It is the early 1970’s, a young Richard sits on the living room floor watching a live broadcast on TV, it’s the American Draft Board pulling birth dates which will determine who goes to war, his mother sobs quietly behind on the couch. All birthdays assigned to a number 200 or less have to go to war, Richard’s birth date is assigned to the number 195. Richard has one week to report to the recruitment center, eight weeks later he is fighting and killing communists in Vietnam.
Fast-forward forty-five years later and I am traveling with that same Richard back to Vietnam on business, this is my first trip to Saigon and this is Richard’s second trip to what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City.
We duck into a small bar, Richard still remembers some of his Vietnamese and orders us a beer. The Waitress asks where are we from. Richard holds up his hand to me and replies, “We are from Canada.” I didn’t say anything at first and just waited. The beers will do the talking.
“They hate us here.” Richard finally said. “They hate all Americans.”
After a few more beers we walk outside, Richard points out some of the sites and places he remembers when this city use to be called Saigon. Richard told me how he use to count his verified kills, he stopped after 22, said it was a stupid insane way of trying to maintain his sanity.
“That park over there.” Richard points. “Spent my last days protecting helicopters as they came flying in like dragonflies air lifting American solders to safety, we left thousands of women and children behind.” Richard pauses for a second. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed to tell these people I’m an American.”
I had to think about that for a while.
The Vietnamese called it the American War, the US called it the Vietnam War and in 1975 the US abandoned the South Vietnamese to end the US involvement in the war that lasted nearly 10 years. North Vietnam troops quickly over took the south and killed and tortured millions.
Today Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is a beautiful place, the people are friendly and a visit here is well worth the effort.
For the next several days and on several occasions people did ask where I was from, I didn’t experience any resentment when I told them I was from the US but at times I continued to keep up the pretense that I was from Canada. Most people just smiled and nodded and nothing more.
Am I ashamed or embarrassed of being an American? I have to think about that for a while…
Ho Chi Minh City is a modern city and although a Communist country it has poised itself ready and able for the 21st century.
But i like the old, the local and the gritty….
One of the oldest hotels, the Grand Hotel
The People I meet
Next a Vietnam wedding…