It’s a long way from the rice paddies of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, but Nisland resident Greg Todd has found a place to settle down after many years of living in Asia.
Todd first saw Vietnam as a young soldier in the Airborne Combat Intelligence branch of the Air Force when he was right out of high school. He graduated in June 1967, enlisted in July of 1967, and became active in August of 1967. He spent eight years and three months in the intelligence position, doing things he said that are still classified.
While in Vietnam he was wounded once and lost part of his left lung when he was hit by an AK47. He spent four months in the hospital at Clark Air Force Base and then one month in convalescence that began in the states but ended up in Taiwan.
Todd said that he felt more comfortable in Asia and thought he would recover faster.
“Vietnam is a gorgeous country,” he said. As he spoke, a look of longing for the country far across the ocean would cross his face. He went on to say that when a person got away from the war, the people of that part of the world were very nice. They were happy and always ready to share a meal, he said.
Coming back to the states for a visit, opened an emotional barrage for Todd. He was a 22 year sergeant who felt like he was 50. He tells of his entry into the states at San Francisco. He was in uniform and as he got off the plane he saw a beautiful young girl approaching.
“Oh, man, she was pretty!” he thought as she walked slowly toward him.
But when she got within a few feet of him, she spit on him and called him a baby killer. All he could say was, “I had friends die over there. She didn’t know what I did.”
By the time he arrived at his mother’s home, he was in confusion and emotional overload. He tells of lying down in a clean, dry bed and falling asleep to be awakened in the morning by his mom bringing in a breakfast tray.
My mom slipped in and set the tray on my chest, he recalls. But years in the jungle had changed his reflexes-he sat straight up and “cold-cocked” his mother. Can you believe that, he said, I cold-cocked my own mother!
As she lay on the floor, he knew that life would never be the same for him. His mother was angry, not at him, but at the armed forces for ruining her baby boy.
“I couldn’t stay home,” Todd said, “so I went back to Taiwan and finished my tour in Vietnam.”
Todd held a top-secret clearance, “as high as it gets” he said. They received direction from the National Security Agency (NSA). He continued to work in Asia for 17 years.
“I’m very comfortable in that part of the world,” he said.
Emotions were still raw as he shared the story of Lee Ching Mei, a young woman he had met in Vietnam and fallen in love with.
As he walked into a shop selling precious stones, he saw the most the most beautiful woman in the world he said. She was absolutely wonderful! But he didn’t say a word to her that first time.
As often as he could, the young soldier went back to the shop. Just to gaze and exchange glances with the young woman. Finally, he reached out to touch her hand, but she quickly withdrew it.
“No, no,” she said. It was not the proper thing to do in their society.
He eventually asked if he could take her to dinner, she said that he would have to ask her uncle. Todd knew the way to any conversation was with a little libation. He went in to see Lee Ching Mei’s uncle with the respect due the older man and spoke to him in Chinese, asking to take Lee Ching Mei out to dinner.
When he arrived at the shop to pick her up, the room was filled with people. He was a little surprised he said because he had not seen so many in the room before. As he and Lee Ching Mei started to leave, everyone in the room followed! He said that he looked at her and she simply said that they were their chaperones. Ah, he thought, still not alone with this beautiful woman!
At every opportunity Todd saw Lee Ching Mei and his love for her grew with each visit. Finally, he urged her to get married in the Catholic Church. It takes a considerable time to get papers from the government to get married, but he said they would be married in the eyes of God.
Soon, Lee Ching Mei had a surprised for Todd. As he came into their living room, she motioned for him to lie down beside her and put his head in her lap. As he lay there, relaxing, she asked him if he could hear it. “Hear what,” he recalls saying. Then it dawned on him that there would be three members of their family.
Oh, I would love to have a little girl he thought. One who is as beautiful as her mother is.
Lee Ching Mei had the greatest desire to visit her father’s grave before they left the country. As she was kneeling down at his grave, she stepped on a mine field.
The hurt has not diminished over the decades. Todd says he stills see her face. She was the victim of a war that she didn’t have any part in.
“We had a job to do,” Todd said. “We were good at what we did. We were professional.”
If asked about the politics of the Vietnam War, Todd believes that things were different than what they seemed. It was time in the world when countries were making decisions that were not always in the best interest of the people.