The convoy of Molotova trucks had stopped on what seemed to be a road inside a fortified perimeter. It was about four in the morning.
The guard on board had jumped off and we were left inside. Peeping out the tarpaulin.
- Where are we?
- Trang Lon Camp, Tay Ninh province. It used to be the headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division. I served here. Artillery.
- Guess it will be our "camp" now.
- What are we?
- War criminals. They told me at the city block meeting before I came in with you guys. We are here to confess, they give us amnesty,
we go home.
- What are my crimes?
- You killed VCs!
- Is that bad?
Laughter. "Depends on who's talking!"
- Seriously, how long you think it's gonna take.
- About a month, they said.
The guy who said a month ended up with something like four years. No one knows for sure how many of us officers of the Armed Forces of the
Republic of Viet Nam were rounded up by decree and put into concentration but estimates are from 40,000 to 80,000. We were prisoners of war,
after the war has for all practical purposes ended. To relieve us and the populace at large from that irony we were called students of a
"political reformation course," or reeducation, hoc tap cai tao, cai tao in short. We were not to refer to ourselves as prisoners, nor did
the political commissars in charge of our "reeducation" refer to us as prisoners. They just called us cai tao, addressed us as "you" in the
Vietnamese form that means "brother", generically, not in the familial sense. Nice, come to think of it. (And we were allowed to keep our
Since I am now free to say that we were nothing but prisoners, I will enjoy doing just that. But that will take the couleur locale off the
story telling. So for the sake of convenience and semantics let's just coin a term, caitao and for good form pluralize it with the letter
s. One caitao, two caitaos, twenty thousand caitaos.