Read Chelcie’s latest blog as she visits the country of Vietnam for the first time! Her experience was nothing compared to what she learned in history class.
April 29, 2012
“All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.”
– Samuel Johnson
I grew up hearing stories from the war and remembering glimpses from my American History class, but nothing compared to exploring the country firsthand.
As soon as we landed in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) the first thing I did was catch a cab to the War Remnants museum with a few other SASers. We were in great spirits, as we all were feeling the usual excitement and thrill of dreaming about our next six days in port.
However, once inside the museum, surrounded by mostly local Vietnamese people it took all of me to keep my head up and face the truth head on. Over three million people killed and another estimated two to three million from the effects of Agent Orange. My country has never experienced that brutality.
I kept thinking back to 9/11 and the three thousand lives that were killed that day. I was in sixth grade, running around the track in the morning for gym class and a student ran up to my friends and I and shared the news. Two towers, a building in D.C. and a city in Pennsylvania I knew very little about very quickly became the forefront of my mind. For the first time in my life my eyes were opened to evil. I remember huddling around the small screen TV in art class, trying to make sense of what was happening, but still couldn’t quite grasp the severity of the situation. I remember my math teachers pulling me aside to assure me that my sister would be ok as she went to school in D.C., and my parents picking me up from school just a few hours later. Thinking back I was so scared, my freedom and security was being threatened. I just wanted to be with my family and know that everything would be ok.
I walked into the War Remnants museum and was flooded with images of terror. An image of a Vietnamese father shaking as a gun is held to his head. His family huddled behind him and an American soldier holds a lighter to their home and burns it to the ground. I can’t imagine the fear and I can’t even begin to touch on the pain that Vietnam went through.
As our mood quickly shifted, we tried to picture ourselves in our parents’ generation. Instead of experiencing a life-changing voyage around the world, many of loved ones would be fighting in the very same country we were touring years later. What would’ve happened if my dad’s number was called? Would he still be the same person, with just as much joy? What would America look like as a communist country? Would I still be enjoying the same freedoms? How different my life could be. I tried to make sense of the war and the millions of lives, but I couldn’t. Nearly 55,000 American soldiers and two to three million Vietnamese lives were gone.
SAS had the unique privilege of having Senator Robb and his wife Lynda Bird Johnson join the voyage in Cape Town and stay with us until Japan. Admittedly I knew very little of the Senator and his wife prior to them joining our voyage, but have since taken an incredible amount of knowledge from them. Lynda is most well known because her father, Lyndon B. Johnson walked into the middle of the controversial war and served as 36th president after JFK’s assassination.
We had the unique privilege of having the Senator and his wife share with us insight about the Vietnam War and what it looked like from their perspective. Lynda recounted her wedding day back in December of 1967 and her husbands’ deployment just three months later in March. Months pregnant with her first of their three “almost perfect” daughters, Lynda described in vivid detail her memories of people chanting outside her window everyday, “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many young men did you kill today?” “No one wanted the war to end as badly as daddy did,” Lynda said teary-eyed. She wanted us to take away one thing: no matter who the president is, democrat or republican, to always remember that they are trying to serve our country and have the citizen’s best interest in mind. As I struggled with our reasoning for entering the war, Lynda quickly put things into perspective.
As I reflect upon my voyage I can’t help but be reminded of the all the war so many of these countries have faced and the bloodied path that exists in the name of freedom. It’s a depressing perspective to consider, but a harsh reality for so many.
Although I struggle to conceive the death that was before me in Vietnam, I am exceedingly grateful for my freedoms and for the many service men and women that courageously fight for my freedoms.