Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Posted by Tim Nafziger on 03/16/08 at 09:00 PM
On the 31st of January, 1968, the Tet Offensive was launched in Vietnam. It came 8 years into a war that was growing increasingly unpopular. That day, my friend Dale was on a plane to Vietnam the day the Tet Offensive began. After a delay on a military base in Okinawa, he arrived to a scene of chaos. When the plane touched down, an officer got on board and told the men, “Go down the gangway and run like hell!”. The sound and flashes of frantic war surrounded him.
This afternoon, 40 years later, I’m packing my bags to leave for Vietnam with Dale. Though our country is reliving many things parallel to the Vietname War (see the Winter Soldier hearings from this weekend) the connotations of packing for Vietnam are completely different today.
Dale arrived in Saigon forty years ago in a military bus driving through a landscape of destruction. We will arrive on a United Airlines jet. Dale’s first night in Vietnam was spent in a tent with an artillery piece nearby firing at regular intervals throughout the night and drills to the nearest bunker. My first night will be in a comfortable bed in a hostel in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon).
It is Dale’s second time visiting the country since his year long stint as a soldier there. Why are we going? Dale describes his reasons for going back in his first post on our blog for the trip:
Maybe, I am returning because I have a memory. Forty years ago I saw naked hungry kids sleeping outside on cold slabs of steel in the cold Saigon mornings when I returned from duty at the Port of Saigon. Two years ago, my travel companion Adam and I played Frisbee on the beach at Hoi An. (Ok, he plays ultimate Frisbee, surprisingly I did not make a complete fool of myself.)
I am going back to Vietnam to double check. “Are the kids OK?”
For me, the motivations are simpler. I want to better understand this period of our history alongside a close friend who experienced the Vietnam War both as a soldier and later as a peace activist. Of course, I am also looking forward to experiencing the culture, food and landscape of Vietnam. This ill be my first visit to Asia (or anywhere east of the West Bank and west of San Jose).
A central part of my time there will be sharing that experience here on this blog. After all, like any good Mennonite I can’t go anywhere simply for my own enjoyment. One of the good disciplines this blog has taught me is writing about something once a week. While I’m in Vietnam, I hope to increase that to at least twice a week, although I may hold some pieces in reserve for publication after I return.
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