This particular journey has been talked out, fretted about and – finally- lovingly welcomed (A huge thank you to my Mom). My Dad – Yes, I still call him “Daddy” so I will continue from here on out calling him that wonderful title – was drafted into the US Army at the tender age of 19 to a land that must have seemed beyond foreign.
Plucked from the beautiful Tennessee mountains, going through a radical and new jungle training and then landing in a war stripped Vietnam must have been surreal, horrifying and instantly life changing. He did what was asked of him, returned to a supportive and loving family and friends but also an increasingly aggressive and outspoken Anti-War America. He and my sweet Mom married shortly after and started their family. My brother arrived first then I came along in 1972 (There would still be three years until the fall of Saigon). Daddy would sometimes talk about his experiences when it was quiet as I grew up. It seems like talking of painful or deep memories is somehow easier when its dark, quiet and there may be some whiskey handy. Maybe that is just my perspective. 🙂
He is naturally a compassionate, resourceful and very wise person and, thankfully, his time in Vietnam didn’t squash that- in some ironic way, I believe it enhanced these qualities.
He has never resented nor had a negative word to say about the country of Vietnam and the people of Vietnam. He talked about teaching some boys in a village outside of Pleiku how to play football. He talked about his amazement of this culture and their way of life.
What I heard, though, was that if you have a responsibility – you follow through with grace and humility. War is ugly, complex, confusing and this one certainly was no different. In many ways, compounded by the unclear reasons for being there. Let’s face it. He made some serious lemonade out of a serious ton of lemons.
So here we are in 2017 and Daddy has agreed to return. I was able to visit Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City three years ago on a short, last minute trip as I was working in Hong Kong. I landed at the same airport Daddy had all those years ago. When he landed there was a tanker truck engulfed in fire. When I landed I saw a sleek new airport complete with a Burger King. I traveled around Saigon/HCMC, took a cooking class, met amazingly resilient, creative, strong, compassionate people at every turn. I knew if Daddy ever decided to return with or without me, he would be welcomed graciously. I also had chosen to visit in July. I have never felt heat like that. South Georgia seemed hot… Hong Kong seemed hotter… then there’s Vietnam hot. I thought of Daddy and everyone involved there – carrying weapons and gear and wearing boots and scared to death- in that heat. I can’t imagine. I am literally shaking my head as I am typing this.
Dealing with trauma isn’t pretty. It isn’t what most people want to do. Hey- y’all want to go work through some trauma today? Not a question you hear very often. My hope is that there might be some healing in this beautiful country. Some self-care and compassion for a 19 year old self from his 70 year old self- and his daughter there to help where I can, be quiet when I should and discover, with him, the spirit of this place.
Don Blackburn, another Vietnam Veteran who is a wonderful poet and runs Veterans for Peace in Nha Trang, was interviewed by Nissa Rhe and this portion made me smile- Tonight, Blackburn sits with an old Vietnamese fisherman in his rickety stilt house. The battle is over, and the songs of crickets replace the thunder of shelling. Through the thick smoke, the fisherman grins a toothless smile. In his seventy years, he says, he has never heard two cricket songs that sound alike. He leans in close to Blackburn and whispers, “Soon you go home. Long time, when no more war, cricket song bring you back here.”
If you want to read a fascinating article about Don Blackburn moving to Vietnam and his passion- it is well worth the time. The article is called “The Soldier Who Needed ‘Nam” by Nissa Rhe.
Click here if you’d like to read that article: http://narrative.ly/the-soldier-who-needed-nam/
Daddy arrives tomorrow in Los Angeles and we will spend a couple of days here. Then we board that huge airliner to fly over the Pacific Tuesday (Feb 21st) and wake up saying good morning to Hong Kong on February 23. Crossing the international date line shows us that time is whatever you think it is. Therefore, from the future we will be updating here with photos and stories as we make our way from Saigon, Nha Trang, Quy Nhon, Pleiku, Kontum and Danang. Thank you for all the well wishes for safe travels and your support of this trip of a lifetime for us.
Here we gooooooooooooooo!!!!