Extract from interview with Helen Frizzell, 25-26 August 2009
Reproduced with permission of Peter Skidmore
[Did you ever see Viet Cong?]
In the hospital, yes, as patients, and on the roadside occasionally. Occasionally they’d be shot and tied up like a, like a tiger and a note stuck in their mouth to say, Hey, this is a Viet Cong and if you’re one of them, this is what’ll happen to you.
How did you know they were Viet Cong in the hospital?
From – they looked like peasants. They were very, often very sun tanned, but if you look at the soles of their feet, they were soft and they’d obviously been wearing good shoes. They hadn’t been wearing farmers’ sandals or bare feet out in the paddocks, so they didn’t have hard, calloused, agricultural, peasant farmers’ type skin effect. They’d certainly been soldiers in boots at some stage but were, had been out in the open air quite a lot, so presumably soldiers get heavily sun tanned as, I mean they were quite, very, very dark in colour, but had soft feet.
And the other give away sign sometimes, was that they were hand cuffed to the bed, anyway. So they’d been taken prisoner for some, for some reason.
So when they were in the hospital, how were they treated by the local Vietnamese? Were you aware of anything there?
Nothing strongly anti-them. I mean, I think there were so many different types of people in the hospital and they were very accepting of just about anybody. I didn’t notice that they were strongly for, or against. They were just another hospital patient. No, no discrimination or open discrimination, or open comment, really.
What about the New Zealanders’ attitude to the Viet Cong? I’m meaning amongst the civilian services surgical team.
There wasn’t one. I don’t think there was an attitude, they were just local people and whether they were peasant farmers or whether – we didn’t judge them on who they were. Didn’t even try and work out – and sometimes didn’t know. Didn’t really matter. They were there because they were unwell and if we could do something to lessen that problem, then that was what would happen.
Vietnam War Oral History Project, Manatu Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage