The Phu Cam Roman Catholic Church in Hue was a frenzy of civilian refuge in the early days of the 1968 battle. Delirious, panicked, hungry, dirty, blood-crusted people crammed into the church, which, for all its nooks and crannies, could not possibly have accommodated 4,000 people except that it did.
In her book “A Mourning Headband for Hue,” Nha Ca relates the hellish conditions inside the church, the trauma and insanity that day-to-night fear bred in otherwise normal people.
Hue was a city of professionals, academics, government officials, people who had nice things in houses that soldiers ravaged trying to roust out the enemy, houses with the roofs blown off, windows shattered, blood smeared, whiskey and food scavenged, flowers trampled, orchards blown to shreds.
The tour bus stopped in front of the church. Twenty-four veterans, six wives, two daughters, a son-in-law and two journalists walked inside. They took seats together in two lengths of pews as horns honked continuously in a non-stop flow of scooters, bicycles and cars outside.
“Every time I visit this church, I sit here and I read every name,” said Col. Chuck Meadows, who sat against a railing at the front of his group with a list of Golf Company killed in action. “The first time back, in 1998, the senior father here had been here” in 1968. “He was in his early 90s. Imagine 4,000 people crammed into here.”
Everyone looked around, unable to. Some of the hometowns of the men on the colonel’s list weren’t that populous.
The colonel held the page up and started in:
“Carter, Clyde, 19 years old.” He paused, shook his head quickly, swallowed. “Wilburton, Oklahoma.”
He paused again. A small sob arose among his listeners as names and ages — 18, 19, 20 — led to places like Red Cloud, Nebraska; Coldwater, Mississippi; Whispering Pines, California.
“Paul Stasko, 21, Butler, Pennsylvania,” he continued. “Ronald Lee Kustaborder, 19, Altoona, Pennsylvania.”
Phil Hinderberger, who served in the 1st battalion, 1st Marines command group that entered Hue with Golf 2nd/5th, then read 42 names of men from Alpha Company killed in and around Hue.
Sniffles and coughs echoed in the hushed cathedral.
“We are very grateful we made it through, however we did that,” the colonel said, “and I appreciate you all participating in this.”
The men who survived should be remembered too, he said.
“History doesn’t know their names, all the Georges out there, but they’re the ones who crossed the street, who retrieved the bodies. They look lightly on some of the things they did, but I don’t.”