Praise for Back to Vietnam
Back to Vietnam is a feast of a book. It doesn’t just talk about Vietnam; it takes you there. This book simmers and shimmers with the smells, sounds, flavours, sights and insights of an endlessly fascinating people and their wonderful, ever-surprising homeland. The authors sub-title their book Tours of the Heart. For the reader, it’s a “tour de force.”
— Arthur Black, author and broadcaster.
A significant book about the reconciliation possible between those who have been cast into bloody conflict; a compelling story of one American veteran and his wife who find purpose by serving in Vietnam, forty years after the war. The renderings of the beauty of my country Vietnam and the warmth of our people are vividly interwoven with heart wrenching images of the poverty and illness that the authors encounter in our humanitarian work.
— Le Ly Hayslip, author of When Heaven & Earth Changed Places, and Child of War, Woman of Peace
An intimate travel memoir tracing one veteran’s journey from war to reconciliation.
This moving debut, co-authored by a retired career Army officer and his wife, reveals how a trip to confront the ghosts of his Vietnam War experience led to affinity for Vietnamese culture, a humanitarian commitment, annual three-month stays, and deep friendships with many Vietnamese, including former enemies. Logan and Head take turns narrating self-contained vignettes that advance the larger story in an effective contrapuntal style. Logan served two tours, first as a lieutenant in the thick of combat, then as a captain at a beachfront hotel headquarters. His accounts of battles, brotherhood, brothels, bureaucracy and postwar brooding set a fitting opening tone. Head, a retired corporate trainer with a big heart, gentle spirit, and Buddhist leanings, grew up in Canada and married Logan after both were divorced with grown children. She contributes a more dispassionate view of the war as well as helpful insights about her husband. “Vietnam, A Country Not a War,” her introduction to Part 2, epitomizes the book’s message. They share keen observations about the places they’ve been and introspective feelings about the people they meet. Scenes are colorful, chaotic, and full of contrasts, reflecting Vietnam itself—a communist country lacking social services, full of bustling cities with utility outages, agrarian culture facing bulldozers, and tin-roof huts with satellite dishes. Vestiges of war—rusted fuselages, elders missing limbs, and children with Agent Orange–related birth defects—are everywhere; so is hospitality. Logan and Head began as outsiders smuggling toothbrushes and personal care donations. They grew into part-time residents, distributing portable school libraries and providing managerial support for a startup that employs the disabled. In the process, the couple running that enterprise essentially adopted them as family. Historical context helps reshape wartime caricatures as the authors write with a sense of immediacy and attention to detail that fully invoke the moment and setting for each encounter.
Gracefully transports readers on an odyssey that transcends the exotic locale and legacies of war to focus on the power of human connection.
About the Book
When Bruce left Vietnam in March, 1971, after his second tour of duty as a young Army officer during the American-Vietnamese War, he swore that he would never set foot in Southeast Asia again. Four decades later, he swallowed those words. We returned to discover Vietnam a different place from the country he knew forty years earlier.
Written in each of our voices, this memoir follows a journey from the horrors of the battlefield to peaceful and rewarding humanitarian work. Bruce’s personal experience as a young officer during the war in Vietnam, and his study of its history and the fate of its veterans, informs his reflections. The religions, culture, social mores and folk tales of Vietnam add depth and texture to the manuscript.
We have written about our struggle to understand a country that is full of contrasts and contradictions, beauty and blemishes; a communist government and a capitalist economy; government control of the press and eloquently expressive people; a male dominated society where women are pillars of courage and strength; docile, fatalistic religious beliefs and aggressive entrepreneurialism; a progressive, industrious population plagued with social problems.
The book reflects a personal odyssey of hope and reconciliation for us and our surprise and delight on this unexpected turn on our path to retirement.
The friendships that we have forged with the Vietnamese, and the trust earned through those friendships, grant richness to a riveting and insightful narrative.
Excerpts from Our Book
My war began on September 26, 1966 when our Northwest Orient Airlines 707 plummeted in a spiral toward Vietnamese soil. This dizzying final descent to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, just outside Saigon, lessened our exposure to ground fire but left me clutching the armrests of my seat, stomach lurching. What lay ahead in this war, now my war? Would I live to return to my home town of Seattle? Would I ever see Gloria, my new fiancée, again? Would I go home to her crippled and maimed?
I caught glimpses of a verdant mosaic below, squares of rice paddy, small but thick stands of densely foliated trees, the occasional wispy palm tree and a thin muddy canal. On the canal, a wiry Vietnamese man clad only in shorts and a conical hat poled a sampan. Then the outer perimeter of the eight-square-mile base flashed past. Rows of coiled barbed wire, sandbagged bunkers and well-spaced watchtowers protected the complex of runways and taxiways. Within seconds we touched down, engines in reverse thrust, decelerating down the long black tarmac.
As the aircraft taxied toward the terminal, my two seatmates and I turned our heads toward the nearest window, straining for our first glimpse of Vietnam. We had arrived, two hundred khaki-clad soldiers, as green as the emerald quilt of rice paddies and jungle that stretched away to the horizon, catapulted into the heat, humidity and fetid air of tropical Vietnam. This was no training camp. The war machines in evidence everywhere were not for practice. We stayed silent, each of us keeping our thoughts to ourselves.
Row upon row of warplanes and helicopters in green and black camouflage paint stood like sentinels along the taxiway. Busy ground crews fueled and armed many of the craft. One airman, then another farther down the line, and then another looked up from his work to doff his cap and hold it over his heart while affecting a sad grin of commiseration.
Vince Jason had designed our trip to ensure that we visited places that would provoke vivid memories for the veterans in our group, but serendipity often delivered even more tender moments. Bruce was taken by surprise at the depth of his emotions while he experienced the compassion and forgiveness of the Vietnamese. I think that somehow old soldiers, though strangers, can sense each other’s presence. In the streets of Hoi An we encountered an old man in a pushcart kind of wheelchair, his right leg and left arm amputated. He sold postcards and whistles, but when he spied Bruce, he first extended his hand and then saluted and insisted through sign language that we accept a few whistles as his gifts to us. In Hoi An, and most of Central Vietnam, these veterans are often former Viet Cong, and they are anxious to embrace Bruce, to reconcile, to forgive. As they cling to him their tenderness touches him deeply, his tears visible. And I am struck by the notion that for these old men, these “enemies” with their gnarled hands entwined, this is their finest hour. They may no longer be officers or soldiers, but they are gentlemen.
As Bruce had reached to hold my hand on that descent into Tan Son Nhut on our first trip to Vietnam together, I thought that I might have to be the strong one; that Bruce might retreat to a dark place in the memories of his participation in the war; that he would be haunted by ghosts or overcome with remorse or anguish; or that some 39-year-old Vietnamese man or woman might throw themselves at Bruce crying “Dad, Dad, where have you been all my life?” But what I discovered about my knight in shining armor was his deep compassion, his caring and tender heart.
We would travel many miles on our first trip back to Vietnam, through a land of exquisite beauty populated by young and vibrant people working diligently to remake their country after its devastation through thousands of years of conflict, but our internal journeys would be as intriguing and challenging as the one on the road. For us and those in our TOP group, Vietnam would be a place for remembering not only who we had been but also for learning about who we might still become.