In the fall of ’65. my best friends, Frenchy, Knarley and Barbwire Johnny and I, were guiding a group of serious hunters on the Muskwa River for Elk and Grizzly. We had some experienced hunters to guide and this always made the hunt more interesting. These men had done a lot of hunting and were not complainers. This was important to guys who worked all day, starting in the dark, and finishing in the dark.
The best hunters were there for the hunt and not just to take a trophy animal. These guys measured up in the eyes of a guide, but one of them stood out; he was quiet and didn’t try to make a joke of every little thing. He sat a horse like he owned it and asked intelligent questions about tracks and signs of game. The other hunters talked of hunts in exotic places, but this fellow talked of the places and the people who guided him.
His name was Bill Meyers, he was a geologist, well over fifty years old, and originally from the Dallas Fort Worth area. On the third night and after the other hunters had told their life stories, Bill had a small glass of rye and told us about a charmed life of survival and constant danger during World War II.
This was in the fall of 1965 and the war in Vietnam was beginning to heat up. There was only one person at the campfire who could find French Indochina (originally Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam) on a map without looking all over Asia and that was Bill.
In 1939, he graduated with a degree in geology and his first job was consulting with a French Petroleum company, exploring the highlands of what was to become Vietnam.
In 1940, France was defeated by Nazi Germany. The Vichy government, a puppet government of German occupation forces, was set up to govern France and consequently, French Indo China.
The Vichy government ceded control over Hanoi and Saigon to Japan. In 1941, Japan extended its control over all of French Indo China; although, control was dubious, there were few roads and most of them were seasonal. Beyond the cities, the peasants lived on a subsistence level and without the French plantation system there was almost no value in the jungles and mountains of French Indo China.
The United States became concerned with Japanese expansion and set up embargoes on steel and oil to Japan. Losing the source for steel and oil was a threat to the war machine of Japan and forced Japan to become aware of the need to be self-sufficient. Attacking Pearl Harbor was inevitable if Japan was going to extend its notions of imperialism and empire.
Bill and the rest of his crew were indifferent to the Japanese presence in the cities. The Japanese let the French colonial system proceed normally; after all, they weren’t set up to exploit the country or its resources and the French already had everything under control.
Of course, the embargoes forced Japan to either end its wars or become self-sufficient in raw materials. Destroying the Pacific Fleet was one way Japan could assert its power over the entire Pacific and control its own destiny.
A few days after December 7, 1941, Bill decided to try and hook up with some allied forces in China.
Bill had served in the Tennessee National Guard Cavalry for four years, while pursuing his degree, during the 30s, and the idea of surrendering didn’t appeal to him. With nothing but a compass mounted in oil, a few inaccurate maps, and a 45 ACP pistol with 50 rounds, Bill bid his French friends, adios and headed north. He had heard rumors there was armed resistance in the North and he figured he’d rather die with a bullet in his belly than have a katana slice through his neck.
Bill made it all the way to China before he found the resistance groups he was looking for. His clothes had rotted away and he had lost half his body weight to dysentery. He learned to speak Vietnamese with a measure of French. It endeared him to the peasants who were usually helpful towards the big green-eyed barbarian, dressed in traditional peasant clothes, who was traveling through the country. He would rest in different villages and learn the culture as well as the language. He treated the women with respect and made friends with the children and men. He was well liked and thought of as a hero in those early days.
The Japanese didn’t travel into the country and the resistance was negligible in the beginning; although, there was resistance in the north to both the French and the Japanese in 1941.
Bill made it into China during June of 1942. He found a Chinese nationalist group, the Dong Minh Hoi (DMH), which was committed to the allied effort against Japan. The group included Communists, but was not controlled by them.
Bill was interrogated at length, but his knowledge was little more than a peasant could offer. He retraced his trail as accurately as possible, but the peasants knew almost nothing of the Japanese occupation and he had nothing to offer.
It was during the interrogations that he met Ho Chi Minh. Ho had been released from prison in China because intelligence beyond the level of illiterate peasants was needed to launch campaigns. Ho was assisted by Western intelligence agencies, including the American Office of Strategic Services, and the Free French Intelligence service.
Bill was impressed with the soft-spoken Ho. He was extremely intelligent and spoke eloquently of the need for a free Indochina and of how their efforts to defeat the Japanese should convince FDR of the importance of helping rid Indochina of the colonial grasp of France.
Bill worked with Ho until the end of the war. He mapped the roads and plotted ambush sites. He moved like a ghost with one or two helpers. They observed convoys and bill drew the topography. Bill continued his work with the resistance for three years, until the Japanese surrender.
The Japanese became suspicious of the Vichy French and imprisoned them, in March of 1945.The Japanese were defeated in August and a provisional government was attempted, but the French once again took control of Indochina in 1946, aided by American supplies and munitions.
He still had the 1911, 45 ACP and the 50 rounds of ammunition. During the entire war, he had never fired a shot. He gave the pistol and the box of ammunition to Ho as a present, before he boarded a ship for home in Haiphong Harbor.
Back home, he watched as Truman became distrustful of Ho. There was a strong distrust of all Communists and the French were seen as a force that could keep Indochina from becoming a Communist country. However, the people of Indochina, from both anti-communist and communist groups wanted independence and to be rid of French Colonialism.
Ho became disenchanted with the US, when they supplied the French Colonial troops with military surplus munitions and equipment. Ho depended on China and the Soviets to supply him with the munitions he needed to defeat the French and we lost a potential ally.
When Bill finished his story, the hunters were deathly quiet. Barbwire Johnny was overwhelmed with the information, but Frenchy, was more intelligent than most, he had a question.
“Bill, the US is sending Marines there now, how do you think that will play out?” Frenchy asked.
Bill took another small glass of rye and drank it all down before saying a word. “That’s a tough question, but I will let you answer your own question. Remember when I talked about hunting lions with the Masai?” Bill asked.
Frenchy replied with his naïve honesty, “Yes, sir, I remember well, those Masai are some tough guys.”
“Yes Frenchy, they are much tougher than you know. I was hunting lion with a 30-06 rifle, not the biggest rifle, but big enough. Do you now what the Masai hunt lions with, Frenchy?”
“No sir, I don’t have any idea,” Frenchy replied honestly.
“They have four weapons. Their most lethal weapon is a five foot stick, they carry a long knife, they have a stone sewed into a leather sack and tied onto a small stick, you would call it a type of mace, and a short stabbing spear, but when a lion is ready to attack their family or one of their cattle, they go after it with their stick and they usually win. Can you imagine going against a mountain lion or a bear with a stick?”
“No sir, I don’t think so.”
“They have a different outlook on life, Frenchy. You know that humans and horses live long past a practical age. With horses we put them out of their misery and we consider ourselves to be humane, but with humans, it’s a different story.”
“The Masai are not inhibited by the same value system as we have. They look at everything differently. My guide invited me to a birthday party for his grandfather. It was to be a joyous occasion and I was honored by the invitation.”
“I arrived at the party and everyone was getting roaring drunk, especially the grandfather. He thanked me over and over for coming to his party. The liquor was fermented cow’s milk, so I didn’t really partake, but maybe I should have. There was a deep hole in the ground, about six feet deep. And a reed mat was laying next to the hole with a pile of boulders, each one about the size of a watermelon.. The old man became so drunk, I thought he laid down on the mat to pass out, but his grandson rolled him up in the mat and inserted mat and man in the hole with just his head above the ground. My guide, the old man’s grandson, picked up a boulder and dropped it from six feet in the air onto the old man’s head. He continued until his grandfather was buried beneath the pile of boulders.”
“Do you think you could do that Frenchy?”
“No, I’ll not be dropping rocks on anybody. No, that’s not for me,” Frenchy said.
“Nor could I, Frenchy, but you see, I went native in Indochina. I survived against all odds and many types of ethnic people accepted me, because I adapted to their life, instead of expecting them to be like me. The US is headed for trouble over there, you can bank on that, because those people are like the Masai; they are not afraid to take the switch to the lion.”
Author’s Note: My new book is nearly ready for publication. “Fifty Thousand Years”
You can read a sample chapter: http://natural2thman.wixsite.com/author-blog