Return to Vietnam
James K. Bruton
         I joined seven other veterans, plus two sons and a brother, to participate in a guided tour. We veterans (retired colonels, lieutenant colonels, and a master sergeant) were Red Hats, former advisors to the South Vietnamese Airborne Division, four of whom I overlapped within 68-69. Our advisory background gave us a base of Vietnamese cultural and interpersonal experience on which to build. (Some of my language even came back.) The three non-vets there for the first time seemed to enjoy the trip just as much as did we returnees.

         Our itinerary started in Saigon and snaked north to Hanoi. Our travel agency Global Spectrum organized an interesting, educational, and glitch-free trip and provided us with a superb guide. It felt good to be back in Southeast Asia again about which I retain many fond memories. And I admit that the graceful, slim figured, ao dai clad VN women still look very appealing and are easy on the eyes. Here are some highlights and commentary.

         The People and Economy. About 75% of the VN population of 87 million were born after the war, and most are preoccupied with making tomorrow better than today. They are not rehashing the past. We found the people generally friendly, helpful, and welcoming. There were many other foreign tourists - European, Japanese, Australian - and the VN, making no assumptions about Westerners' origins, usually asked us where we were from. Though poverty persists and probably the majority of people live hand-to-mouth, we saw increasing urbanization and a growing professional, commercial middle class. Motor scooters and bicycles jammed the streets of Saigon and Hanoi. Many homes we passed in small cities and in the countryside sat under TV antennas.

         Communist Vietnam's Divarication. One observation may sum up the peculiarity of today's Communist-ruled Vietnam. We visited Reunification Palace (previously Independence Palace), formerly the official residence and office of President Thieu and his successors. It is now a museum open to the public with all the rooms maintained as they were 40 years ago. The grounds contain war trophies of US tanks and aircraft as well as a T-54 tank like the one that crashed through the front gate on April 30, 1975. Beside the tank is a sign listing four of the five soldiers who took the surrender of President "Big" Minh on that occasion. (The missing fifth soldier is Col. Bui Tin, who defected to the West, and whose books are quite revealing.) Over Reunification Palace flies the yellow starred red flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Interestingly several rooms were blocked off the day we visited and reserved for a reception for the board of the Vietnam Stock Exchange.

        Please read the rest of the story in WAR AND REMEMBERANCE.