Winning their hearts and minds was based on the concept that the war would be easier to win if we had the popular support of the Vietnamese people. It was an official policy of the US Government, facilitated through the use of Medical assistance to villagers, food drops to remote areas and other programs designed to generate good will from the local population.
At the riverboat level, however, winning their hearts and minds became much more simple and straightforward. Basically, any contact with the local population became a “hearts and minds” mission.
I remember a particular village we used to pass almost every day on our way in and out of Sa Dec. The kids used to stand on the riverbank, screaming and waving at us. One day, we had a bunch of extra C-rat left-overs, like peanut butter, gum, ham & lima beans and other stuff that we hadn't eaten. So we decided to make a pit stop and see if the locals could use it.
They were so grateful - and it was obvious this village didn't have much. Through Hung, our VN crewman, we learned that what little fish they caught and rice they grew was taken by the VC at night, leaving them with barely enough to live on.
We started making it a point to stop there every time we went by if time permitted. We also tried to bring a little more when we could - a case of C-rats here, some hamburger meat and veggies there - whatever we could scrape together.
After a couple of weeks of this, Hung told us they didn't want us coming back anymore, because the VC were watching, and they were afraid there would be retaliation. Not knowing what to do, we reluctantly agreed.
Our OinC didn't like this situation at all, so he mentioned it to the Commander of the ARVN post nearby. After explaining the situation, the ARVN Commander decided to make the village an outpost, and placed troops in the village. The first time the VC tax collector came to town, he was captured and killed. He was, as far as we could tell, never replaced.
We were invited back to the village the next time we went by. They had set up a picnic of sorts on the river bank, and they gave us a fine dinner of rice, soup and noodles as a token of their appreciation for getting them out from under the VC thumb.
Once again, boat guys winning the hearts and minds ... and making a difference.
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