Approximate location of
Bad Luck, WA, 1968
48.096, -122.959


















































In homage to
The Village of Ban Suc and
its author Jonathan Schell


The week Willy made it to Vietnam, an event occurred in the tiny coastal village of Bad Luck, Washington that should have galvanized American public opinion in favor of the war: the only known attack by North Vietnamese forces on American soil. And yet all traces of the invasion on the banks of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca lie buried, censored, covered up, unknown.

Up to that moment, Bad Luck had been an unprosperous town of some hundred and fifty people. It had a recorded history going back to the late nineteen-forties when a new Coast Guard station was established a few miles west and the Olympic National Park Visitor Center was constructed near the decommissioned military base at Fort Worden.

The village supported several Park Rangers, the manager of a local K-Mart, his family and employees, a husband-wife redwood sculpture studio, a boat dock, marine supply and repair shop, one Texaco gas station, a sporting and hardware store, and a few fishers for Dungeness crab, a famous product of the Puget Sound region.

The Vietnamese attack force — a light company of North Vietnamese regulars in a World War II class Soviet submarine — seized the boat dock at lightbreak and sealed off the single road through town with machine gun squads to the east and west, leaving only a footpath through heavy pine forest to the south and the road to the dock north of town. The company, well-armed with AK-47s, a 57mm recoiless rifle, and an RPG rocket grenade launcher, moved building to building along Main Street and its two cross streets, Pine and Elm, awakening the residents. Most of the enemy spoke no English, though there was one translator who spoke perfect English with a Canadian accent. At each house the soldiers, who wore standard NVA uniforms, held the inhabitants at gunpoint, demanding that one householder read aloud to the others an English-language leaflet prepared for the invasion.

“Americans,” it said. “We are an armed propaganda team from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Your government is engaged in an illegal, immoral, and racist war against our nation. Please do not attempt to resist. Accompany our soldiers to the center of your village where we will demonstrate to you the bitter actions of your government’s henchmen against our people. Do not be afraid for your safety.”

The residents of each house were searched carefully as they left, many half-dressed in the chilly dawn. A mist lay ankle-deep among the trees and on the paved streets of the central section of town. Bad Luck had no police force; a few of the inhabitants owned hunting rifles. The one man who attempted to pull a rifle down from over his front door was seized by the soldiers and disarmed. By seven o’clock, the villagers had assembled in a rough L at the corner of Main and Pine. The approximately 15 children were upset and crying. The sculptor became hysterical and had to be restrained by his wife from attacking the invaders with a rock he seized from the road.

At the intersection, they were separated into two groups, the men on Pine, the women and children on Main, and ordered to sit on the street and sidewalks. Once all were seated, the interpreter, who bore special insignia and was clearly the officer in charge, lifted a bullhorn and addressed the group.

“You all know, I assume,” he said, “of the weapon called napalm.”

It can be assumed they had. Several people burst into tears. “For God’s sake, show some humanity,” the owner of the filling station said, thinking the napalm would be used on them. No attempt was made, however, to escape. The Vietnamese soldiers, one for at least every five townspeople, surrounded the two groups, automatic rifles held waisthigh, aimed over the heads of their prisoners. Handgrenades hung at their belts.

A young man, son of a Park Ranger, half-rose, almost unable to speak, and announced to the officer/interpreter that he opposed the war, that his family opposed the war. “You shouldn’t kill us, or anybody,” he pled. “We’re all just innocent here.”

“No one is innocent,” said the officer. The young man crouched, face in his hands, shivering.

Three soldiers appeared on the road to the dock, rolling a metal drum, which made a heavy, awkward, crunching sound on the gravel. It was marked with Vietnamese symbols, including the familiar three triangles in a circle indicating danger of some sort. The men rolled the drum onto the sidewalk, around the corner, and half a block down Main to the front of the K-Mart, which was inset slightly from the street to allow parking. The lot was empty. The soldiers smashed the front window of the store with their rifle-butts. Up to this point there had been no sounds associated with war, no shots, screams (except from the sculptor), or explosions. Nothing but the morning caws of crows on the telephone lines and forest birds ignorant of the human activities below. The sound of the shattered glass brought the villagers to pitched attention. Some attempted to rise to see what was happening but were pulled down by friends and family or motioned down by the helmeted soldiers.

The soldiers lifted the drum and dropped it through the broken window into the store. One of the three stepped after it, emerging moments later unreeling a wire from a spool. The three men backed down the block, wire unspooling before them, until they reached their comrades at the forward edge of the crowd.

“Watch carefully,” said the officer, possibly the least necessary statement at that moment. The soldier placed the reel on the ground, clipped the wire, and handed the loose end to another, who was actually smiling as he stepped forward, brought the clipped ends of the wire to a box of some sort, no doubt a battery, and touched the wires to two posts on the top.

The end of the world was how the wife of the marine repairman experienced it. A Ranger who had fought fires in California said it reminded him of the way trees burn from the inside out, giving the impression of flames entering the world from Hell, rising through incendiary roots, boiling up from the depths; but suddenly, hugely, in an instant.

The oilblack smoke formed a cocoon out of which the flames roiled. The front of the K-mart disappeared and the flames and exploding smoke shot across Main Street, engulfing the hardware store, incinerating the owner’s Buick parked in front, and the apartment on the second floor. The scorched air and roar seemed identical, a synesthetic effect noted by many: I couldn’t tell the difference between the heat and the noise. They heard the flames, smelled the noise, felt engulfed by both. Panic rippled through the crowd. Those on the inside pushed themselves against the ground, mothers covering their children. Several at the fringes jumped and ran. A fisherman in rubber boots and raingear, fully-dressed for his morning run when the Vietnamese arrived, dashed south on Pine. A soldier stepped from behind a tree, cried “Stop!” and struck him with the barrel of his rifle square in the forehead, dropping him to his knees, scalp torn and bleeding. The fleeing wife of the Texaco owner was seized by two soldiers and hurled into a doorway, where she lay as if paralyzed.

For several minutes there was only motionless fear and desolation, dominated by mist, ebony-colored napalm smoke, fire from the store, cans exploding inside the K-Mart, the Buick in flames, over which hung the searing smell of napalm. Then another roar, another window shattering. The napalm seemed to have a life of its own, producing in the villagers what might have seemed a stoic indifference to their fate. But there was nothing to say, nothing that could alter in any way what was happening.

“What you have seen,” said the amplified voice of the Vietnamese officer, “happens a hundred times a day in my country. Now you know. Now you have seen.” He motioned the squad behind him to move back down the road toward the pier.

Suddenly a young man, the teenage son of the K-Mart manager, appeared on a bicycle at the far end of the block, pedalling rapidly westward out of town along the road toward the Coast Guard station several miles away. He was wearing a plaid shirt and black chinos and was unarmed. The Vietnamese at that end of the block raised their weapons, but the officer stopped them with a barked command over the bullhorn. Perhaps he knew the din of the explosions and the acrid pitchblack smoke now rising high above the tops of the pines would alert anyone in the area far sooner than a kid on a bicycle, perhaps he wanted no more violence, but his order did not carry beyond the edge of the village. When the young man had ridden about twenty yards, there was a burst of machine-gun fire from a copse thirty yards in front of him, joined immediately by a burst from a cabbage field to one side, and he was hurled off his bicycle into a ditch a yard from the road. The bicycle crashed into a side embankment. The soldiers who had done the shooting walked over to the ditch. The boy lay on his side without moving, blood flowing from his face, eyes open, half buried in the dirt at the bottom of the ditch. One soldier leaned down, felt the boy’s wrist, and said something terse in Vietnamese.

The officer allowed the boy’s parents to run to the body and began ordering his men in small groups to the pier, maintaining a guard on the villagers in the intersection. There was muted relief in the crowd that the operation was coming to an end. Parents talked softly to their children, comforting them. As the last squad withdrew, forming a backward-moving line between the now milling townspeople and the officer, small-arms fire was heard from the direction of the dock. The Vietnamese broke into a run. Several villagers dashed through the eerie residue of smoke, napalm, and pine wood toward their homes to find weapons, others drifted from the intersection as from a funeral or memorial service.

At the pier, a rickety structure jutting into mist-laden waters, the Vietnamese were repelling a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat which had come accidentally on the scene. The Coast Guard sailors were unarmed and in retreat, the evacuation of the Vietnamese to their vessel almost finished. There were no Coast Guard casualties. Two and a half hours after it had arrived, the Soviet/Vietnamese submarine entered Canadian waters. All attempts to locate it with radar, patrols, and a sub-hunter flown up from McChord AFB at Tacoma, proved futile, the search complicated by Canada’s neutral stance toward the war, the initial disbelief by Canadian officials that such an event had occurred, and the need for secrecy.

Thus the single event that might have justified the American war in Vietnam, a virtual Pearl Harbor that could have caused a declaration of war, became a non-event. The United States could not reveal that its sole engagement with the enemy on U.S. soil came as a surprise, resulted in a one-sided defeat, and exposed our vulnerability within the very “Triangle of Death” that made Oriental invasion of Puget Sound unthinkable. The inhabitants of the town were given new identities and relocated to places unknown. Bad Luck itself was obliterated by a team of Rome Plow bulldozers flown in from the Oakland, California Army Terminal. The location was reseeded with pines and vegetation native to the area, remanding the area to its original state of virgin forest. The U.S. Government was bent on annihilating every possible indication that the village of Bad Luck had ever existed.