Following the trip to West Point, my father is once again talking about going back to Viet Nam. “I’d like to go back to some of the places I was before. I want to see how they’ve changed. I don’t even know if they will let me in, but I want to try. The next time we’re in New York to visit Steve, I’ll go to the consulate and find out if I can do what I want to do.”
He hasn’t provided many clues as to why he’d like to do this. When pressed, he will say it is something he has always wanted to do.
Although it is not the whole story, I do know there is something special about the landscape of Viet Nam that has always attracted him. “It is really a beautiful country,” he often tells me. “Where I was, the landscape is flat with lots of water. The Tidewater area of Virginia is very similar. I remember flying up to D.C. and going over Virginia and thinking how much the landscape resembled Viet Nam. In the Tidewater, you have something like three or four major rivers all of which converge into Hampton Roads–just like Viet Nam . . . With all that water, Viet Nam is very green, with lots of fertile farmland. In fact, Viet Nam is a relatively affluent country; they grow enough food to feed themselves as well as plenty to export.”
For my part, I can’t picture amber waves of grain and peaceful farming villages, as he has talked so much about its not-so-beautiful side, about trudging through the rice paddies, covered in mud and muck. “You might sink all the way up to your knees in the rice paddies” he has told me more than once. And while you were extricating yourself from the mud and muck, the leeches were attaching themselves to you. “We were always peeling off the leeches. Guys were taking bets on who would have the biggest leech. They might leave them attached for an hour just to win a bet.
In addition, there are all the large and strange insects that populate such tropical climates. He never describes any of them, but I remember one of his maxims: “Always look in your boots before you put them on.” Apparently, those deadly insects like to settle in the warmth and dryness provided by combat boots. “Luckily, I learned that one from someone else’s experience, not my own . . . I remember hearing this guy holler one morning–never heard anyone holler like that before . . . I think it was a centipede or something like it.”
And then there is the jungle. “Virtually nothing lives in the jungle,” he tells me. “Eerie” is his one-word description. “The rubber plants block out all the light, so there is no vegetation on the ground . . . really strange.”
And if the hairy insects and the leeches and the jungle and the mud and the muck don’t get to you, maybe the monsoons will; you see, it rains every day for six months.
“And don’t forget about the heat,” he adds. “it gets up to ninety degrees every day of the year.”
“Is that before or after it rains?” I ask.
“I know they have tours that go over there,” he moves back to the subject at hand, “but I don’t want to go on some tour with a bunch of people. I just want to rent a car and drive around the countryside. I don’t want to take some pre-arranged tour. If I can’t see the places I want to see, then I don’t want to go.”
Mom, of course, is very skeptical about such a trip. “Aren’t they communists in Viet Nam?” she asks.
After Dad verifies this, Mom seems to think the communists won’t be too disposed to his wandering about their country, even all these years after the war. “I just don’t think they will let you in by yourself.”
“That’s what I need to find out at the consulate.”
“I’m just saying I don’t think they will let you do what you want.”
Convincing Mom may be harder than convincing all those mean old Communists.
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