Few Americans understood more than 20 Vietnamese words and most Vietnamese had a similar knowledge of English. A numerical rating system from 1 to 10 expanded what could be communicated. “VC number 10” meant the enemy was very bad and “GI number 1” meant Americans were good. Anything 2 thru 9 was really 10 with a polite façade. Closing a road guard outpost before dark made sense to this soldier but was number 10 to us.

Our stated goal in Vietnam was to “win their hearts and minds” but the language barrier made understanding intent impossible. Our cultures were very different. Male friends held hands walking in public in Vietnam. In America 2 men holding hands in public would be labeled a homosexual act, but in Vietnam was seen as an expression of platonic friendship.

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