would do well to serve, it’s an honor.

    Thank You for your service. I salute you and all service members.

    When all acts are good – then evil is destroyed.


  7. It’s a trophy and a memorial, worthy of the man that endured your unique experiences.

    You bless us all in so many ways. Thank you Mr. Fenn.

  8. Now that was personal I can see why the chase is here… its to give back to people something thrilling yet peaceful… a personal thank you… by the way that flag reminds me of TeXas but thats ok….

  9. Those days will never be forgotten by some. Others have no idea. What was once a trophy appears to have transformed into a symbol of peace and hope. Time has mysterious powers…

  10. Forrest, I could not fathom…
    I’m happy you were able to erase some of those memories, and thank you for sharing those you retained. I am sorry you and the thousands of men and women had/still have to experience such brutality, but your bravery is something we are indebted to. Thank you Forrest, and all who have served.

  11. It seems like it’s both a trophy of war and a symbol of survival. The man who collected it was a warrior and that flag was a spoil of war, but the man who has it today sees the humanity behind war and governments and especially the unfortunate casualties of both.

  12. Forrest

    I can’t even imagine what it was like for u and all the others who have had to fight in the war. Any war at that. I agree with u of what u say in your books about everyone should leave everyone alone. I find it crazy that people actually fight over land and such when it all belongs to God anyway he is just letting us borrow everything we have, cause at the end it doesn’t matter . All we need is Peace and Love. A simple life is a good life.
    🙂 !!!!!!!

  13. Your trust was shattered by the lady doing your laundry. To know who was your enemy at the time was hard at best. She was, at first, your friend and became your enemy. This had to be one of many mind reeling events that took place. Such events and having read about your mindset in the beginning of your tour, leads me to believe the flag, when taken, was a trophy but in time became a symbol. The spoils of war can only have meaning if they are used for the betterment of mankind.

  14. I can not even imagine what you and other members of the military have gone through and continue to go through years after your service is completed. The images here are incredible, especially the soldier at the concertina wire and the farmer, and bring back memories of that time in our history. Thanks are not enough, but all we can offer.

  15. Tricky question….that’s the thing about art.
    Some would think you’d need to ask the family that made it…
    Some would think you’d need to ask the man that owns it….
    I like to think if you asked the worm that spun the silk surely he’d say it was the biggest trophy in his collection.

    Thank you forrest.

  16. Mr. Fenn and Dal have give us a new focus. The flag is a reminder that politicians create wars that draw the rest of us into situations that make us face first our duty then our survival and last our need to hep others learn or understand. Towards the end of our lives we share the experiences that we still don’t understand or accept. The book Eating Buddahs Dinner written by a Michigan author helped me to see how the Vietnamese families survived also. karen

  17. That was powerful story-telling, Mr. Fenn. I think the flag is a reminder of all that’s good and evil in man, but also our resiliency and the capacity to mend.

    Thank you, and all vets, for your service and sacrifice.

  18. They teach us to fight and die, for God and Country. They place us near other young men, that have been taught the same thing. As the experience of war bonds us closer together, we find ourselves fighting for the survival of ourselves and our fellow soldiers, and the why of it drifts to the back of our minds, and sometimes goes unanswered. If we make it home, the questions asked by those that have never been there, never experienced the hell of it, haunt us, and the why of it creeps back into the forefront. The older we get, the easier it becomes to question the rules…to have our own opinions and identities. That is why war is for the young and the impressionable. The flag is a reminder that those we fight for and against are the same as us…just people trying to understand the why of it all. In the end, it doesn’t really matter…War stings all the lives it touches but does not take. My advice is to forgive yourself for what had to be done, but always be proud of the way you survived, fought, and came home. God bless you Forrest Fenn, and God bless all of our troops.

    • Forrest, My advice in my last post was not directed at you specifically, as you seem well put together and healed…I was not preaching, merely sharing the way I handle those questions in my life.
      Michael D

  19. Oh my Mr. Fenn,

    Don’t you see it? You the master of imagery. The flag is simply the Vietnam version of the Lone Star State Flag welcoming you home after all those nightmares and trials.

    Thank you and many blessings to you.

  20. Forrest, thank you for your sacrifice and service. Those are memories that no one should have to face. I have so much compassion for those of you that have been on the battlefield and those that are still there. I hope and pray that someday “We The People Can Live In Peace”.

  21. I think it’s all unfortunate.
    Other than you made it out alive and are able to share these stories.
    So many memories fill your head…I’m glad you’ve chosen to share them with us.

  22. Thank you Forrest. Nothing I can say that you havent already figured out. Through your eyes we learn. Thank you.

  23. Both of course, your flag is a reminder of the spirit of good and evil woven together. Reminds me of the story of the Floreana Island. No one will ever really know the details of what happened there either.

  24. Wow all I can say is Thank-you!! I suspect there are many families caught in the middle of war across the world and I thank God I live int the US!

  25. Thank you Mr Fenn, for your service. And thank you for sharing. I’m a prisoner of your stories and held captive by every word and picture.

  26. Dearest Forrest, I think the symbol of the flag is an unfortunate family that was caught in the middle, trying to make a living like many now in war I’m sure. I’m very thankful that the wars happen over there for the most part and not over in the USA that I love. Thank you for serving and I wish I could remove all of those memories from you, except for the fact that it helped mold you into who you are today. It’s not the soldiers fault for the job that they must do and I’m thankful that they do their job and keep us safe. I can sleep safely because I am protected by them. May God bless them all and keep them safe and let their war be over as soon as possible so that they too may try to forget. And may God bless you and your family eternally.

  27. my brother came back from Vietnam in 1968,i remember my mother seeing him,and running down the road to get to men and women were not forgotten by people who loved you .and men and women who prayed for all soldiers in the wars past and present.The idiots who burned the American flag ,etc.and Hanoi jane.alot of people wanted to bust their —-.I was a teenager,but I wasn’t stupid.I’m proud of every man and woman that has given their life or served to keep me safe on American soil.I just wish everyone could of came home safe and sound with no problems.there will never,never be peace in this world ,due to people wanting what other people want, to all families past and present and to all who served .thank you so much.I’ll never forget the true story of the five Sullivan brothers who gave their lives in the war.can you imagine a mother getting a telegram, all her sons were lost in the war.but they all wanted to stay together.war is hell.

  28. To see all those names inscribed in marble
    And hear all those whispers of pain.

    You can’t help but ask why take all these soldiers
    To a war in which we had nothing to gain.

    Others may argue that freedom was sought
    But I wonder if freedom is worth such a loss.

    The country we fought for wasn’t our own
    In the end we left it and tallied the cost.

    In all the hospitals I’ve had to go
    To seek help for issues I have

    I still see my comrades in wheelchairs and crutches
    And sometimes entering Physical Rehab

    They ask me the same question when ever I see them
    The answer is always the same

    Hang in their my friend and my comrade
    Today may be the day they approve of your claim.

    So this is a war that was fought for freedom
    And the price we still have to pay?

    We sit around hospitals from morning till night
    Knowing it’s not over but just another delay.

    God Bless My Friends and Comrades. May They Rest In Everlasting Peace.

  29. Hello Dal, FF, and Fenners. Been lurking on the site for a while now. Like what you’re doing, and thought I’d comment on the flag…
    First off, I think it’s pretty cool that he held onto this flag for all these years. Of all the war trophies, I find the flag to be the most personal and emotionally “charged” item you could get(especially one taken from a fallen warrior). Why?
    When I was overseas, I would always keep a small American flag and a couple other things in my left breast pocket whenever we went outside the wire. It provided me with comfort, strength, pride, courage, honor etc.; not to mention that if I was dying, I wanted the things that meant the most to me to be closest to my heart(too cheesy?). These kind of practices are fairly common with troops.
    I say that to say this: I see this flag in the same way as I see my flag. It likely provided a soldier the same benefits, and ultimately some grunt gave his life for it. It might have even given him comfort while he lay there dying…That makes this one helI of an item to possess!
    Of course, FF’s MI guy could have been right and this flag was nothing more than something recently looted after a slaughter of townspeople, but I’d need more info before I’d believe him(the MI guy). How did he know that flag came from a specific shop? Any identifying marks? Tags? Just looks like a random VC flag to me…
    Anyhow, I have a question for you guys. I remember reading something a while back about FF burying his bronze jars for people to discover, but can’t seem to find anything on it anymore. Am I just crazy and have his jars mixed up with his treasure, or did he actually do that?
    Happy Hunting, Doc

    • You are not crazy Doc, he did actually do that. He buried them, don’t know where, and bells too. They are one of the coolest things. I love the fact that he buried other things besides the treasure (not that he BURIED the treasure). May God bless you and the others over there keeping us safe. Thank you and good luck in your searches.

  30. I’m 60 and lost a couple of young friends over there as well as lost some that came back twisted both physically and emotionally by that experience -I feel like I got the right to say – we had no business over there. It was a meaningless war/lie that introduced The U.S. to the concept of “endless war” w/o goals – just talking points – and war economy. It continues to warp us on so many levels today.
    I am colossally disappointed in how war has served to de-evolve humanity.
    Burn the dang thing – quick. Video tape it, post it.


    • The little stitches holding the star to the gound were probably made by tiny hands. The laundress probably had some little Kelly and Zoe’s at home too.
      Appreciate your speaking out Slim.

      • Deb, Old Shadows, Babylon: I appreciate your candor regarding how war devolves humanity and discounts life. The damage to human beings continues to successive generations in ways many Americans are unaware. I’ve enjoyed manicures by the same sweet Vietnamese lady for several years. One day I asked her to tell me her story which proceeded to break my heart… ‘Viviane’ was the love child of an American soldier and her Vietnamese mother. An ongoing relationship of apparent love to one gal until the soldier completed his tours of duty and was called home. In Vietnamese society ‘Viviane’ was considered an illegitamate half-breed, the lowest in a cast society, and treated so by her half brothers and sisters. Bullied severly in school. When old enough to fend for herself (teens) she was kicked out of her home and put on the streets. Her only saving grace was an American program which relocates “those” girls to the U.S. providing them room/ board, and a job. She has tried unsuccessfully to locate her biological father, but is beyond grateful to have been adopted by the people of the United States.

        • Thanks 42, As good as we are, we are so often so quick to blame, to find fault, to presume we know how it is to walk in anothers shoes.

          • Old Shadows, I extend great latitude and mercy to others because my shortcomings and blind spots keep me occupied sorting out my own misdeeds and mis-thougths. With logs in my own eyes, no need to pull splinters from another’s. Just sad how war leaves scars on bodies, minds, and spirits. I still remember playing with good friends right after they lost their dad in Vietnam. He was a recon pilot. I was seven years old and still recall the heavy sadness.

  31. He keeps it to remember that human beings are used as pawns by those with power.He came face to face with reality and saw it for what it was. People who had lives just like we do used with no regard for their families, their safety or their beliefs.

    If I got nothing else, I got that from his books.

  32. I think the flag is neither a trophy or a peaceful symbol but rather a metaphor for a time in history that should never happen again.

  33. The flag is a reminder that time can bring people together if they have
    A common goal.(the star) 🙂

  34. If you take a 6 pointed star and remove to the center the 6th point (removing 2 equilateral triangles with the first being the point itself ) to reform a 5 pointed star.
    You end up with a 3 dimensional 5 pointed star
    And if you had 2 of them
    Put them together, it would form an Icosahedron.
    An Icosahedron is a Platonic Solid.

    Ah , what was the question again ?

    Oh yes !

    The flag is not a trophy but is memorabilia and has served it’s purpose 3 fold.

  35. Michael H; I know that the word ‘denial’ has negative connotations in normal usage, however I believe there is a very good reason for the persistence of the need for denial; that there is an important, constructive function of denial. IMO, If denial didn’t have it’s own truth we would not have have that jig in our evolutionary tackle box. There must be others here that can attest to the usefulness of denying something in our lives and experience that is too ugly, painful or regretful to truthfully acknowledge in perpetuity.

    The need to deny seems so strong sometimes that we often reconsider who we can trust. Compassion to let people deny, inevitably requires that those doing the denying exhibit balance, and endear us to their ongoing personal conflict. For you, times of forgetting, denying a physical challenge is your bliss, for Forrest, at least in context of this post, must struggle with both ‘never forgetting’, but yet creating a framework that allows him to go on and be constructive for himself, his wife, family and now us.

    I can’t know what it’s like to live with your burden(s), but I accept that it isn’t easy.

    • Denial is a survivor skill. War torn memories must rip hearts and minds to shreds. Soldiers will tell you PTS is more crippling than physical wounds. But at some point if you choose to live in the present, its not productive to constantly remember the horrors of war. Soldiers have to forgive themselves. They simply followed orders sent down from their government leaders; the sad outcome of war is not the soldier’s fault. Forgive yourselves vets. I’m sorry our govt. doesn’t more fully support you physically and emotionally help you heal.

      • I do not think forgiving yourself will help PTS. I had PTS after I was in a car wreck where I wasn’t even hurt. Every time a car would pull up to a stop sign on my right hand side I would panic, and it was uncontrollable. This lasted for over five years. Again I wasn’t even hurt in the wreck that caused this. I cannot even imagine how horrible PTS must be for a soldier who has actually been seriously hurt or seen people terribly hurt.

  36. I want to talk about the middle. A star is in the middle of that flag. Me in the middle seems like such an important chapter? What is it that’s in the middle?

  37. when a soilder goes to war,they never ever forget what they had to go through,and what they had to go through to keep the united states safe,nor sometimes understand why.they are just young men out of school who got drafted long ago or now they volunteered to go in the military to defend their country from enemies,far and now near ,here in our country waiting to strike us at any given time.thats why I still believe in our right to bare arms in times llike these,the enemy has infiltrated our country.for a soilder its like a wound ,that takes time to heal ,but deep wounds leaves scars,and the scars surface from time to time.ptsd is a real thing,and not enough is done for our soliders or even pay them good money,its just plain sick for the government to treat these men and women this way.they should always be honored where ever they go,for their sacrifice.

  38. This rips my heart out There only peace came thru death helpless people caught in crossfire this cloth should be sent back to that country

  39. Wow. That’s quite a SB. You have had some wonderful and some terrible and terrifying experiences Forrest. Thanks for everything you share with us. I’ve been reading some of the older SB’s and they have some amazing things in them.

  40. Someone linked this thread from another website so I re-read it. F, you talk about your first mission in country was 12 days before the test offensive began. I’d love to see a post about your first mission. What were you thinking? How did you prepare. Did you kiss your plane when you landed that first time. Was that your first ever combat mission? Bet that’s an interesting story to recount.

  41. I’ve always loved his honesty about war. His voice drips with regret. Forrest has always honored life…the Veterans, the Vietnamese, the Indian, the Cowboy….

  42. I think several things, including:

    1) A specific country (such as the United States) will always be at war while continuing to attack other countries.

    2) This blog has gotten way too much over-run by junky pop-ups. I’m not going to visit it much
    longer. But thanks, Dal . . . it was fun for a while.

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