Returning War Veterans
American (and Australian) veterans of the Vietnam War who have put off this trip for years think about the past with regret or remorse and imagine they might find harsh recrimination from Vietnamese people -- the same kind of harsh recrimination that many experienced when returning to their home country (which they thought they'd been fighting for). Instead, most veterans who return to Vietnam find healing. Many of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers who found themselves lost and confused on a steaming tarmac so far from home were no more than kids at the time, and many have carried baggage about the war for a lifetime. A trip to Vietnam, and an experience of Vietnamese hospitality, might just close the chapter.
Vietnamese people who lived through the war will certainly never forget it -- but what they endured, and the autonomy that they earned through those years of trial, is a source of pride -- and most folks you meet are eager to let go of the past. And though Vietnamese nationalism is at once worn proudly in public displays -- like big brass-band ceremonies on National Day and May Day -- on the personal level, you'll rarely find Vietnamese talking about the war with strutting bravado. Popular for U.S. veterans are humanitarian-aid tours, where groups bring resources and their own elbow grease back to the very rural people they wanted to help so many years ago. Veterans tours often include a meet-and-greet, through a translator, with North Vietnamese veterans, and these times of connection with the one-time enemy bring solace to many. Visiting old wartime posts or cities where they were billeted, veterans also speak of a connection with the rich Vietnamese language and culture on their second go-around.