Davis, CA, USA
I volunteered to go to Vietnam in late 1966 (Philadelphia-born, age 24) as a conscientious objector to war. I worked in the American Friends Service Committee (Quaker) physical rehabilitation program in Quang Ngai from then until 1970, and again from 1973 till 1975 (AFTER the so-called "fall" of Saigon). I was probably the longest-serving volunteer of the program. The program concentrated on teaching some select Vietnamese how to provide physical therapy and how to make artificial limbs for civilian (not military) war victims. A number of our trainees are still working in this field today. This experience made me fluent in the Vietnamese language (not without great effort and much help from Vietnamese friends and tutors), which was necessary and beneficial at the time, but which I little dreamed would ever be of use to me again. As events transpired, however, I found myself in 1980 with a new career (Family Nurse Practitioner) working at the other end of my country in the Sacramento County Health Department in California, where dozens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees were arriving. My employer made use of my language skills by assigning me to the immigration health screening program, where I have worked since then. To this day a considerable number of Vietnamese-speaking people come to County clinics, and those that see me can discuss their problems in their own language. (The obvious benefit of dealing with these people in their own language has spurred me to learn to speak both Spanish and Russian, in an effort to deal with other non-English speaking immigrants.)
While my memories of Vietnam are by now mostly rosy, I do know that as a young man I must have been deeply affected by the violence, cynicism, and corruption that I saw and had to learn to deal with. I will never forget the horrible heartsick weariness that would sweep over me as my plane touched down in Saigon after a several-week vacation in some nearby peaceful country. It was at these moments that I realized what usually I kept hidden from myself: how much I myself was suffering, in trying to help far more suffering people in an unjust war.