'It was a strange feeling when we touched down'
Posted April 26, 2014
After an overnight flight from LAX to Taipei and finally to Ho Chi Ming City (formerly called Saigon), we indeed arrived in Vietnam. We all agreed that it was a strange feeling when we touched down, perhaps because of the history of this place.
Looking around Tan Son Nhat airport as our plane approached the gate gave us some moments to reflect on all who came into this place with the fear of entering a war zone ... not knowing what to expect. This was one of many places that our military embarked upon it's mission to engage the enemy. Today, the enemy was our own uncertainty of what to expect for these people whose lives we change for better or worse.
Across our runway, I spotted five old Army UH-1 helicopters that looked to be in working condition. I flashed back to all the guys who might have ridden those very same birds into combat. I thought about the many times at Fort Bragg and other places that I parachuted from the same model copters. Perhaps these five helicopters were upon hundreds that we left ... the booty of war?
I noticed a very large terminal in the distance with huge cargo planes surrounded by shipping pallets waiting to be loaded or unloaded. There were planes that were from around the world ... apparently this part of the country is economically well. The war footing that I remember is gone. There was a song from our times that goes, "Business goes on as usual, but now my Bobby is dead." How strange that I would think of that!
After passing through customs, we sought anyone holding signage that indicated they were from the tour company to pick us up. Leonard, Paul and I briefly had discussed expecting some bitterness, some resentment as we were clearly Americans.
Paul walked out the front of the airport reading the signs upheld by people awaiting visitors and loved ones alike. There were waves of people offering taxi rides or begging for money – nothing different here than in any international city. I rushed to check on Paul's success and to determine if I could help him look but was stopped by a young policeman. He asked for my passport, which I quickly produced. Paul came up from behind me with his passport in hand to tell me he found the guy holding a sign with my name on it.
I laughed at the assumption of "resentment" that didn't happen, because Americans have been visiting here since the war, spending money and doing humanitarian projects as we do. Even so we wondered how we would be received by the older citizens who were invested in that 40-plus-years-ago conflict that shaped the fabric of this country for better or worse.
Ho Chi Ming City is like any other crowded Asia city, with street-side vendors peddling all sorts of items, bikes and motorcycles, dangerously integrated with other vehicle traffic. The van ride to our hotel was eye-opening to say the least. Leonard sat up front and immediately went to the bar on our arrival "to settle his nerves" after we were almost in an accident(s) during that 20-minute ride. We arrived safety, except for the "nerves" being challenged.
We aren't scheduled to meet our tour guide until this evening, so exploration will be delayed for a few more hours as we recover from the long flight ... and van ride.