Sunday, February 20, 2011

At the Vietnam Memorial

Forty-three years ago this month, I arrived in Saigon to start a one-year tour of duty in what would turn out to be the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War.

Not long ago a young woman in the travel industry was telling me with great enthusiasm how much she had enjoyed a recent trip to Vietnam, where cities like Saigon have new names and new amenities like five-star hotels.

"Have you ever been to Vietnam?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said.

"Have you been to Hue?" she asked.

"Yes," I told her.

"What did you think?" she said brightly.

"Well, it was still on fire at the time."

Her uncomprehending expression told me that Vietnam was a very, very long time ago.
I was in Washington D.C. last week and visited the beautiful Vietnam memorial for the first time.

The young men in the picture above were asking the volunteer at the memorial to rub a name onto a paper -- as a favor, one said, for a grandfather, whose best friend it was.

A very long time ago.


1 comment:

James said...

Your Vietnam story reminded me of a joke, I am sure you've heard it:

The German controllers at Frankfurt Airport were a short-tempered lot.

They not only expected you to know your parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (PanAm 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground and a British Airways 747 (radio call Speedbird 206) after landing.

Speedbird 206: "Good morning Frankfurt, Speedbird 206 clear of the active."

Ground: "Guten morgan, taxi to your gate."

The British Airways 747 pulls onto the main taxiway and stops.

Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"

Speedbird 206: "Stand by, ground, I'm looking up the gate location

Ground (with typical German impatience): "Speedbird 206, have you never flown to Frankfurt before?"

Speedbird 206 (coolly): "Yes, in 1944. But I didn't stop."