Worry, doubt, confusion, isolation. Fear of an invisible foe. The sad reality of these Covid-19 times? No. A night of guard duty during the Vietnam War. A moonless midnight on a rock-strewn Chu Lai beach. Except for the rhythmic lapping of ocean waves, there was silence.
Returning from Vietnam in 1971, the best thing that ever happened to me was the fulfillment of my relationship with Natalie—which has endured to this day. Second best? Surely the onset of my friendship with Chuck, which unfortunately ended a few weeks ago with his passing.
The onion-skin transcript of my Army court martial is barely twelve pages long. Granted, in the annals of military justice my alleged infraction was not on par with, say, the Caine Mutiny. But neither was the charge — disobeying a lawful order — a trivial matter.
If not the last of my concerns, the specter of the Vietnam War was hardly top of mind on the morning I was inducted into the US Army in August, 1969. Rather, it was the sheer novelty of my hapless adventure that had my full attention.
1969 was quite the remarkable year. If you are into 50-year-old hallmarks, your memory may conjure some historic worldwide events like the first manned moon landing, the three-day Woodstock “Peace and Music” festival, and when the Beatles came together for the final time on Abbey Road.
Sgt. Pete was trim, good looking, well tanned and never shut up once. That’s how I remember my seatmate on the “Freedom Bird” flight home from Vietnam on June 4, 1971. He seemed happier than a lark to be leaving the war. So who wouldn’t be?
Chu Lai was my home away from home during the Vietnam War. Though you likely never heard of it, Chu Lai was much much more. What happened in and around Chu Lai turned out to be emblematic of the misery and tragedy of the entire war.
Say what you will about President Obama. But at least he kept it low key and metaphysical. When he was in Hanoi, he had the good sense to chill among the people, sipping beers with Anthony Bourdain in a hole in the wall Bun Cha joint.
All of the new friends I made traveling throughout Vietnam last year are in the midst of celebrating Tet 2019, the Lunar New Year. Many gave me a glimpse of their cherished holiday rituals. Some are traditional and some are new. And all are simply wonderful.
Imagine being in Boston, strolling past the home of Paul Revere, and not having a clue. Not likely, right? But in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), revolutionary history is hidden and unheeded every day at #7 Ly Chinh Thang Street–an unassuming noodle shop on an unassuming