Present At The Apocalypse


Most of our passengers were herded off to a side area. Stretchers were brought on board, and they carried out the man who had the bad wound in his head and the other man with his intestines hanging out. When everyone was off, we started to check out the inside of the aircraft. Val and I walked through it and started picking up guns and bullets and hand grenades left in the seats. I realized that there was far too much for us to carry out. So I said to Val, “Never mind. Just leave this stuff. Somebody will come ana take care of it.”

Then Val and I got off. We were the last two people off the plane. We looked at the damage to the aircraft, and we were really quite appalled at how torn up the metal was and at the bullet holes in the wings. And I said to Val at that time, “It’s amazing that this plane could fly.”

Val and I were picked up and taken to flight operations and then to the Caravelle Hotel. We were escorted to Mr. Daly’s suite, where NBC was interviewing all of us. I was sitting on the couch drinking beer as they made their film. There was a room next door and a suite where there were several dozen reporters waiting for us. They all wanted an interview. I asked Mr. Daly, “What should we say about the flight?” He said, “Just tell the truth.”

Mr. Daly took us all out to dinner that evening. When we got back to the hotel, I took a long shower. Then I lay down on the bed to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep. I kept seeing the people from that morning in Da Nang. I saw the woman trampled to death, and I could see her clothes and the bloody pulp of her body. And I saw that family of five again, all shot in the back and falling. And the man crawling down the aisle to me. I realized that I was not going to sleep at all that night.

I got up and went over to the desk. I thought maybe I could write it all down. I tried writing. I got some of it. But it was really frustrating because it was too big for words. I didn’t know how to write it down like it really happened.

Time went by. I had lost my conception of time. All of a sudden the phone rang. I answered, and the operator told me that I had an international call. I looked at the clock and realized it was seven in the morning. Then a woman came on the phone from a radio station in Los Angeles. She wanted to interview me. She had seen the CBS film of the flight from Da Nang on the news. So I told her what had happened. And at the end of the interview she said the dumbest thing I ever heard anybody say in my whole life. She said, “Miss Wollett, it sounds to me like you’re still upset.” Many things went through my mind at that moment. But all I could say was, “Let’s just put it this way. It’s not the kind of thing you see every day.”

Then she said, “Well, thank you, Miss Wollett. And by the way, have a happy Easter.” Only then did I realize that it was Easter Sunday.