My father is not a bug and this blog isn't a microscope, which is why I've avoided writing about the emotional aspects of our journey. But I guess I'm about to try.
When I was buying a camera to bring on the trip, I told the Radio Shack clerk that I was going to Vietnam with my veteran father. His face instantly fell. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said. "Is he okay?"
"Yes, yes, yes," I replied, slightly embarrassed. "He's fine."
Obviously, some men didn't come back fine and some men didn't come back at all, but my father was fine. FINE. He was lucky. The Army assigned him to an intelligence desk job, keeping files on Viet Cong operatives. He wasn't one of the guys slogging through rice paddies getting his limbs blown off while throwing grenades at old women and children. He came home three months before the Tet Offensive. Like I say, lucky.
My father grew up in northern Utah, went to college on scholarship, had never traveled much. The way he describes it, his war was simultaneously boring and fascinating. The days were tedious and endless and hot, but the glimpses of Vietnamese culture, captivating. An ancient Montagnard lady who chewed betel leaf cleaned the barracks. Major Singh, the eccentric ARVN officer who worked next door, would every now and then come into his office and say, "Buffalo soup, Captain Reese?" Then they would get in a jeep and drive down to Pleiku and eat beef pho. They discussed hi-fi equipment, on which Major Singh was an expert.
After a year, my father went home, resumed his life as an American family man, avoided talking about the war because: 1960s San Francisco, bought the stereo recommended by Major Singh, got a job at the law firm where he worked, basically without pause, until he retired last year.
As I've mentioned, I've never seen my father happier. He says that seeing Vietnam now -- vibrant, at peace, beautiful, whole -- makes him feel that the war, which he believed in at the time, was a big "waste." I suppose this could make him bitter, but it doesn't appear to. Seeing Vietnam today seems to make him deeply happy. The pagodas, the ruins at My Son, the motor scooters, the markets -- he appears to love it all.
But why am I interpreting what my father is thinking and feeling when he's right in the next room reading a James Lee Burke novel? Maybe I'll go in there and make him write his own blog entry.