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Narrative-Chapter 1

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Bill flew from Bangkok, Thailand and landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in early July of 1998. When he got off the plane Bill was filled with the cumulative memories  and emotions of what he had experienced in the United States about the Vietnam War. Now he was ready to embark on an experience in Vietnam, and for the first time in his life, experience the American War. "It was so moving. I could not beleive it. After all these years....to actually be there...I've never had a more unbelievable feeling. It was really uncanny," When Bill descended from his plane he performed a ritual usually preserved for those who have been away from their homeland for a very long time. He knelt down and kissed the earth beneath him.  "This is a sacred land to me."

Vietnam is about the size of California in land area, however it is home to almost three times the population of Cambodia.   Vietnam is easy to get around. There are no shortage of drivers for hire and plane fares are cheap.  Inner city transport is most convenient using the threewheeled cyclo (pronounced sic clo-photo below) and river transport is common (photo above.)

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Bill on Cyclo in Ho Chi Min City

Bill housed himself in the touristy backpacker section of Ho Chi Minh City. "There  really  are a lot of tourists [in Vietnam]." However Bill muses "conspicuously absent are American Tourists." One tourist, an Australian, although fairly inebriated was quite able to unearth Bill's hidden agenda, "Hey mate," he said, "You came here to make amends didn't you? You came here to make compensation?"

Bill spent about 5 days in Saigon and visited such historically and pictorially famous tourist spots  as the Presidential Palace and the site of the former U.S. Embassy, The palace, now called the Reunification Palace to reflect reality, is preserved as it was 25 years ago on April 30, when a North Vietnamese Army tank smashed

though its gates ending the American War. Unfortunately for Bill  the former United States Embassy (where 25 years ago the world witnessed helicopters frantically evacuating the families of American and South Vietnamese dignitaries from the embassy rooftop.) had just been torn down a week before Bill arrived. However a "sweet old Vietnamese man" sold Bill a photo of the old embassy and Bill took his picture instead.

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Ho Chi Minh City Street

The emotional highlight of Bill's stay in Ho Chi Minh was his visit to its War Museum. "I went to this incredible war museum which I really want to mention because I want to promote them. I've actually been sending donations to them. It's a phenomenal museum." The war museum in Ho Chi Minh City used to be a Buddhist pagoda destroyed by the French soldiers when the American War or the Vietnamese War was the French War following the World War (number 2.)  What amazed Bill the most was the variety of the weaponry displayed in the museum and  used against the Vietnamese people during the war. On display was a guillotine left over from the French War which had actually been used in the sixties by the Americans on suspected Viet Cong. In addition there was napalm, huge tanks, artillery guns, anti-artillery guns and anti-personnel weapons (such as bombs that resemble oranges or pineapples.) There were land shaking bombs which, while never exploding would be dropped from the sky and float to the earth using an umbrella like device. After landing they would shake the ground for a radius of 3km, knocking down village huts and even making people ill with nausea. There were replicas of the infamous tiger cages which were used to brutalize and torture suspected enemies of the Saigon regime. They became widely used under the regime of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu who took over South Vietnam after a U.S. condoned (or urged or planned, depending on who you beleive) assasination of then South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Tiger Cages were cells constructed below ground with just enough room to fit one person. Prisoners were put in these as punishment for various infractions of the rules.

In 1970 Thomas Harkin, now a U.S.Senator from Iowa,  but at that time a young staffer for Congressman Neil Smith of Iowa visited South Vietnam. According to Harkin's web site he was " responsible for exposing the world to the infamous "tiger cages" inside a South Vietnamese prison camp at Con Son Island. While accompanying a Congressional delegation to South Vietnam, Tom unearthed the cramped, inhuman conditions that political prisoners -- many of them women and children -- were subjected to. Despite pressure and attempts by others to withhold the information, Tom released a detailed account and his photographs of the shocking condition of the prisoners in the cages. As a result, hundreds of tortured political prisoners were released, and a cover-up was exposed.

Much controversy still surrounds the issue of the  tiger cage during  the Vietnam War primarily due to attempted revisionist rewritings (**see note below) of the history of the war and because the tiger cage was also  used by the North Vietnamese on American prisoners.

The last exhibit that Bill saw in the war museum was the photo you see to the right of Mary Vecchio kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller at Kent State on May 4, 1970, accompanied by a descriptive plaque. Seeing it in this museum so far from home stunned Bill. He went to one of the guides and pointed out where he had been standing on that day in 1970 relative to this famous photo. He was subsequently invited to a discussion with the Curator of the museum and her husband where he told his May 4 story and even made a donation to the museum. "They were so gracious and wonderful... I apologized for the war and I told them how badly I felt about it. I definitely shed some tears." Later that evening the couple took Bill out to what he described as a very expensive restaurant and bought him diner. "I was really honored."

Evidence of the American War was not restricted to the museum despite it being 25 years from the last battles . "Along the highway I saw bomb craters created by American B52s...things that would be really mundane (to the Vietnamese), like us seeing a billboard along a highway in Ohio."

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To Chapter 2 -Trip Narrative

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Photo of Kent State Massacre in the War Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

**In the eighties conservative, rightwing, think tanks began searching for and soliciting books and articles on the Vietnam War which validated its version of what took place rather than what the majority of responsible historians were writing at the time. The conservative view of the war is that  the United States lost the war, not because it was defeated militarily,  but because the government lacked the will to fight the good fight, mainly due to the cowardice of the anti-war movement aided by and run by the leftwing sympathizers of communism who forced the American public to beleive their communist propaganda and lose the will to fight. Inherent in this is the need to minimize and challenge  as much as possible the evidence of the  horrendous behavior of the American and Saigon military in the war and to  highlight and exaggerate the negative actions of the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Armies. See Mike and Kendra's links to Vietnam War Web Sites to learn more about the War.