Tag Archives: Saigon

Many thanks for the remembrance

A national day of remembrance came and went and it got by me until it was all gone.

Still, I find it necessary to offer a word of thanks for it.

Yep, it was a long time coming, but I’m glad it’s here.

I’m talking about the National Vietnam War Veterans Day, which is celebrated on March 29 annually. It’s not a longstanding tradition. It was enacted initially in 2017 after a group of Vietnam War vets presented Donald Trump, the president-elect, with a request to set aside the day to remember those of us who answered the call to duty during a terribly conflicted time in our national history.

Our combat exposure during the Vietnam War ended in January 1973. We turned the fight over to the South Vietnamese. However, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon, crashed through the gates of the presidential palace and accepted the surrender of the South Vietnamese government. They renamed the city after Ho Chi Minh.

However, the American involvement was hardly a source of pride for those back in the United States of America. Oh, no. Those of us who went to war weren’t treated the way we treat today’s veterans. We got blamed (and I use the term “we” in a sort of inclusive way, as I did not suffer this particular indignity) for following lawful orders. Americans blamed the warriors for the policies they were ordered to follow by their military high command, who received them from presidential administrations dating back to the early 1960s.

I landed in Bien Hoa, South Vietnam 50 years ago this past month. I spent a bit of time in-country, assigned initially as a mechanic with an OV-1 Mohawk surveillance aircraft company at Marble Mountain, Da Nang; I then was sent on “temporary duty” to the I Corps Tactical Ops Center in the city to scramble aircraft missions and to manage a helipad.

I didn’t fire my weapon in anger at the enemy, although I — like all of us — had to scurry into bunkers when the mortar shells went “boom” outside.

I was well aware of the hostility being heaped on my brethren when they got home.Ā That went on for some time.

The Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 changed all of that. We actually won that brief battle in Kuwait. The nation was relieved and it showered the returning warriors with the affection and respect they deserved. Vietnam veterans generally didn’t receive it when they returned home.

But that was then. The United States of America has grown up since that time. We’ve learned, I hope, to deal better with adversity on the battlefield.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day appears to be an attempt to reconcile some past mistreatment of individuals who did what they were ordered to do and who did not deserve the scorn they received when they came home.

Hey, I harbor no hard feelings. I am just glad to receive a bit of recognition — along with many others who contributed far more to that effort than I ever did.

To the rest of my Vietnam War colleagues, I simply want to offer them a greeting a lot of us never got in the moment.

Welcome home.

Thanksgiving brings back a special memory

hotel majestic

Most of my Thanksgiving celebrations have been of a fairly standard variety.

Turkey and all the sides. Fellowship with family. Lots of laughs. Sometimes even some pro football watching on TV.

But I’ve got a special Thanksgiving memory I’d like to share here.

It occurred in 1989. Twenty-six years ago I had the honor of attending — along with about 20 other journalists from all over the country — a three-week journey through Southeast Asia. Our trip took us — in order — Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and back to Vietnam. Our delegation represented the National Conference of Editorial Writers, which has been renamed and reorganized into the Association of Opinion Journalists.

It was a marvelous experience at many levels. Just going so far from home in itself was a treat. For several of us on that trip, it gave us a chance to return to Vietnam, where we had served during that terrible war and to see a country no longer shrouded by that conflict.

But along the way, we ventured to Cambodia. In 1989, the country was just beginning to recover from decades of war. Phnom Penh, the capital city, was in shambles. Vietnamese forces had just evacuated the country after liberating Cambodia from the heinous rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The city’s infrastructure was decimated.

We spent several days in Cambodia, laying eyes on a notorious killing field and seeing up close a former prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed their countrymen.

But then the Cambodia portion of the trip ended. It happened to be Thanksgiving Day when we boarded our vans and headed east, back to Ho Chi Minh City (which the locals still refer to as Saigon).

We traveled all day along a terrible road. We crossed the rapidly flowing Mekong River aboard a “ferry” that in reality was little more than a glorified raft.

After a grueling day of travel back to Saigon, we settled into our hotel, the Majestic. Then we were informed by the hotel staff that they had prepared a special meal for us.

They wanted to make us feel a bit more “at home” by serving usĀ a Thanksgiving-style meal in the hotel’s main dining room.

We all sat down to dinner that evening and enjoyed a serving of what one of my dear friendsĀ refers to this day as “road kill duck”; we also enjoyed some fresh peas and mashed potatoes.

The meal was just OK.

What made it so very special, though, was the hospitality displayed by our Vietnamese hosts, who were delighted to treat us to a meal thatĀ enabled their American visitors commemorate a uniquely American holiday.

A day that began with some trepidation as we looked forward to a long, tiring and potentially harrowing trip back from a nation still bleeding from the wounds of war ended with warmth and good wishes — in a place so far from home.


A Thanksgiving to remember … in Vietnam

Thanksgiving is a day we express gratitude for all that we have.

It’s a uniquely American holiday and my friends overseas often are kind enough to extend wishes to my family and me at this time of year.

It also is a time to remember. And today I am remembering a particularly exciting Thanksgiving holiday.

I spent it far from home. I didn’t talk to my family that day. I was traveling in what once was a war zone and the site of one of the 20th century’s most infamous episodes of genocide.

Thanksgiving Day 1989 was spent traveling with fellow editorial writers and editors from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The day ended in grand fashion, for which we all gave thanks at the end of a harrowing overland travel experience.

The day began in Cambodia, where our group of about 20 journalists had toured several chilling locations, including killing fields, the infamous Tuol Sleng prison and where we met with survivors of the Pol Pot’s murderous reign of terror that ended nearly a decade earlier when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and ousted the dictator’s Khmer Rouge regime.

The country had been decimated. Two million Cambodians had been exterminated. The country’s infrastructure was in shambles. The people — beautiful as they are — were still in shock. The capital city of Phnom Penh was virtually empty.

We set out that day in several vans full of people and luggage along a crowded bumpy road. Ho Chi Minh City would be our destination. But first we had to travel several hundred treacherous miles.

The “highlight” of our journey occurred when we reached the Mekong River. We boarded a “ferry,” which in reality was hardly more than a motorized raft. Aboard that so-called ferry we loaded our vans, along with Cambodians traveling with carts, animals, loads of fresh fruit. The river, as I recall, was running fairly swiftly and I began to fantasize about overturning in the middle of the Mekong. I read an imaginary headline in my mind: “U.S. journalists killed in Cambodia ferry disaster.”

We made it across the river and then continued on our way.

Finally, several hours later we arrived at the Cambodia-Vietnam border. The line of traffic getting through the militarized checkpoint was quite long. We had a young guide, who we called Vibol. As with most business in Cambodia, a lot of it is transacted underground, under the table. Vibol collected some cash from all of us and then greased some palms at the gate. Suddenly, without explanation, our party was moved to the head of the line.

We slid on through to the Vietnamese side of the border, where we noticed a vision in the form of the young Vietnamese guide who had escorted us through Vietnam at an earlier portion of the trip. Her name was Mai and she was, as one might say, a sight for sore eyes — if you know what I mean.

Mai then escorted us the rest of the way to Ho Chi Minh City — which, by the way, the locals still refer to as Saigon.

We reached the city. Got to our hotel, unpacked our vehicles and were informed that the hotel staff had prepared a special dinner for us that evening.

We got cleaned up and went down to eat later. Awaiting us in a very nice dining room was a meal of what one of my colleagues called “road kill duck,” mashed potatoes, peas, rolls and a cake for dessert.

Was it the kind of Thanksgiving meal to which we were accustomed? No. But it was served with all the love and good intentions imaginable. Our Vietnamese hosts wanted to recognize our special holiday.

For that we all were thankful beyond measure.

After the experience we had endured that day, and in the previous days in a country decimated by war and untold inhumanity, we felt almost at home in a faraway land.

Happy Thanksgiving.


No troops to Iraq? Good news

Imagine for a moment a situation in the White House, around April 1975.

North Vietnam is sending thousands of troops into South Vietnam. The United States has ended its role in that country by pulling its troops out. The South Vietnamese are left to defend themselves. They’re doing a lousy job of it.

NVA forces are storming toward Saigon and other key cities in the south. Gerald Ford’s national security team comes to him and says, “Mr. President, we have to send our troops back into South Vietnam to save that country from being conquered by the North. What’s your call, sir?”

Do you think the president ever would have given a moment of serious thought to such an idea? Hardly. President Ford didn’t do any of that. Heck, I seriously doubt that option ever was on the table.

It shouldn’t be now as Iraq fights to preserve its hard-won transition from ham-handed dictatorship to some form of democratic rule.

And that is why President Obama is correct to assert that our future involvement will not involve sending troops back to the battlefield.


The president today laid down an important marker for Iraq. “Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices,” he said. “Any actions that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces have to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq.

The chaos “should be a wakeup call to Iraq’s leaders,” he said, and “could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.”

Are there some military options available? Perhaps, but they should involve air power only and perhaps only in the form of unmanned aircraft, drones, that could be deployed to fire heavy ordnance at the bad guys who are seeking to take control of the country.

Americans’ “extraordinary sacrifices” included thousands of dead and wounded. The country has no appetite for more war. However, we must do “our part,” as the president said, in trying to secure a country that may be headed for the brink.