The scene: Da Nang, Vietnam in the mid 1960s -- an airfield where we occasionally landed to refuel.
The airstrip, close to the sea, made it convenient to support naval operations in coastal areas that were still under enemy control. We depended on U.S. Marines for our perimeter security.
I was, at the time, attached to an anti-submarine squadron home-based in Okinawa. We were assigned to patrol those waters designated "Yankee Patrol." Coincidentally that was the same designator given to the zone I flew in the Korean War. Different plane, different war but the same old job.
If we were lucky, our route home would include an overnight stay in Saigon ... a night in the big city for us tired warriors.
The last time I made this trip, we landed in Ton Son Nhut Airbase (USAF) which is about 35 kilometers from Saigon.
We hitched a ride on a South Vietnamese weapons carrier with a couple of their sergeants.
The highway into the city, laughingly called U.S. 1, was in an area considered dangerous for Americans ... but, we were young ... and the big city beckoned.
About halfway down this road we saw that a small crowd had gathered near a small hut that was burning and when we saw that two of these people were American women, we thought we'd better stop and see what was going on.
Turned out they were newspaper people and had found their "story of the day."
They stood by an old Vietnamese woman, her head down and crying her eyes out, and as we approached the scene, the reporters came up and told us what was going on.
It seems that during a routine search by U.S. and South Vietnamese military, a weapon was found and her teenaged grandson was considered sympathetic to the North.
To impress her neighbors of the errors of her ways, they arrested the kid and burned down her home.
The old woman had already lost her husband and two sons, but what she was wailing about was her pet duck -- the last member of her family who was burned up in the fire.
She was now alone in the world. The lump stayed in my throat all the way into the city.
Grandpa Sez', "It was then that I began to wonder, 'What in God's name are we doing in this country.'"