Bruce Logan served two tours in Vietnam as an officer, and counted himself lucky when he returned to the United States. Now he and his Canadian wife, Elaine Head, consider Vietnam a second home.
Some Americans go back to confront their bad dreams in the cities and countryside. They are often touched by the conciliatory tone of word and deed.
In a village outside Hanoi, Logan and Head were invited to a feast at the home of a woman named Phuong. In a matter-of-fact way, she described President Nixon’s Christmas bombing of 1972, the bodies and the rubble. The former officer expressed his sorrow for the carnage.
“In response, Phoung turned her misted eyes to mine, laid her hand on my forearm and said, ‘I am so glad that you did not die in the war and that we are here to have dinner together in my house.’
“At that, everyone had a silent cry, for long ago pain, for the moment we had shared, and for the gift of forgiveness in Hanoi.”
Logan and Head tell many stories like this in their book, Back to Vietnam: Tours of the Heart, published by JOTH Press, Salt Spring Island, B.C. and First Choice Press of Victoria, B.C.
My wife and I had similar experiences in 1991 when we were visiting Vietnam as part of her child-care work. People casually divulged details of the war – but only if we asked. Mostly they demonstrated reconciliation, north with south, Vietnamese with Americans.
Not everybody goes back. I have friends who lived through terrible times in Vietnam and do not care to go back. I was never there in wartime; I understand. I had a nice visit with Sen. John McCain once, and asked why he and his buddies help send goods to Vietnam. He shrugged, quite modestly, suggesting it was the right thing to do. I think about that when I see him on television. There is a good man in there.
Like many combat veterans, Bruce Logan kept the war inside him, but he and his second wife, Elaine Head, visited Vietnam in 2006 with a group of veterans and their families. The book has touching stories of finding old foxholes, places where soldiers and civilians died, where horrible memories live, tempered by the forgiveness of the Vietnamese, that sometimes feels like a miracle.
The glorious byproduct of the visits was gaining a family. In the World Heritage town of Hoi An, just outside Da Nang, Logan and Head met Le Nguyen Binh and his wife Quyen, who operate Reaching Out, a distributor of hand-crafted goods made by people who might be consider disabled. My wife and I have purchased some of their high-quality goods. (I wrote about Binh and Quyen in a previous post.)
Binh and Quyen have made a standing offer for Logan and Head to live in Hoi An, and be cared for in their old age, perhaps even be cremated there. Not yet, Logan and Head say, politely. They still conduct tours for Americans who need to return to Vietnam. Their sweet book is graced by their anecdotes, their adventures, their bond with their other home.
"....the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)
"The day after my 80th birthday, which overflowed with good wishes, surprises and Covid-safe celebrations, I awoke feeling fulfilled and thinking that whatever happens going forward, I’m OK with it. My life has been rewarding, my bucket list is empty, my family is thriving, and if everything ends tomorrow, so be it.
"Not that I expect to do anything to hasten my demise. I will continue to exercise regularly, eat healthfully and strive to minimize stress. But I’m also now taking stock of the many common hallmarks of aging and deciding what I need to reconsider."
--Jane E. Brody, my pal in the NYT newsroom, oh, a few years back, in the Personal Health column, Sept. 13, 2021.