And people are stupid
And love means nothing
In some strange quarters
And I heard the banging
Of hearts and fingers....
After the bird has flown
He walked ten thousand Miles back home
Culture Club, "The War Song"
Before I begin, I have to explain the quote that I chose for the beginning of my blog. On the ship's GPS channel which shows our longitude, latitude, speed, map, etc. there is background music. And the background music is the same loop over and over again, all 80s music. Some of the songs I keep hearing over and over again. Like this particular song. To be quite frank, I'm not even sure if it's about the Vietnam war. But every time I hear it, images register in my mind of US soldiers and the blood, sweat, and tears they shed in the battlefields of this foreign land that I just visited. Images of men in camouflage battle defense uniforms. Images of hippies forming their fingers into a "V" and hoping for peace, hoping that their lovers will return to them. Images of soldiers in the trenches, behind giant tanks, with lines of tired worry around their eyes.
Many went willingly and bravely. Most did not even understand why they were there. But they went with their heads held high. Some came back home to the loving arms of their families. Some never returned.
My own father was drafted in his early 20s to be part of Chiến tranh Việt Nam. When I was a little kid, I remember my dad turning off all the lights in the family room and showing us his Vietnam slides. (Please see my blog archives....I have shared some of these in a blog I wrote in October 08). When I was a child, I didn't really understand what we were looking at and even as an adult I never quite understood. My parents think I ask too many questions. The running joke among my parents and me is that after 7:00 PM they are tired, and no good for conversation and my questions are answered with a rolling of their eyes. (They are morning people.)
But my dad graciously agreed to respond to some of my questions via email. We have been exchanging emails about Vietnam for the past month or so. I keep thinking of more questions, even as I write this very blog. Here is some of the dialogue between my dad and me:
Q: Where in Vietnam was your base? I am going to the Mekong Delta, which I believe is pretty far away.
A: While in Vietnam I was in Quang Tri, which at the time was in the most northern region of South Vietnam called I Corps. Quang Tri Combat Base, which was my base camp, was about 10 miles south of the DMZ. The Mekong Delta area is way south of where I was. Your Vietnam trips sound fascinating - I wish that I could be there with you. I really never had a desire to return until I knew that you were going. Now I am excited for you. I still cannot believe what a great opportunity that this entire experience must be for you. Your grandma V is also fascinated by your blog and pictures! She can't wait to read each one!!!
Q: Why did I get drafted?
Q: Why were we in Vietnam?
Q: How did you feel when you were there? Did the "powers to be keep you in the loop" about what was going on?
Q: Did you know people that suffered post traumatic stress?
Q: How would you describe the Vietnamese people and their attitudes about the war? What do you remember about the Vietnam culture?
A: JFK, LBJ, And Tricky Dick Nixon all share responsibility. However, LBJ and Nixon are the main culprits. They lied and misrepresented the war to the the American public for years. Countless lives (55,000 American soldiers) were lost due their selfish, egotistic and political agendas.
A: Agent Orange is the code name of a powerful herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S.military in what they called the Herbicidal Warfare Program. The object was to destroy the plant based ecosystem of an area for the purpose of disrupting agricultural food production and/or destroying plants which provide cover to the enemy. Vietnamese exposure to this dioxin is said to have resulted in an estimated 400,000 deaths and disabilities and 500,00 children born with birth defects. We (G.I.'s in Vietnam) were told not to worry and that the chemical was harmless.Many American vets who served in Vietnam were also exposed. Agent Orange was given its name by the color of the 55 U.S. gallon orange-striped barrels that it was shipped in.
This museum was indeed jolting, the images were gruesome, and my visit there reeked havoc with my emotions. The museum was previously known as The Museum of American & Chinese War Crimes and then the Museum of War Atrocities, but they changed the name so American tourists would still visit. There were fetuses floating in formaldehyde, dead before birth because of Agent Orange. There were replicas of "Tiger Cages", which is the term used to describe the place where Prisoners of War were held. There was an infinite number of gruesome, disturbing pictures of death in the trenches. I took over 70 photos. (Dad, I'll email them to you.) I totally agree with my Dad's sentiments about the museum. You know, I always have believed there are two sides to every story, however- this museum really made Americans out to be tyrants.
During my trip to Vietnam, I was also able to visit the home of a former UPI (United Press International) photographer, along with a group of 25 students. The photographer's images appeared in magazines and newspapers across the world. He was a very kind man and he graciously showed us around his home and shared his photographs with us. He explained to us that he had dodged death by very narrow margins on several occasions, which made him fearless. He was imprisoned after the Vietnam war because of his war publications. But he didn't complain and he was one of the nicest Vietnamese people I met.
I do want to share a few of these images from the museum. (Note, these are *not* the images from the Photographer I visited, rather from the War Remnants Museum.)
Please note: the images appearing here do not do the museum justice. My words do not do it justice. The feelings evoked cannot really be explained by words, nor pictures.
Damn. I'm getting teary-eyed again. I don't know why I do this to myself.
But alas, there is one thing I do know for sure.
Photography: JPV and LBV
Content: JPV and LBV
Other people who made this blog possible: "Tricky Dick" Nixon, JFK, LBJ