Doug Sets Foot In Vietnam

To understand why this is a milestone for me, you have to realize that, for most of my formative years, stories and images of the Vietnam War filled our newspapers and TV screens.  For teenage males in the U.S. at that time, Vietnam was quite literally the last place on Earth we wanted to be.  In our minds, and in the minds of most Americans, to go to Vietnam meant almost certain death.

I turned eighteen in November of 1974 and dutifully registered for the draft (escaping to Canada never even occurred to me).  As I filled out the registration form, a sense of dread permeated my very soul.  I was convinced that I would be called and would eventually find myself in unknown jungles far from home, carrying a weapon with which I was expected to kill people I didn't know and felt no animosity toward.  As it turned out, the fall of Saigon occurred only a few months later, and all of America watched breathlessly as images of the evacuation of the last remaining Americans flashed across our TV screens.

As I started to think about and plan my extensive tour of the world, I pondered my visit to Vietnam more than any other place.  As an American, I wondered how I would be received.  Would there still be animosity toward me – even though I had no involvement in the war?  Would someone who had lost a loved one to American gunfire vent their anger at me?  Would I be turned away from businesses, restaurants, or hotels owned by people still harboring bitter memories?

Of course, I experienced none of this.  The American War (as it is known in Vietnam) is just so much history to most of the Vietnamese people I came into contact with.  Those born near the end or just after the war are now in their late twenties and early thirties, which is the age group most prevalent in jobs associated with tourism.  They probably feel about as emotionally connected to that war as I do to World War II – which is to say... not at all.

So I have now faced the demon and survived – though just barely, thanks to probably the worst case of "traveler's disease" I've ever had.  Anyway, like the war, it's all history now.