Thirty-six hours after I left the friendly confines of Oklahoma I arrived in Saigon. I have tried many times to describe my feelings at that moment but the words will not come.
Upon deplaning, I saw the same control tower and the same concrete aircraft hangers, the first reminder I had of a time decades ago. Believe me, the stench and awful smell linger on.
After over an hour in the customs line (first lesson learned was NEVER be in a hurry) I was on my way through the crowded streets of HCMC to my hotel.
The hotel was very extravagant for VN. The air-conditioning in the room brought the temp down to the mid 90's. The purchase of an electric fan was next on the agenda.
During an all day excursion around the capital city we visited The War Crimes Museum. The only theme of this museum was anti war, anti U.S. and very pro Communism. Many pics of Americans burning draft cards, flags, and buildings in protest of the U.S. occupation in VN.
Two days later I boarded a brand new VN Airlines jet for the 691 mile trip to Hue. When I deplaned it was just like stepping back in history. I saw the same airport, same control tower, same signs. The only changes were asphalt runways instead of the ever present psp. (remember this?)
My first test of strength came when we crossed the Perfume River. The last time I crossed that river was in a three-quarter ton green military issue vehicle. The river was clogged with the remains of everything imaginable. This was, for me a turning point. I had spent many hours with my therapist working on my expectations and how I would react to this part of my journey. After 30 years, the river was clear and the sampan traffic moved freely.
After a fitful nights sleep I embarked on what would soon become a very emotional, very lonely journey back to the monsoons of 1968.
After a four hour car ride from Hue to Quang Tri, we came upon the pure white sands of LZ Sharon. This was to be the place I first heard the screams of "INCOMING!"
On to Dong Ha and the remains of many, many bombed and burned buildings, the small arms scars still visible all around. My mind drifted back to Aug 68 and my first firefight.
Arriving at Camp Carroll was an adventure just getting there. The roads were built for cattle and water buffaloes and not the Toyota we were in. This firebase was very distressing yet uplifting. I felt the presence of many fallen comrades on this hilltop. The last time I left here by Chinook and the last thing I saw was many shirtless grunts on the perimeter and many more surrounding big guns. Where are they now? Upon leaving this time all I saw was a few cattle and water buffalo being tended by a small boy.
Next was Khe Sanh. Very Eerie, deserted except for one small building housing captured American guns and field gear. I walked the entire length of the airstrip at Khe Sanh, remembering how far I was from home, yet surrounded by many memories of friends left behind.
I returned to HCMC the next day and was so thankful for the chance to come back. Entering U.S. airspace one more time, I just gave thanks for being free to enjoy all the things I have taken for granted all these years.
Link to Larry's Pictures
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