Thousands of histories, memoirs, films, songs, novels, short stories, commentary and Americans still know almost nothing about Viet Nam. Indeed, for all the available information, Americans know precious little about the war in Vietnam and even less about those who fought there.
So we have come here to let our bodies feel the space, the rhythm, the air. We bask in the welcome and feel utterly at home in a foreign land.
We are finding what remains of the war that has so seared our experience that a generation avoids talking about it. Yesterday it was Binh Dinh province where we found a narrow road across rice paddies exactly where it was over 40 years ago. We found the remains of an ammunition dump that had blown up, now in the back yard of a house where they were growing peppercorn plants on rows of brick towers. We found a bridge that had been renovated but was still essentially the same. We came as close as we could on a lovely and tranquil lake to two villages that had been scenes of horror many years before.
Today we travelled to An Khe where two of the veterans had served. They found the bridge they remembered and pointed out the remains of a bunker foundation buried in the grass. We stood in a tight circle around a burning incense stick and prayed for the dead on both sides and for the living that they may yield the hold that war has on their memories.
From there it was up into the Central Highlands and Pleiku, where the helicopter base was attacked and that led to the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the full-fledged war. On the way we heard stories, stories that might not have had a welcome reception 40 years ago and still might not.
We are learning to trust each other, daring to tease and be teased, to show another side to ourselves than the one we presented when we started out. We are learning about the culture here, how it seems that we have planned one way but then something changes – and we may never know what exactly – and something entirely different happens. The hotel serves a breakfast buffet, except for the day it didn’t. We wanted to fly from Hoi An to Hanoi but the airport is closed. The entire airport is closed. For repairs or something. So we will drive for two and a half hours and fly from Danang.
It is all ok with us. We are tacking easily with the changes in the wind.
Buddhist pagoda in Pleiku