Fast forward 44 years to October 31, 2011. The cruise ship docked at Phu-My, Vietnam, about 30 miles S.E. of Saigon. My wife (Pat) and I took a trip into Saigon for the day to see some, of the things I had seen in ‘67. Although I was stationed at Camp Bearcat, a 9th Inf. Div. basecamp about a two hour drive from Saigon I had the occasion to visit Saigon several times. We visited the “Rex Hotel,” a famous journalist hangout of the 60’s, Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, Hilton, Carovelle Hotel, Presidential Palace. (Where the North Vietnam Army tanks crashed the gates when Saigon fell in ‘75). The U.S. Embassy, which was invaded in “TET” 1968 is now a new complex.
(Pat and Jim Alspaugh on their trip to Vietnam this fall)
The center of Saigon is very modern with lots of people and endless traffic. Cars, trucks of every size, and literally thousands of motor bikes. The motor bike riders wear protective masks on their faces due to air pollution from exhaust fumes. The population of Saigon is eight million, on the outskirts there was also lots of traffic, small shops selling food, souvenirs, and repairing motor bikes; the area was very dirty. I saw no military presence at all, no trucks, jeeps, soldiers. Just exactly the opposite from ‘67. One would never guess that a war had occurred here. Eighty percent of the population of Vietnam was not here in 1975 when the war ended, so for them the war was a non-event. I talked to about 20 ex-military people on the ship that were here in the war, most of them had no problem coming back; but a few said they would not get off the ship in Vietnam. We also visited NHA-TRANG, Vietnam, a coastal town used as an R&R center during the war. There I found a more laid-back atmosphere in comparison to Saigon. In the countryside, the average wage is about $50 U.S. per month. In talking to a lot of Vietnam vets over the years, I get the feeling that the U.S. veteran has more of a problem dealing with the war that the Vietnamese do, probably because of the Asian philosophy. I personally had no problem on returning and my wife and I were both glad we made the trip. Vietnam was just two stops on a nine port trip covering 16 days. I would suggest to any veteran who served there during the war to return to bring closure to that part of their life. Asia is a very interesting place and Vietnam was just one year in my 67 years. Let us be thankful for what we have, for there are those who have much less. God Bless America.