This is the travelogue of my return to Vietnam, 47 years after my Army tour there. I was drafted in 1969 and served in Vietnam at the end of my 2-year hitch: 1970-71. Vietnam was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen–then or since. But like more than 2.5 million other young Americans, I experienced Vietnam in a mostly horrid way. Yet, even then, I suspected Vietnam, absent a war, would someday be a travel mecca.
In the 70’s, a very important piece of music—for me, at least—was Curtis Mayfield’s “Back To The World”, based on an expression and topic that, for years, was ubiquitous in “‘Nam”. “Back in the world” was where we all wanted to get. It was the allusion we used to stay whole and sane. It was home. Home in the richest, warmest, safest sense that our hearts and minds could conjure. Back in the world was everything that Vietnam, the war, the military was not. We dreamt about it, bragged about it, longed for it. And every one of us hoped we’d achieve it. But, of course, nearly 60,000 Americans did not.
So, why am I doing this? Touring Vietnam is all the thing, these days. Russians, Chinese, Aussies, Europeans and Americans flock there for unspoiled scenery, good, cheap eats, exotic culture, and outdoor adventure. Vets go to remember.
In a few weeks, I’m hoping to put boots on the ground in Chu Lai, the central coastal region that was the sprawling home-base of the 23rd Infantry, Americal Division. I was assigned there as an Army Correspondent, 1970-71.
When I left Chu Lai, I put VN deep in a closet. But it emerged–as history assures us was inevitable. Retired now, Vietnam looms large. Revisiting has been high on my bucket list for sometime. For two weeks, I’ll scamp like a tourist from Hanoi to Saigon to the Delta. But for one full day in Chu Lai, I will step back in a personal time machine.
I flew home from Vietnam, into the embrace of my future wife; the proverbial woman I left behind, whose mere existence sustained me through so many lonely, scary and perilous months.
Now, I return hand-in-hand with the BW. In 1971, I left a war behind in Vietnam. Nearly five decades hence, we’re both eager to discover what we’ll find when we return from the world, in 2018.
I invite you to join us on this journey. It will be part discovery, part reminiscence. Please feel free to comment, question, add your experiences and reactions, especially those of you vets—civilian and military—who’ve been there, done that. All the richer we shalll be.