"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

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together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vietnam, The Return (Part 2), by Jesse Gump

Jesse Gump

Vietnam: Forty-five Years Later 

What Are The Odds?

(Part 2 of 3)

I took a train from Saigon to Nha Trang. After passing through the countryside, I can assure that not all of Vietnam has prospered like Saigon and other cities. Many still live in conditions that westerners would find unacceptable. But it has always been like this in most SE Asian countries.

I suspect the people are happy, or at least satisfied, with their standard of living. They have a roof over their heads, food to eat, and clothes to wear. They live, fall in love, marry, and raise families like anyone would and live into their senior years. They may not have all the amenities westerners have become accustomed to, but perhaps they are better off without them.

But I am rambling. I arrived in Nha Trang with three goals in mind:

1) See if I remembered anything from the trips I made to Nha Trang to pick up rounds for our forward air controllers in Ninh Hoa,
2) Make a trip to Ninh Hoa to see if I could recognize the old Korean Infantry base, and
3) See if I could locate my old friends in Ninh Hoa.

Nha Trang had changed so much that I didn’t really recognize it. However, I did recognize the area where the air force had once had a base (with landing strips). When I tried to enter the area on foot, I was turned away by Vietnamese soldiers. I was able to get a photo of an old Huey on the base from a nearby building so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

An Old Huey

For the record, I need to say that Nha Trang is now a very pretty city with great beaches, plenty of good restaurants, and a large expat community. I could have easily spent my entire vacation in Nha Trang. I would recommend the city as a destination for anyone wanting to visit Vietnam.
Nha Trang Beach

I hired a car with driver to take me from Nha Trang to Ninh Hoa (about 30 miles north). Even though I had made that trip multiple times years ago, I had trouble recognizing anything in the landscape. 

When I finally reached Ninh Hoa, I immediately recognized “Big Charlie” mountain, but pinpointing the old Korean base eluded me. The landscape had changed. Gone was the barbed wire fencing, the watch towers, the hooches we lived in, and the artillery battery that made restful sleep impossible. I knew the basic area but pinpointing the exact location of the old base seemed impossible. The second of my three goals quickly became an impossible dream.

Big Charlie Mountain


Before I had left the US for my journey back to Vietnam, I had dug through some of my old pictures from my military days. As mentioned, I wanted to locate the two girls who served as hooch maids during my stay with the Koreans. I wanted to see if they had survived the war and how their lives had turned out. After 45 years it seemed like an impossible task.

I found a couple of pictures of the girls and myself and scanned them into my computer. Next I created a flyer using the old photos and wrote in both English and Vietnamese, “Do you know these people? Please help me locate them.”

I gave a copy to my driver and despite his lack of English skills he immediately understood what I wanted to do. He began stopping at every roadside shop near Ninh Hoa and asked people if they recognized either of the women. The first couple of stops were fruitless. A couple of folks were able to point out the general location of the Korean base but nothing specific. Hopes of reaching my final goal faded by the minute.

On our third stop we struck pay dirt. An old woman said she recognized one of the women and pointed in the general direction of where we might find her. We stopped two more times and got more confirmation from other shop owners. Finally, an old man gave my driver specific directions. Five minutes later we were parked in front of her house. 

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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