A torrent of books about the Vietnam War has flooded the market, most of them documenting battles, strategy, and personal journals of life during the war. There are far fewer books about soldiers who have returned to that country of conflict four decades later. Most men and women who served during the Vietnam War were only too glad to leave and never look back. I was one of those people until last year when an unexpected phone call had me considering something I never thought I would do…return to Vietnam.
The two weeks I spent touring Vietnam made me re-evaluate my life and everything I thought I knew about that country and its people. I found answers to questions I had long buried in my mind and found myself absolved of the indignity I had carried all of those years. A vision into America that I had always suspected, but had never seen opened up before me.
The book, Vietnam…Again, follows our flight into Hanoi and the two-week journey south to Ho Chi Minh City, with stops at Dong Hoi, Quang Tri, Hue, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, and Phan Thiet. Our tour guide, an NVA veteran, became a valued friend and showed us how Vietnam has evolved and prospered since the war. I found a gracious people who welcomed us as friends and shared with us the beauty and hospitality of their country. This book explains the maturing of Vietnam and visits the ancient cities with the striking architecture and craftsmanship that helps define the Vietnamese people.
Each of us who served in Vietnam was the guy next door, the average Joe, not a hero. The boy who might date your daughter or sister. The young man who might mow your yard. In Vietnam, we weren’t out to be heroes. We just did our jobs.
For a helicopter pilot, each day was like all the others. You flew the mission and never stopped to think that it might be your last. You didn’t think about the bullet holes in the helicopter, the cracks in the tail boom, or about any of it until night, lying in bed when you couldn’t think of anything else.
The Other Vietnam War is the story of the introduction to a new country, a backward culture, the perils of a combat zone, and the effects on a young lieutenant fresh out of flight school. It does not labor the reader with pages of white-knuckle adventures, as so many other fine books about the Vietnam War do. It instead focuses on the internal battle each soldier fought with himself to make sense of where he was, why he was there, and if he was good enough.
The administrative duties of Commissioned officers, while tame compared to the exploits of valiant pilots who wrote about them, caused a deep introspection into life and its value in an enigmatic place like Vietnam. Aside from the fear, excitement, deliverance, and denial that each pilot faced, the inner battle he fought with himself took its toll. Some of us thought we’d find glory. But many of us discovered there is no glory in war.