October 30, 2002
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My Trip Back to Nam
Retired Colonel J. Kilgore's Trip
Hanoi Hilton Hanoi Hilton

Our trip to Vietnam was a complete success although a long way to travel. To get to LA from El Paso one has to fly American West to Phoenix, then change planes and fly to LAX. Then 15 hours to Hong Kong and then 2 1/2 hours to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The hotel in Saigon was OK but not great.

Vietnamese Mother Hanoi Hilton
I found Saigon's Airport to look just like it did 38 years ago. The old French Bunker in the middle hadn't changed, the tower was still the old France built tower. Inside the terminal there was some new tile flooring. The passport military checker didn't take crap off anyone and sent me back to the end of the line because I tried to approach him with Alice (and only one can approach at a time). The airport grounds needed to have the grass cut and our old bunkers were a bit overgrown. They would not permit photos to be made at the airport and after my run in at passport control, I decided not to cheat.

Vietnam Parade Vietnam Parade
The Vietnamese were friendly and it is a very poor country albeit a well fed population. They now raise enough rice to feed everyone and even export some. They are big in fish farms and it also is an export item. Different people could not agree on the annual average income of the people but it seem to be from $250 to $1,000 US Dollars per year. It is not bank oriented but family oriented with several generation living together (the banks don't loan money as a rule).

The family I got to know have three generations in their home (20 people) and one toilet (they drop waste into a bucket and it is sent to factory for processing into fertilizer). I notice they call the toilet a Happy Room and with 20 folks, getting into the room would make one happy.

Every room (of their three room house) becomes a bedroom at night and the sleeping mats are rolled out with grandpa/ma having the best, the sons sleeping on mats with their wife and children etc. The country is full of bikes and motor bikes.

China has found a market for it's cheap motor bikes (around $500 US dollars each) and of course Honda etc sell good ones for about $3,000. The traffic is a nightmare and I would hate to drive in any of the large cities. It's fun to watch entire families on one motor bike and all sorts of supplies being delivered with the motor bikes.
Some of the Vietnamese took great pride in letting me know they defeated the US and France before that (and maybe they should) but they missed what to me was the entire message.

The US shut them out of the World's Markets and Banks for years letting them almost starve for a long time. Had they let the US win the war, they would be years ahead in their economy. Anyway, now the US has backed off and the economy is starting to grow. The country that the living conditions reminded me of was Nicaragua - real third world - but again, not hungry.

We boarded our boat (The Clipper Odyssey) on the Saigon River and although it holds 128 paxs, there was only 26 of us and it made for a great trip and easy tours with only one small bus needed to take us on tours. We visited Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hue (all night bus trip and stay in hotel), Haiphong and Hanoi; then spent a day in the Cat Bo Islands before continuing to Hong Kong for a great stay. The Hong Kong Hotel (Hilton) was one great hotel with an unbelievable view from our 52 story room.

While in Saigon we visited Chu Chi (home of the tunnels) and found it a great way to spent a day. The tunnels were just hard to imagine and they took great pride in telling me how dumb the Americans were during the war and then showing me just how dumb we acted like building a golf course and swimming pool while the VC had free run of the inside of our defenses.

I just listened and tried to hear about the re-education program where our allies and people like our cooks (who were school teacher before we hired them) ended up. But they didn't desire to discuss this in details and it looked like it was a sad story on those we ran off and left. Many ended up clearing land mines or being shot although a few made it. I tried to give a little money to all veterans I met who had their limbs missing (and I didn't care if they were with or against us - the war's over).

Colonel J. Kilgore, US Army, Ret

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