Reflections on Going to Vietnam

Our daughter, Emma, is working in Vietnam. She accepted a teaching job in Hanoi after graduating from UCONN. Tina Jim and I are going to visit her later this year. This has unleashed a wave of thoughts about Vietnam.  I delight in telling people that at Emma’s age I could have gotten a free trip to Vietnam.  However, I would have had to wear green.

Vietnam looms large in my memory.   From 1970 to 1974 I served in the Air Force.  I elected to join AFROTC in college and was commissioned into the Air Force upon graduation.  I did not serve in Vietnam; I served at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory, Kirtland AFB, NM. Running research projects on protective structures in the NM desert was as far from the jungles of Vietnam as one could get.  Many of my colleagues at the lab were recent returnees from Southeast Asia. Their recollections were as close as I got to being in harms way:

  • Simple things were different in country. It became an automatic task as part of the coffee ritual to spoon in sugar then spoon off the bugs that would accumulate on the surface of the coffee.
  • A light hearted recollection from a guy who was a navigator. He had to “punch out” of his aircraft over North Vietnam. He spent several days evading capture before he was rescued. He lamented losing his tobacco pipe,
  • The one time I recall getting emotional.  I attended a field fortification seminar in Texas. One of the presentations was earth fortifications in Vietnam. Pictures flashed on the screen (This was before PowerPoint). Pictures of muddy trenches with sandbags and log structures below the surface, not unlike pictures of trench warfare in World War 1. Some of the Army guys recalled the locations, talking among themselves about the times spent on this hilltop or that. Speaking fondly of times there. These discussions confounded me. I had to leave the room and compose myself.  I do not know what it was that bothered me so very much, possibly their speaking of these places like they were home.