I asked my father recently about Vietnam. He does not remember much. His experience was more contained it seems. I think I might have experienced more of the war in an afternoon at the WAR MUSEUM than my dad did serving there 11 months. I had the opportunity to visit both the war museum and the Vietcong Tunnels. A short time later, I cruised along the Mekong Delta that saw more than its share of combat. The entire experience was surreal. In my mind, I could not process how a place so absolutely beautiful could have been at one time guerilla killing fields. But they were and there is no escaping that history.
Vietnam became the first place where my sixteen-year old took a genuine interest in US history. She was the first into the war museum and the last one out. The hardest on us all was something called the ORANGE ROOM. It was a room painted orange that told a horrific visual story of agent orange and its 200-year impact on this country Vietnam. I can’t erase the visuals of conjoined bodies, kids born without arms or legs or eyes or all of the before mentioned. Pictures of kids without feet or with three faces, or orifices growing in unnatural places, limbs extending from the body grotesquely configured. Imagine a leg growing out of a child’s back. Imagine seeing hundreds of baby fetuses saved in formaldehyde jars so the world does not forget the atrocity of this dangerous war chemical.
Many of these children are still being born every day as the chemical remains active for up to 200 years in the soil. Whatever consumes it, e.g., vegetation, livestock, human, runs the risk of being forever changed by it. I want to believe so much this outcome was unplanned by my government. I will never believe we would knowingly have anything to do with the monstrous impact of this agent.
What I have read and seen and heard is we dropped the chemical to kill the jungle vegetation. That way the bombs we also dropped would then be more effective. I can’t argue that truth, but I can tell you we killed a lot more than vegetation. We have impacted generations and cursed their unborn children through no fault of their own. I saw this up close and personal and with my own eyes. I hope everyone sees it and nothing like agent orange rears its ugly head again in civilization.
Vietnam to me will forever be about its people. They are simple and beautiful. Vietnam is a very young country with most of the population being born after the war so I am told. They call the war The American War. What I admire is their fortitude. Their eyes shine with happiness. They love with such beauty in their hearts. They seem to have forgiven the past. You will often hear them express that they are happy because there is no more fighting.
Their country has been at war for too many years to count, French, Japanese, French again, Cambodians, each other North and South, the Americans and the list goes on. No more fighting they say. They have paid a hefty price. They will defend the only place they call home again if necessary. Men, women children raised in arms if need be.
But for now and I hope forever, they live in peace. I was thrilled to come in peace among them.