JF Ptak Science Books Post 1957
Five years and 2,200 posts ago, in the young pages of this blog, I wrote a short bit on what might have been the most obscure and removed reference to the American involvement in the Vietnam War, here. It appeared in the 5 April 1954 issue of the Atomic Times, which was a newspaper of sorts produced by the U.S. Army and printed on a mimeographed, single-sheet page, and distributed at the tip, or bottom, of a very skinny piece of nearly-circular land far out in the Pacific Ocean at Eniwetok Atoll, 5 April 1954. The piece of news related to the hoped-for victory of the French Expeditionary Force in the doomed garrison of Dien Bien Phu: “French troops have been parachuted into the Indo-Chinese fortress of Dien Bien Phu to join weary defenders in their battle with the Communists. French officials now have a high hope pf a French victory, and they say the Communists cannot possibly continue their assault unless they receive thousands of reinforcements”. Of course, this was not the case, and the French were badly defeated there, spelling out the beginning of their end in that country and about the earliest beginnings of American involvement in their place.
Then a remarkable thing happened. I was reading in a small cache of mimeographed newsletters called The Parry Island Breeze, which was also produced by the U.S. military (Army engineers?) on Parry Island, which was just down the end of the long arm of slender island from Eniwetok in the Marshal Islands group. This issue (volume 16, No. 5) was released on 6 April 1954, and it was--like the Atomic Times--a legal sheet printed on two sides. In the second column, for the day following the Atomic Times notice, we see the following:
Again! There was no victory in sight for the French at Dien Bien Phu in April, and only misery and heroism and bitterness and death and division lay ahead in the coming month, and then too in the coming decades.
In the first week of April ,1954, the French garrison was just about conquered--there would be one more month of agony to endure before the Vietminh would claim full victory.
After an eight-week siege, the garrison was defeated. Badly. Brilliantly. The French were overrun by the Viet Minh forces on 7 May 1954, effectively ending the First Indochina War and the French presence in Southeast Asia came to the end. And here, probably cranked out by hand in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a narrow bit of land separating vast collections of ocean, on long narrow strips of earth from which many nuclear tests were conducted, news reached the soldiers and sailors stationed here about the coming French victory in Vietnam. Of course not even the French knew at the time that the Vietminh army was tunneling its way through the mountains surrounding the garrison, carrying up large cannons in small bits and pieces up through "impenetrable" jungle mountain slopes to install into those tunnels once they breached the other side of the mountain so that they could fire down onto the French. All of that was yet to come. In April, there was a certain bit of hope, but I think in reality it was on fire.