Back FROM The World: Vietnam Redux

Welcome to this memoir of my life and times in Vietnam, seen thorough the lens of my return there, 47 years after my Army tour during the war. I invite you to join me on this journey, which is part discovery, part reminiscence, part travelogue.

I was drafted into the US Army 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. Even amid the calamity of war, it was easy to see that, someday, Vietnam would be a travel mecca. Back then, however, like millions of other young Americans, I experienced Vietnam in a mostly horrid way. My part in the war was minuscule. But the Vietnam war was anything but insignificant in my life, something I didn’t know then, but discovered quite clearly along the way from Hanoi to the Mekong Delta on my return in 2018.

So, why did I go back? For one thing, I simply joined in on a very popular contemporary trend. Touring Vietnam became all the thing once the reins of government restrictions were loosed in the 1990s. Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Aussies, Europeans and Americans flock there now for unspoiled scenery, good, cheap eats, exotic culture, and outdoor adventure. 

And Vietnam Vets like me go to remember.

When I left Vietnam, I put the experience deep in a closet. But it emerged–as history time and again assures us is inevitable.  Well into my 60’s, Vietnam gradually loomed large in my memories. With retirement, revisiting Vietnam climbed high on my bucket list. My plan was to scamp like a tourist from north to south—starting in Hanoi and then on down to Saigon and the Mekong Delta.  And along the way, step back into a personal time machine, putting boots on the ground again at Chu Lai, my Vietnam home away from home, were I was assigned as a Combat Correspondent during the waning days of the war.

When I flew home from Vietnam in 1971, I landed in the embrace of my future and present wife Natalie; the proverbial woman I left behind. We had met only a short time before my Army service. Yet, her mere existence then sustained me through so many lonely, scary and perilous months. Nearly five decades hence, hand-in-hand with Natalie, we both were eager to discover what we’d find on my return.

In the 70’s, a very important piece of music–-for me, at least–-was Curtis Mayfield’s “Back To The World”, an R&B song based on an expression and conversation 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 everyone of us hoped we’d be lucky enough to achieve it. But, of course, nearly 60,000 Americans did not.

I was one of the lucky guys who did.  And so, I returned to Vietnam, back from the world.

Curtis Mayfield Lyrics “Back To The World”

Back in the world

Back in the world

Back in the world

Back in the world

Crawlin’ through the trees
Stuck in mud up to the knees

Fightin’ this damn war

Wonderin’ if the Lord knows what it’s for

Six long years stretch
And we boys was in a hell of a mess

I gotta keep my mind; take it slow

Fightin’ hard for what I don’t know

I wanna get back home, gotta get back home

Back to the world

I had a talk with little mom

Strenuous face as she began to hum

She said: Boy, it’s good to see ya

My prayers must’ve been with ya

And now that you’re back and done

Let me tell ya son
The war was never won
The war was never won

In these city streets everywhere
You gotta be careful where you move your feet; how you part your hair

Do you think that God could never forgive this life we live?
Back in the world
Back in the world

My, my, my, my
It’s so hard, it’s so hard, it’s so hard

This life is so hard

I’ve been beaten up and robbed

Soldier boy ain’t got no job

Back in the world

Had a long stretch of sacrifice

Gettin’ back home will be awful nice

Child your woman has long been gone

The doggone war just lasted too long

People don’t give a damn

People don’t give a damn

People don’t give a damn

So I’m standin’ here in future shock

It can give the mind an awful knock

Talkin’ ’bout hard times, hard times, hard times

Back in the world
Back in the world

Forgiveness instead of amnesty

Simple words that seem so clear to me

Forgive our country,
Forgive your man, wastin’ love for hate

Truth from honesty is true
We’d don’t seem to know what to do, do

Yeah, yeah, yeah
Back in the world