By Ken Parr (A Co, 1st BN, 1970-1971)
After wondering for years what the people and countryside of Vietnam were like after we left, I finally took the plunge, and called a travel company about a trip back there. I had seen the advertisement in the winter issue of the Screaming Eagle magazine and for some reason responded almost immediately. After comparing this information with several others offered, there was no doubt in my mind that my trip would be with the 101st group. I knew no one until my plane landed at LAX, and after meeting the group, felt as if we had known each other for ever. We were a small group and I now know that is the best way to go, because we can remain so flexible throughout the entire tour.
Our group of 17, consisted of ten Vietnam veterans, (some had had two tours); two Army veterans; one non veteran history professor; two wives; a son of a Vietnam veteran; and a grandson of the same veteran. Out of this group the areas of Infantry, Aviation, Field Artillery, Mortars, HHC, and Special Forces were represented. Also, touring with us was the president of the tour company and her very able in country representative. Being a smaller group we could see more and go to places that may have been more difficult with a larger group, but still have the security and support of the group. This was evident several times throughout the two weeks.
We started our trip in country in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and hit all of the highlights between there and the former DMZ. Thu Duc, Bien Hoa, Long Binh, Xuan Loc, Phan Thiet, Song Mao, Tuy Phong, Phan Rang, Cam Ranh Bay, Nha Trang, Tuy Hoa, Qui Nhon, An Khe, Pleiku, Kon Tum, Dak To, Tu Mo Rong, Danang, Hoi An, Phu Bai, Hue, Quang Tri Province, and Hanoi. Our only disappointment on the entire trip came when we were rained out of the A Shau Valley area. It became very dangerous that day as the rains continued all night and most of the following day. We did, however, go to the Laotian border and walk around there for a short time.
The most memorable portion of my trip was returning to the areas around An Khe, Hue, Phu Bai, and the infamous Fire Support Base Khe Sanh. We ate lunch one day inside the Citadel after our tour of the many buildings inside the brick walls. Those walls are unbelievably large when viewed from the inside. Many of us departed the bus after crossing the Bien Hai River at the DMZ and walked back to the South side. What a strange feeling that was too! Finding a few remnants of sandbags was also a thrill as most of us got real tired of those things the first time around!
Along the way, each member of the group shared his thoughts and memories of the first time around, as most of us were stationed in different areas throughout the country and in different years. From the ranks came many, many, stories of the emotions and true inner feelings of the war with no feelings held back. From Lt Colonel, to Specialist 4th Class we all shared as if it had just happened. Most of us were there at least twenty-five years or more ago and it all seemed like yesterday. Our group leader brought maps along that were all marked as to where the fire bases, camps, air fields, etc. had been located. That was a great deal of help too, as most of the buildings are long since gone.
The non veterans on this tour were probably able to appreciate more of what goes on in a military unit now that they have had the opportunity to travel and tour the country as we did. I know for sure the wives can attest to the fact of not wanting to use women in combat! Can you imagine the thoughts of the ten year old on this trip with his father and grandfather? The memories will last a lifetime for him. He was a real trooper too, being able to keep up the pace most of the time. Our history professor will now be able to teach the lessons of this war with a more "hands on" approach having been there himself, although he offered many insights and facts that we either had forgotten or never knew before.
From entry at Ho Chi Minh City, to exit in Hanoi, we were greeted with open arms from the cities to the back bush areas and encountered no problems with the people there at all. In meeting with others traveling from different parts of the world, they shared the same sentiments with us. We had wonderful transportation, from the finest jet aircraft, to the all wheel drive Russian made jeep type of vehicle, to the comfortable buses. Every accommodation was clean and a welcome cool at night.
We were all able to share the changes of our emotions moving from one section to another of the country. The camaraderie was terrific and I would like to thank all the people on this trip for making it a very "Memorable Return to Vietnam."