A friend of mine is on vacation in Vietnam, and he’s having a very good time with his family. Apparently the people are cool, the place is bustling with energy, and the beer is cheap. Also, it’s a beautiful place rich in history and scenery, a country worth visiting. Sounds very much like a place to go, to unwind and relax.
But for some, Vietnam is the last place they would visit.
I asked my uncle, a US Army veteran of the A Shau valley, 1969-70, if he would ever want to go back. His face clouded over and he shook his head. He’ll never return.
To this day I don’t hear Vietnam mentioned in tones other than sorrow and fear from relatives and older friends. Not to mention how I see that land and the war that was fought there stamped on acquaintances, patients, up at the VA hospital.
If you talk to many Vietnam veterans, it is as if time stopped in 1966 or ’69. They are still frightened young men who have been sent out to kill their fellow men in those dark, forbidding forests, rugged hills or swampy rice paddies. If you get to know those fellows, they will tell their stories.
Some of the stories are very dark, searing tales of loss and horror. Friends who died or were maimed, civilians caught in the cross fire, enemies lying broken and dying. All of it told on the canvas of an emerald green land, foreign and unknowable.
These old men sit, with their worn faces and tired bodies, and in their minds they are eighteen years old again. They pull a trigger or a lanyard, they load bombs or ride in a Huey.
Vietnam is a real place to them, a dark corner in their heads.
But what they see isn’t real anymore. The Vietnam that they knew no longer exists. The youngest baby in the war is middle-aged now. That infant, now an adult with grown children, remembers not one single thing about those days.
This is a blessing. All wars, no matter how cruel, eventually end. With time, the most bitter foes can become friends. For some, that is, but certainly not all.
For many that fought, who can’t bear to ever return, the war is not over. It lives on like a curse, it colors each day. For tens of thousands, the word “Vietnam” will always be draped in black, chiseled in white marble at Arlington.
Someone said that no war is really over until the last soldier that fought is dead. By that measure, the final echoes of the Vietnam war will fade around 2075 or so. My war? Who knows. It’s still being fought.
If you believe in God, pray for peace. Then make sure you vote for wise leadership in whatever country you inhabit.
Let’s keep places like Vietnam happy and carefree for everyone going forward.