Vietnam veteran, Jay Marion, returned to visit Vietnam in April 2003.
He is a veteran of the First Cav (1966-67); the 25th Avn Division (1967-68); and the 101st Airborne Division (1971-72).
The following excerpts are from emails I received in June 2003 in correspondence with Jay Marion. He was kind enough to leave a comment in my guestbook. . Since his trip is so recent, I hope that his expereinces will be helpful to other Vets who are considering a return to Vietnam.
Jay has offered to answer any emails from Vets considering a return trips to Vietnam. Again, since his return experience are so recent I urge all vets with an interest in returning to Vietnam to email Jay with your questions at "Jay Marion" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In one email Jay described some of his impressions and experiences about his return trip.
Even this time around (in Nam) I ran into some interesting comments. My barber of 30 years (another Nam vet who is filled with anger and bitterness) said that if I went back there for a visit and "supported" communism, that he did not want me back in his shop..... then there were those who were warning us about SARS......even though there were only a very few cases, all of which were in the Hanoi area.... and finally those who just wrinkled their faces and said why in the world would anyone want to go there???? But we got through all of that barrage of negativity and had a fantastic time. If I knew then what I know now I would have stayed over there at least a month.... but my wife had to get back to her job as a private duty nurse."
Next time I think I . . .will rent a car and interpreter for at least a month.... and then drive "up" the coast into the north. While I did manage to speak to some ex-VC this time, next time I want to meet a lot more of them. I want to see what made them fight as they did. Was it a love for communism or of their nation??? In various conversations we had this time we discovered that many former communists have left that ideology for numerous reasons and gone a way that is pro-vietnamese. These are people who are quite proud of being Vietnamese but who want nothing to do with communism (one fellow said that he had listened to the communist rhetoric all his life and had been taught that America and Americans are all "bad." But all the Americans he had met treated him VERY nicely. So his life experiences were/are diametrically opposed to communist dogma.
Something else that we did is we brought about 1000 lollipops (Jolly Rancher of course) and a box of 50 cigars. In several situations we got a lot of frowns and "bad" body language until we brought out the candy and began sticking them in the pockets and hands of the many people there. THEN we got a lot of smiles and handshakes. In the few instances where there were "old bucks" like myself, I brought out the cigars and offered them to those whom I thought would appreciate them..... and in many instances... they were. It never ceases to amaze me how a small gift can bring such a positive response from total strangers (we also brought some 12" balloons that we blew up and handed out on various occasions.... and again, each time we did so we received extraordinary smiles for the effort as these items bring out the child in each of us).
We were a bit surprised at how many Nam vets we met over there from the US and Australia. It seems like we were always tripping over someone who came back for another look. My only "flashbacks" came as we left the firing range at the Cu Chi tunnels and at Black Lady Mountain in Tay Ninh. At Cu Chi we had walked about 150 meters when someone decided to begin shooting at the rifle range.... and just for a brief moment in time I was "back in Nam" once again and I almost "hit the dirt" looking for cover. The second time was at Tay Ninh when I traveled up the mountain on the tramway. When I got to the top I turned around and looked out across the landscape I used to see from that altitude as I flew over that area. I saw out into Cambodia and many of the familiar landmarks I had seen so many times and for a brief period of time I "was there" once again 35 years ago.
The "Nam" we were once in so long ago is just about gone.... and when we of our generation are buried with our ancestors the memories we experienced will be buried as well. Only in history books and in the minds of our families we have told and re-told our tales to, will those events be remembered. ne of these days I'd like to write a book..... but I will need much more info than I have now before I can accomplish that."
Jay continued his comments about his return trip to include information on a tour provider:
Recently my wife Sandra and I, along with Ed Beneda (another Little Bear....67-68) returned to Viet Nam for a bit of R&R&R (Rest, Recuperation and Reminiscing). From the very beginning we began to notice many changes from what "once was"..... to what "now is." Gone were the many bad odors we had remembered from the past. Gone were many of the bad roads and people standing around looking for handouts from those of us from the US. Gone were many of the things that we negatively associated with Nam and its people. Just about everywhere we traveled we noticed the country overall had become a much cleaner and friendlier environment. But gone also were just about all remnants of the war we had participated in. Places where former bases had been, where battles had been fought and where many of us had spent many days and nights had all been transformed to the point where there was hardly a single trace of the past left to be seen. It was as if there were two Viet Nams.... the one we remembered and this new one we had never seen before. In many ways it was something of a shock and surprise..... but a very pleasant one to say the least (at least this time no one was shooting at us!).
Only in certain areas that we had to really search for did we stumble on to reminders of a time past that we were more familiar with. Next to a bridge we saw a concrete "pillbox" with the traditional low profile and gun slits used for observation that had somehow been forgotten by the bulldozers and wrecking apparatus of a more peaceful time. It stood there at the ready as if it were waiting the arrival of some soldiers who were assigned to occupy it. Then there was Black Lady Mountain in Tay Ninh with its 3000 meter high summit still covered in the numerous granite boulders of various sizes which used to so successfully hide our former enemies in its shadows and caves.(and yes, I found myself still scanning the area for signs of "enemy movement") And finally there were the two former airstrips at Cu Chi and Dau Tieng.... completely devoid of any vegetation as though they were holding themselves ready to receive an incoming flight of Hueys returning from a combat assault. Only in my memories did these things have any real meaning. To the thousands of people who passed by them every day, they were just "things" and "places." To those who are younger than 35 years old they held no meaning whatever..... to those who were older, the memories were kept to themselves and were not shared them with anyone.
The doors of the past truly do swing on hinges that are either rusty and resistant to being opened.... or they are lubricated with constant use. I guess it depends on whether we want the past to haunt us with nightmares, flashbacks and fear..... or we desire to be at peace with the past, ourselves, our family, those around us and those who we have contact each day. The choice is ours and ours alone..... but the time to make these choices are running out for all of us. Life in general seems to tell us the same message over and over again....... some things change, while others do not. Some things are allowed to gracefully evolve with the years while other stand still as silent sentinels in defiance of nature and the hand of man.
Next time I return I really want to pick the brains of as many of our former enemies as I can. I still have much to learn and want to "see" from the other guy's perspective as much as I am able. I used a company called Nine Dragons, Jerry Landman. He's another Nam vet and was very helpful in getting me back to Nam. (800-909-9050) He has been back to Nam several times and has a great deal of insight into many facets of travel. Tell him I recommended him.... as I am sure he will get a kick out of it. One of the things you do when you return to nam is to bring about $100 in one dollar bills as so many people charge one US dollar (paintings on silk, baseball caps, wood carvings, etc...)BUT.... the condition of the bill must be in new or very new-like condition. Use the internet to arrange many of your hotels, etc... it will surprise you to see just how varied the prices can be when you really shop around. Don't go back to Nam with ANY preconceived ideas. We are no longer soldiers and there has not been a war there in a long time. Go there with the idea that you are a guest and only a guest. Treat all people just like you would like to be treated. Smile a lot and shake hands with people. Eat the local food. Ask them to sometimes order for you and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. One can eat American food anytime they want in America.... but while here try something new. Be adventurous. Jay Marion, June 2003.