It was the late spring of 1975 and I was 19 years old, wearing pink hot pants and a halter top. I was a member of a USO tour in Southeast Asia.

From left, Sharon Hinckley, Carol Craig, Jody Rich, Sue Stambaugh and Patti Jean Cousens were among the 10 University of Maine at Farmington students who traveled to Southeast Asia on a USO tour in 1975. Photo courtesy of Jody Rich

Ten of us from the University of Maine at Farmington were in Korea. Transport between military bases was by helicopter. One day, we had two choppers for us and our equipment. The pilots let us keep the side doors open so we could really see the countryside.

All of a sudden, our chopper had some kind of mechanical trouble and had to land. Things got serious real fast. This was South Korean countryside. Saigon had fallen a couple of weeks earlier. Look at a map.

We landed on a hilltop field. Not in a meadow. This was someone’s farmland. The other chopper landed nearby, rotor still going, just in case.

We sat, waiting, looking out those still-open doors.

Then, at the edge of this down-sloping field, a person’s head popped up. Then there were two more. Face after face popped up around the field’s perimeter. Just looking at us. Us, just looking at them. Through our headsets we heard, “Don’t make any sudden moves.” Then Jerry Owens, our director, said, “Smile.”

And we all did, a bright flash of Crest white teeth, on command.

One of the officers got out and went over to whom he guessed was the farmer. By now there were a few dozen people all along the edges of this field, and all we could see were their heads and necks. They were as leery of us as we were of them. Equally vulnerable. Equally scared. The officer spoke with the farmer and turned to give the pilots the thumbs up.

Then Jerry, who never missed a chance to perform, said, “Everyone get out.”

And we did.

Quickly, we got into position and broke into “I Can See Clearly Now.” Yes, we did. Our mouths opened and the first few notes came out. Their mouths dropped open and they seemed pleasantly surprised. Smiles were on their faces – they were certainly on ours.

You know the part when you sing, “Look all around, nothing but blue skies,” and you keep the “skies” part going and going? And you have to catch a breath to get to the end of the run? Well, when we got to that, we did the skate. You know that move. Our arms came up to one side and then swung back to the other side while skating.

Some of the audience moved theirs, too.

They came closer as we sang and danced. I could see their faces in detail. They could see mine.

Some started clapping and bouncing to the rhythm.

We finished the song and they applauded. We waved and nodded to one another. Jerry went over and shook the farmer’s hand. We shook hands, smiled and nodded to each other. Then Jerry brought us back together for another song.

“Give Me a Ticket For an Aeroplane.”

The mechanics fixed whatever had broken and waved us back into the choppers. We waved goodbye and flew away.

Music brought us together.

In peace.

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