Portland, OR, USA
I was conceived the night Nixon was re-elected. Talk about being born under a bad sign. I am 26 now, and I have read about and studied the wars in Viet Nam for a decade now. I was lucky enough to take a whole semester class on the war in high school. Since then, Viet Nam--the history and the country--has been a source of fascination to me.
I'm the first to admit my knowledge of the war comes mainly from books and documentary films. But I do have the added perspective of having been a young American in Viet Nam.
In 1997, I lived in Viet Nam for five months. It was a dream come true to be there. I had studied the language for two years in graduate school, and was able to make my way around Ha Noi quite well. When I moved to Sai Gon, I had to change my accent, but the city was worth the effort. I met wonderful people there. I taught English, did translation work, and lived with a college friend who has worked in Sai Gon since we graduated from college.
Before I came home, I was able to travel up to Buon Me Thuot, a small town in the Central Highlands. Not many tourists go there, so I was a real curiosity. I met a man of about 40 years old, and he was my tour guide for the day. We drove into the hills to his house. His father invited me in and we shared some tea. They showed me their coffee crop, introduced me to the neighbors, and we had a good time. Their attitude toward me was so gracious. Before I left, my guide (I forget his name now) asked me to pass along a message to a relative in California. I said I would, and when I got back stateside, I did.
I guess what I want people to know is that whatever we Americans think about the wrongness or nobility or "winnableness" of the war, our part of it was very small. The Vietnamese people have much more to teach us, and vice versa, if we'll just listen.