Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 774
In “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” Rat Kiley, a soldier with a reputation for telling tall tales, claims to have witnessed the transformation of Mary Anne Bell, a typical American girl who visits her fiancé, Mark Fossie, in Vietnam, into a wild jungle beast.
At the start of the story, Rat is in a small medical detachment overlooking a village called Tra Bong and a river called the Song Tra Bong. The area had been a Special Forces outpost, and a squad of Green Berets still bivouacked on the perimeter. The “Greenies” were secretive, antisocial, and sometimes gone for days—or weeks—in the jungle.
One of the men in Rat’s unit, Mark Fossie, arranges for his fiancé to visit. Mary Anne Bell is an all-American girl—a “tall, big-boned blonde,” with long white legs, blue eyes and a complexion “like strawberry ice cream.” She is naïve, friendly, and curious. She wears a pink sweater and white culottes.
At first things go well for the couple. They hold hands, talk, and plan their all-American wedding and marriage—complete with a house in the suburbs and three blond children. Mary Anne participates in camp life. Although she is flirtatious and sexy, the men realize that she is just being friendly, and they like her. She is curious about everything: the weapons, cooking, medical equipment, geography, and the local people and language.
The second week of her visit, Mary Anne persuades Mark to take her to the village of Tra Bong. He argues that going there would be too dangerous, but she prevails. In the village, she behaves like an ordinary tourist unaware of danger. She is outgoing, friendly, and curious. On the way home, she removes her outer clothing and swims in the Song Tra Bong—a symbolic baptism that marks the beginning of her transformation.
At the end of the second week, Mary Anne helps treat some casualties and is not intimidated by blood or ugliness. She cuts her hair and wraps her head in a bandanna, stops wearing makeup, and lets her personal hygiene go. Even her voice changes, becoming lower. She learns how to disassemble, assemble, and shoot an M-16 rifle. Mark becomes uneasy and begins to mention her going home, but she refuses, saying that she has never been happier.
Mary Anne begins coming back to the soldiers’ hooch late at night. One night she does not return at all. The men search the camp, finally finding her with the Green Berets. She is asleep, and they realize that she has gone out on a patrol with them in the jungle.
By the third week, tension between Mary Anne and Mark is evident, and he begins to arrange for her departure. Mary Anne becomes morose and silent, sitting alone, staring at the jungle. Rat says that she seems both terrified and enthralled by it. Abruptly, she disappears into the jungle for three weeks with the Green Berets.
(The entire section contains 774 words.)
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