Vietnam: A Country, Not Just A War


First order of business on my tour of Saigon (many still use the traditional name rather than the official “Ho Chi Minh City”) was to visit the old neighborhood where I lived in enlisted quarters. As soon as I lumbered off the back of the small motor scooter, a crowd developed when I showed a couple of recently printed images of the locals taken 47 years ago. These folks were my neighbors when I lived amid the squalor of Bui Vien Street during what is known in Vietnam as “The American War.”
HeyMan DaughterGuard

Just like folks around the world, everyone wanted to see the pictures. The crowd grew. One pretty young woman clutching a baby approached and pointed to a cute little girl in the 47-year-old photo, proclaiming the girl to be her mother! Mom had died, but grandmother was still around.

Another pretty 20-something girl in a white dress came up to me and announced a cute little guy in the photo was her father. She pointed him out and it was the little guy we called “Hey Man” because each day he would run up and jump in my arms shouting, “Hey, man!” He would always manage to get chewing gum or candy from me.

“He works just over there in the park as a motor (scooter) taxi. Would you like to see him,” she asked with a bright smile.

Would I ever! The last time I had seen him was in 1968. We walked to the park where she found her dad. He was grinning from ear to ear when she brought him over to me. Sadly, I hadn’t acquired any Vietnamese language skills in the preceding half century and neither had Hey May. He was still short after 47 years, but like me he had gained some weight. I was glad he didn’t jump into my arms. By the time I left, he hadn’t taken any gum or sweets, but I did give him $20 just for old time sake.
We chatted with his daughter acting as interpreter (she works in a tourist bar) until he got a customer and departed on his motor taxi. What a treat to see three generations some 47 years after first meeting them as mere children living as refugees in poverty.

They still live in poverty, but now they understand how poor they are, thanks to world television and internet connections.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Grumpy ole guy
    May 17, 2014, 11:03 pm

    I, for one, hope that you do write the book.

  2. Amazing how we continue to elect narcissistic leaders who do the same thing over and over. Bush Clinton Bush Obama just did nearly the same thing that JFK LBJ Nixon Ford did… and they did it in spite of being explicitly warned not to by Eisenhower. The only winners have been the military industrial complexes.

    I will buy your book… so long as it has lots of pictures and is written at the 8th grade level.

  3. Suzanne Troje
    May 18, 2014, 10:49 am

    Nice story!

  4. Vietnam was a “war of choice” and those who sent all of us to fight in that country did not understand the only reason the Vietnamese people fought us was for their independence from foreign rule.
    The French got kicked out in the 1950’s to end colonial rule.

    I find myself wondering why it took so long to get out of that quagmire. So many names on the War Memorial and for what? Vietnam was never a threat to the United States and LBJ deserved all the flak he got over this conflict. Nixon needs it as well. His “peace with honor” was a cruel joke on American citizens.

    There are wars of choice and wars of necessity. We do not need to be the bully boys when it comes to wars of choice.

  5. Dave, you should post a before picture of yourself.

  6. Mary Pasley
    May 18, 2014, 1:03 pm

    Great article! Thank you for your service.

  7. Henry Nguyen
    May 19, 2014, 9:23 am

    Glad to see you small connection to the past. Things had changed a lot throughout Vietnam however, poor they still are. Hope your trip continues and reveals more than simplistic “They still live in poverty, but now they understand how poor they are, thanks to world television and internet connections.”. Compared 1973 (when you lived there)with Vietnamese income per capita was less than $600/year, today’s Vietnamese enjoys a 6 folds growth to over $3,000/year. Not bad for a devastated country suffered lopsided war with the US, 2 more with Cambodia, China and 20 years of US led economic blockade.

    EDITOR NOTE–Henry, I served in 1967-68 and have returned three times since 1996. I have watched the economic progress of the nation including the foreign investments, improved infrastructure, health of the people, etc.
    Saigon now boasts a tunnel beneath the Saigon River and the view from across the river of the skyscrapers and modern architecture are a testament to progress. However, Hey Man still lives in poverty with a cell phone in his pocket.

  8. Henry, not sure if you adjusted the “great improvement” to the average Vietnamese citizen’s income for inflation to the new 2014 Kenyan Marks we now use. 1973 USD vs 2014 Kenyan Marks would indicate that the worker/serf class is, at best, ALMOST breaking even, or more than likely is going in the hole under Mao and Ho’s marvelous communist government:

    Inflation Calculator
    The Changing Value of a Dollar

    In 1973

    Convert to $:
    In 2014

    (results appear below)

    $1.00 in 1973 had the same buying power as $5.48 in 2014.
    Annual inflation over this period was 4.24%.

    Dave, glad you enjoy visiting Communist Viet Nam, (Many vets do) I tend to hold grudges too long to voluntarily contribute to them. . .

    EDITOR NOTE–Go to YOU TUBE and watch “Uncle Sam, Uncle Ho.”
    Major Al Thomas who is interviewed in this impartial BBC documentary was a personal friend of mine. He told me in detail that Ho loved America, Americans, and the defense of liberty. Thomas was an OSS officer who led 200 men of the “Deer Team” into Vietnam in 1945. They armed and trained Ho Chi Minh to fight the Japanese. We turned on them in late 1945 after the war ended. Al Thomas personally carried letters from Ho back to Washington asking for diplomatic recognition and educators from the USA. Truman refused and went with the French colonists. The rest is history. I have seen war and peace. Peace is better for all concerned.

  9. Good luck on the book, Dave, and thanks for your service.

    Flyhead, good points. We are often disappointed with our wars of choice…but in 1968 I joined the Army to stop Communist aggression in the world. It was a good decision for me, and I stand by that principle today.

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