A few days ago, I went to the rookery next to the Welcome Center in Ocean City, NJ. It is quite late in the breeding season and most of the newborn herons, as well as their parents, have migrated. However, a handful were still around for pictures.
There were many Forster’s Terns at the refuge, with about half of them being still immature or juvenile. They were all superb acrobatic fliers and their diving into the marshes to catch fish was a challenge I cannot resist photographing year after year.
I often tried to capture the moment they caught a fish, but the best I could do this time is a not-so-sharp photo.
A few days ago I took pictures of what I thought was a Black Swallowtail. When I looked at the pictures closely and compared them with those I took a few weeks ago, it turned out that it is actually a Spicebush Swallowtail, which is also black but has slightly different color markings on its wings.
Here are two photos of a Black Swallowtail for comparison.
According to the web site Butterflies at Home, “the Spicebush has a bluish-green colored “swosh” and is missing one orange spot.”
I think that most of you will enjoy reading this book and will find it informative and worthwhile. If you do read it, I would be grateful if you would review it on Amazon or make a comment on this WordPress blog page.
In 1959, I volunteered for a class assignment to go to the city of An Lộc to observe and report on how a rubber plantation worked. The plantation was owned by a now-defunct French company, Société des Plantations des Terres Rouges. I spent several hours with a young Vietnamese forestry engineer touring the plantation and its processing plants, and came back thoroughly impressed by the immense scale of the plantation and its vibrant life.
Thirteen years later, in the spring of 1972, three North Vietnamese divisions, supported by an artillery division and two tank regiments, attacked An Lộc, hoping to capture it within days to use as the capital for a Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government. By then I had gone to college in America, returned to Việt Nam, and, after a brief stint in the military, was working in various capacities in the civilian government. I still remember lying awake at night in Sài Gòn listening to the distant rumble of B-52 bombs dropped on North Vietnamese troops encircling An Lộc to prevent them from overwhelming the city’s defenders.
In the end, the city was completely destroyed and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed, mostly by Communist artillery. Despite that, An Lộc did not surrender and the Communists had to abandon their siege after three months.
Since that time I have wanted to write a book to describe what the people and soldiers of An Lộc had to endure over three months to prevent their city from falling into enemy hands. Over the last ten years, I acquired and read many books and documents in both English and Vietnamese about what happened there. They contain a lot of information, but they were written by authors who were military men, each with his own axe to grind.
American authors were almost always critical of South Vietnamese military leaders. Vietnamese authors, especially former generals and high-ranking officers, tried their best to present the battle from their own viewpoints. There was only one account written by a non-commissioned officer, and none by the soldiers and the civilians who were able to survive their ordeal. As for the North Vietnamese, since An Lộc was their defeat, hardly any published writing on the battle can be found, except for a few Internet wiki articles with only propaganda value.
After my retirement, in early 2018 I began writing The Siege of An Lộc to describe the battle through the eyes of the soldiers and civilians who underwent over three months of fighting and surviving in that wartime inferno. It is of course a fictionalized account, although I tried my best to respect the basic historical facts.
The novel’s two main protagonists are a young and idealistic Lieutenant in the Regional Forces and the daughter of a rubber plantation owner. In contrast to the main characters in my first novel, Village Teacher, this time it is not class difference or parents that come between them. It is the war and the constant threat to their lives during the siege.
Surrounding them is a cast of characters that include a street noodle vendor, an airborne officer, a half-French Communist commander, and two Communist ralliers, including a singer, who defected to the South Vietnamese side.
For people who may have never heard of An Lộc, my novel presents a detailed look not only at how generals and commanders planned and fought the battle, but perhaps more importantly, at how the soldiers and civilians of An Lộc managed to endure and survive their hellish ordeal.
The two little girls in the photo displayed below were discovered in An Lộc by South Vietnamese Rangers after they recaptured an airfield lost to the North Vietnamese at the start of the siege. The older girl said they were children of a Regional Forces soldier fighting somewhere in the city. When the Communists attacked, they tried to run away with their mother who was carrying their baby brother. A North Vietnamese artillery round landed near them, killing their mother and wounding their brother. They carried him and fled into a cave to hide. He died later that night.
The two sisters stayed in the cave for more than two months, subsisting on anything they could find through foraging and scavenging. They ate wild plants, grasshoppers, and once, the raw meat of a chicken killed by artillery.
In 2016, I came back to visit An Lộc for a few hours. The city had been completely rebuilt, with houses and stores looking brand new, and none of the people I talked to remembered what happened there 44 years earlier. As usual the Communist regime rewrote history, going as far as having bodies disinterred and cemeteries flattened by bulldozers.
I have published the novel through Amazon self-publishing services. If you are interested in reading it, here’s its link on Amazon for both the paperback and Kindle versions:
Hurricane Isaias is only glancing at Florida and is headed to the northeast. Storms with strong winds (70 mph or 112 kph) are predicted for our area. Yesterday, I went to the Edwin B. Forsythe refuge and saw groups of shorebirds huddled together on the water sleeping. Maybe they flew away from the storms and were resting there?
There were many American Avocets that are usually rare in New Jersey.
Sand flies were also abundant and forced me to go home early. There hibiscuses and milkweed are in full bloom, and butterflies were flittering about.