I cherish the memories of many Thanksgiving holidays over the years. I will do so again this year. Our sons, our daughter-in-law and our granddaughter will join us for dinner. We will laugh and enjoy fellowship that only families can enjoy.
However, the most unique Thanksgiving of my life will be in the back of my mind. It occurred 30 years ago today. I was traveling in a faraway land, away from my wife and my sons. As I look back on it, I realize more clearly than ever the symbolism that Thanksgiving had in that time, in that place.
I was traveling through Southeast Asia with a group of editorial writers and editors. We traveled there to examine the issues of the day and to take a firsthand look at the ravages that war had brought to that region. We started our tour in Thailand. Then we flew to Vietnam, which to many of the Vietnam War veterans among our group filled us with another sort of emotion.
Then we flew to Cambodia, which in 1989 was a shattered hulk of a country. The Vietnamese occupiers who invaded the country in 1978 had just vacated. They left behind a nation in ruins brought to it by the horrifying Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot.
We departed Cambodia by bus caravan back to Saigon. It would take us all day to get from Phnom Penh to the city now known officially as Ho Chi Minh City; except that the civilians still call it Saigon.
After a harrowing trip that included crossing the Mekong River on a rickety raft that served as a “ferry,” we arrived in Saigon. We checked in to the Majestic Hotel. Then we went to dinner as a group, tired but ready to enjoy some good chow and each other’s company.
Our Vietnamese hosts knew that it was Thanksgiving Day, a uniquely American holiday. They went out of their way to make us feel “at home.” They served us a wonderful meal in the dining room of roast duck, mashed potatoes, peas and apple pie.
Was it the most scrumptious meal I’ve ever eaten? Not even close. One of my friends among the journalists gathered there called the main course “road kill duck.” But, our hosts’ hearts were clearly geared toward showing us some supreme hospitality. They succeeded far beyond measure.
As I look back on that Thanksgiving dinner three decades later, I realize now how thankful I was at the time — and I am today — at the bounty we enjoy in this country. Furthermore, as I recall the lingering misery we encountered in Cambodia, I am reminded of just how grateful we must remain in this country, where we hope we never experience what those brave and glorious people had to endure.
That dinner gave me a special understanding of what this holiday means to all of us. May we never take what we have for granted.