Back FROM The World: Return to Vietnam 2018

TOURIST MECCA: 21st Century “Nam”

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, absent a war, Vietnam 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.

WE WERE YOUNG ONCE: Chu Lai Public Information Office, 1971

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.

DEAR NATALIE: Letters home sustained me

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.  The richer we all shall be.



15 Replies to “Back FROM The World: Return to Vietnam 2018

  1. Fred! What a wonderful article and what an amazing journey you are taking. I look forward to following you through this adventure.

  2. Sounds like it will be an amazing trip and an important personal journey. Looking forward to the updates. I wish you and Natalie a safe and exciting adventure. Thanks for sharing. Love, Vicky

  3. Hi Fred. I’m a childhood friend of Bob Wilsusen. He sent me a link to your blog which I’ll be reading with interest.
    I was drafted out of grad school in October 1968. Landed in RVN in March ‘69. Assigned to a 105 battery attached to the 199th light infantry brigade. The “dollar 99”.
    Returned to the world may 7, 1970 just after Kent State. We sure lived in interesting times.

  4. It should be very interesting for you to return. As I mentioned to you the last time I saw you I have been doing extensive research on Hue and the month long battle that ensued after the Tet Offensive. I hope they were able to restore it to the beautiful city and culture it once was!!! Have a safe trip and I will be following along. John

  5. Thank you for having served, for sharing and for Your usual skill with words that make us feel a part of your every journey, be it fishing, cooking, or just experiencing life! I’d love to travel with you. I visited Vietnam12 years ago and look forward to returning via you!

  6. Fred, chuyến đi an toàn — safe travels! (Thank you Google translate) I’m so looking forward to going back vicariously through you and Natalie.

  7. Not all those who wander are lost, for there is nothing like looking if you want to find something. And so it begins.

  8. Fred this brought tears to my eyes. So beautifully written. Did I fail to mention a thank you to you for serving your country. Safe travels to you and your wife.

  9. How great as you experience so many emotions you are taking the time to create this journal. It is amazing to look St that picture of you at the time you were drafted. Your future to come. Now hand in hand with the BW to share and reflect. Be safe. I just watched Good Morning, Vietnam.

  10. Interesting. I was PIO in MR1, Da Nang, from Sep 71-72. I’m sure we have some shared experiences working with the media. Very different now!

  11. Dear Uncle Fred- please publish this. What a story! No worlds. Hoping this trip has bene magical for you.I am digging into your blog NOW!

  12. My son (a Marine) and I spent a month in Vietnam last year and both of us fell in love with it. Who knew it was filled with such surprising beauty, friendly gracious people and delicious healthy food? I would love to retire there. I particularly loved the northern part of Vietnam, with the cooler climate, and the Da Nang area really attracted me. Some of my favorite memories include spending the day on motorbikes in Hue absorbing the history and culture, spending a night bunked up on the night train to Hue from Hanoi, and a night on a boat floating in Halong Bay. Enjoy your visit.

  13. Even during the war, the magic of Vietnam was evident. So happy and fortunate to have returned there in a peaceful time. You touched a lot of the bases of what makes Vietnam special. And yet there is something more, for which I have yet to find the proper words and description. But I am working on it!

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