This will appear a bit jumbled and "scatter shot."  I just recorded things
periodically, and have "cut and pasted" them into this message, with no real
attempt to put them into any kind of chronological order, or even an order
according to topics.  Please forgive the structure, and ignore the shifts in
tense and other writing abominations.  Also, please forgive the "one size
fits all" approach, since I know that some of it won't appeal to some of
you, since you will have no association with certain places I mention.  With
all those caveats, here goes.............................................

My overall impression of Vietnam today is one of ----- wonderment.  I spent
three days in Hanoi with my son and his family, then two days in the "old
TAOR," with several trips up and down the road from Danang to Hoi An, and a
day trip to Hue (and farther north), then three more days in Hanoi.  Several
things seem fairly obvious.  First and foremost, it is a helluva lot more
crowded which results, I suspect, from two things: an exploding population,
and more people moving from the countryside into the "urban environment."
The population today is more than 80 million, while the population of South
Vietnam in the 60's was about 20 million (don't know the population of North
Vietnam at the time).

Much is new (buildings, roads, internet cafes, more TV's, etc, etc).  Much
is still old, and relatively unchanged since we were there -- streets lined
with small "mom and pop" shops; people sitting around eating, drinking,
smoking, playing cards; in essence, "hanging out" as I suspect they have
always done, and always will do (think that's a cultural thing).  Without
question, the people are happier and appear very enthusiastic --- perhaps
more about their future than their present.  Perhaps incorrectly, I compare
their current attitude to that of the people of the U.S. in (say) the 50's
and 60's.  As an example, I was a "depression baby."  As a youth, I was
frequently cautioned to put into play the lessons learned from the
depression, and to be ever thankful that I did not live in that era.  My
guess is that the current population of younger people have been thoroughly
indoctrinated into the horrors of living during the wars, and that they are
thankful that life today is ever so much better than it was then.  As was
the case with us, the depression lessons were lost to the generation which
followed mine, and I think the war lessons will be lost to the generation
which follows this one in Vietnam.  I suspect there may be increasing unrest
resulting from increasing expectations, if for no other reasons.  For what
it's worth, the book entitled Vietnam, Now by David Lamb is a very good,
short read and encompasses just about all of my impressions, and much more.
It was written by a guy who was a war correspondent during the war, and
recently lived four years in Vietnam as the Hanoi Bureau Chief for the LA
Times.  The comparative experiences form the basis of his book, but it
includes some history, political developments, etc.  Well worth the read, if
you would like to compare then with now, and some explanations as to how we
got from then to now.

I arrived on a Sunday night at about midnight (by the time I cleared
immigration, which was a REAL Charlie Foxtrot).  Approaching the landing, I
kept looking for the "bright lights of the city" ---- I'm still looking.
Noi Bai airport is maybe 20 miles from Hanoi, and in the boondocks.  It is
clean; fairly modern, but drab (in colors and attitude); long immigration
lines; and after three experiences with their airport lines, I have to
conclude that they have real problems processing people, either coming or
going.  From the airport into town there is little buildup, few lights from
airport to town, but my son's house is on the airport side of the city, and
we were traveling after midnight; guess they "roll up the sidewalks at dark"
(except there were no sidewalks).

The next morning the city was TEEMING with activity; mixture of old and new
(mostly old); swarms of small motorcycles, with some cars; disaster waiting
to happen, as median wealth increases and more cars are added to the system
(much like Okinawa in say 1972 -- only the very rich have cars; "upper
middle class" ride motorcyles; lower middle class bicycles; the really poor
still walk); no traffic rules, just a weaving, melding flood of vehicles,
all driven or ridden by individuals with an exquisite sense of timing and
the ability to judge distances to the centimeter.  Crossing a street
requires picking a time, then walking at a steady pace across the street and
let the vehicles avoid you.  Lots of goods available in small shops,
sidewalk bazaars; street markets – large market area with fresh fruits,
veggies, fresh meat, fish swimming in tanks, live chickens. Overall
impression, LOTS of people not working around the city.

My son and his family live in what is known as the "West Lake" area,
obviously a very upscale part of town (probably THE upscale part of town),
with several diplomats (mostly American and French) occupying huge homes.
Up early on Monday, I went outside to enjoy the sunrise -- and was greeted
by roosters crowing, and what sounded like the bellowing of a water buffalo.
My daughter-in-law later confirmed that there are, indeed, water buffalo in
the area.  Incongruities are many: my son's landlord lives next door, in a
home that is quite grand and impressive.  Obviously of some means, yet his
family apparently STILL does the laundry by hand in a large basin, and hangs
it on a line in the courtyard to dry.  Interestingly enough, on the third
day, no crowing rooster and no bellowing.  I was wondering if the rooster
had become dinner --- and worried  about the fate of the water buffalo --- 
but Saturday morning both were back in fine form to greet the new day.

On Monday, my first day, after dropping my grandson off at school, my
daugher-in-law had to attend a meeting of the International Wives Club, in
which she is very active.  The meeting was held in the "Hanoi Towers," a
giant, new high-rise building that accommodates both apartments and business
offices.  The Towers was built on what used to be a large part of the "Hanoi
Hilton," the entrance to which was right around the corner.  I never got
around to  visiting what's left of the prison, but was struck by the
incongruity of the situation -- a place of such known beastiality replaced
by a meeting place for the IWC -- and amongst a whole host of other
businesses, a restaurant where I had lunch with my son on my second day.
The day was spent just moving about the city, trying to get a "feel" for
where I was, and what was going on.

On the second day, I visited the Army Museum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum,
among other places.  The former was a rather drab place, dusty and not very
well kept, put together in a rather ramshackle fashion.  I suppose my two
biggest impressions included the fact that victory over the French perhaps
got equal billing with the eventual victory over us, the fall of Saigon,
etc.  Much attention was given to the "great victory" that was Tet '68.
Apparently the curators have not read the memoirs of General Giap.  The
artifact that made the biggest impact on me was the III MAF plaque in one of
the display cases.

As one might expect, the Ho Chi Minh Museum was much more impressive,
perhaps close to the Lincoln Memorial in overall stature (and a tiny bit
similar in architecture, except Ho Chi Minh is standing; Lincoln is
sitting).  I didn't exactly "breeze through," but I didn't dawdle either.
In a nutshell, my impression was that Uncle Ho had initially embraced the
French "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," then along the way, got hijacked by
Marxism and Leninism.  Lots of photographs, quotes, etc from figures of
history blathering about "freedom for the people" --- but not ONE single
picture or quote of OUR (and the world's) fathers of democracy; no Thomas
Jefferson; no Benjamin Franklin; etc, though Ho was known to have quoted
parts of our Declaration of Independence almost verbatim.  Most incongruous:
going through the place, at one point some curtains were pulled back,
revealing an area of the museum that was not part of the tour.  Sitting in
the back of this area was the front end of a FORD EDSAL; I couldn't hazard a
guess as to what its eventual role will be in the museum .  Perhaps it will
be dragged out to counter-balance the "success" of Marx and Lenin (and Ho
Chi Minh).  Much to my disappointment, Uncle Ho's mausoleum is not open at
this time of the year, so I was not able to view the great man "in the
flesh" (or what's left of him).

General comment: There is not an abundance of flags.  I suppose that every
gov't building has a flag, but I did not see many flags flying from places
of business, homes, etc, as we see in the U.S.  Then, I was expecting a
large dose of French.  It ain't there.  French architecture in the "old
quarter," and smatterings elsewhere, but the only French language I saw was
in the restaurant where my son and I had lunch my first day, and on the
multi-lingual placards in a couple of the museums.  ENGLISH is everywhere
(the same as in Incheon airport, outside of Seoul), and is the very obvious
second language to Vietnamese.  We may be "hated" in every European country
(according to our media); we sure as hell aren't hated here.

Wednesday -- my third day.  Today is the Birthday of our Corps.  Last night,
my son invited over several people for dinner, in an early celebration.  All
were former or current Marines.  A really good group, as you might imagine,
and a most enjoyable evening.  Right now, I am waiting to go to the Embassy
for a noon ceremony marking the Birthday.  Guess there will be a cake
cutting; the reading of CMC's Birthday Message; etc.  Don't know if I will
have a role, though I did tell the Gunny that I was ready to help today, and
at the Ball on Saturday, in any way that I could.  ("I may be old, but I'm
not useless.")  He said he appreciated the "backup," but that I needed to
prepare just for my STARRING role as "oldest Marine" at the Ball.  I never
expected to achieve this status, but now that I have, I intend to play it to
the hilt at every occasion possible.  While waiting, I have been walking
around the local neighborhood.  Some very obvious wealth (or status) here;
huge homes, several occupied by diplomats, e.g. an American next door; a
Frechman across the street (alley, actually), a Dutchman around the corner,
etc, etc.  My grandson attends the UN International School -- grades Pre-K
through high school -- with a complete mixture of kids from all over,
several Asian and European countries represented, but saw no children who
would obviously be from African or Middle Eastern countries.  It is tough
for me to "measure progress" since my tour here, since I have been only in
Hanoi thus far this trip, and was hardly ever in a city during my previous
visit 38 years ago.  However, at that time, I did spend about four days in
Saigon.  I'm not sure there is a helluva lot of difference between Saigon
then and Hanoi now --- except for the differences attributable to technology
advances.  As examples, one sees "internet cafes," advances of that type --- 
just as one saw "TV bars" in Saigon.  The powerful breeze around Hanoi in a
smattering of Mercedes, "mid-sized" cars (e.g. Toyota Camry), and SUV's.
Not at all different from Saigon then; there were late-model cars there
also.  The main modes of individual transportation are small motorcycles,
bicyles and buses; same as Saigon earlier.  Watching the "flow of traffic"
is amazing; vehicles flowing, weaving, melding --- all with apparently very
few rules.  People from all walks of life riding those motorbikes; still
most interesting are good-looking, stylishly dressed young women, wearing 4"
high heels, pant suits, etc, weaving and melding with the best of them.  One
gets the impression that NO ONE works.  I think they have a plan where
everyone who lives on the eastern side of town gets up in the morning and
rides west (and back); same procedure for each of the other three quadrants.
MANY people sitting around in front of the little shops, sipping tea,
playing cards, shooting the bull, etc, etc, etc.  Bottom line: not very much
different from my very limited observations in Saigon almost 40 years ago.
I am anxious to get out into the countryside to see progress there.  That's
where I spent all but about 10 days during my earlier "period of residency",
but I don't really expect to have the time to visit many hamlets during this
trip.  Next time, perhaps a longer visit, with no demands here in Hanoi, and
some leave time for my son so we can travel around.  OK, it is later; nice
small celebration with the Marines at the Embassy.  Wednesday night we
attended a concert at the Opera House, which is a replica (though a bit
miniaturized) of the grand opera house in Paris.  Quite impressive, and much
better maintained than many other "public places" that I saw.

Early on Thursday, we flew to Danang.  From the airport south, Danang is
"modernized" to a considerable extent, most noticeable in the streets and
roads, many of which are now four-lane, at least in the city and closein to
the city, with bustling businesses along both sides.  Traveling  south, and
looking through the trees, I could catch glimpses of what I'm sure were the
remnants of Marble Mountain Air Facility --- example: the rounded shelters
for aircraft (many of those are also still remaining on Danang Air Base as
well, with a few sheltering jet fighter aircraft).  Nui Kim Son is, in
essence, no more, though the half dozen or so huts closest to the bridge
still look the same as they did in 1966.  The marble carving industry is
going full blast, with a zillion shops (large and small) along the main
road, and several side streets as well.  They feature everything from lions
and eagles six feet tall (or larger) down to four inch carvings of
elephants, lions and water buffalo.  Given the extent of the industy, it is
a wonder that the mountains even exist.  I asked a few people about "Nui Kim
Son" and they didn't even recognize the name.  I visited several shops and
was beset by the same type of hawkers and panhandling, wheedling, whiney
"pushy sales people" that have always been there.  I fnally bought a few
small items from a shop which was run by a reasonably attractive young lady
who was 7 1/2 months pregnant, and spoke very good English.  She did not
recognize the name Nui Kim Son, until I showed her my old map, at which
point she at least pretended to recognize it.  On the other hand, she very
definitely recognized Tra Khe 2, and pointed out her mother-in-law who was
hovering around in the shop.  The mother-in-law was a scrawny little woman,
with teeth stained black from beetle nut juice.  She was 67 years old, and
had lived her entire life in Tra Khe 2 (perhaps we had met before, but I
didn't pursue that possibility).  That sealed the deal as far as purchasing
was concerned.  Seemed only appropriate for me to help this pregnant woman
from the new Vietnam, whose child would be the grandchild of a woman from
the old Vietnam that many of us knew far too well.

I THINK I did find "Hill 10" (about two klicks east by south from the bridge
at Nui Kim Son).  At least the land form looked the same as shown on my old
map; the view of the mountains was the same as I remember; the difference
was that there was a concrete pillbox on top of the hill (and another about
150 meters around the contour).  I don't remember those being there when we
occupied the area; perhaps they were, or perhaps they were built by ARVN
forces after we departed the area.  The entire area from the mountains to
the sea is now fully developed, with some very nice homes and at least one
very impressive beach resort.  I didn't travel along the beach, but know
there are other beach resorts, one of the finest being located at what we
knew as "China Beach."  Looking from Hill 10 west towards Tra Khe 2, the
land looks to be in the early stages of extensive development --- much
digging and earth movement has recently been done.  At the Marine Ball, I
met the owner of a construction and development company who confirmed the
development of the area, and implied a road would be built along the beach
from the Marble Mountains to Hoi An, thus opening the entire 30 or so
kilometers to beach resort development.  If you still have a copy of your
map of the area, you will remember that the map shows a road running along
close to the beach, but that road had long since been abandoned even when we
were there.  Looks like it is going to be rebuilt.

Finding Tra Khe 2 was no problem at all.  Finding what was Lima's part of
the cordon during Operation Teton was also easy, since our lines were along
the paddy.  There is now a one-lane, surfaced road running from the old MSR,
along the edge of the ville next to the paddy for a distance of maybe three
kilometers.  It then bends west, and loops back up through the middle of the
ville, to the starting point at the MSR.  Very little has changed, except
for the road, and obvious newer homes which have replaced the older; the
middle of the ville is still as wide open as before --- and I may even have
seen a couple of booby traps still in there, with a sniper or two following
my progress.

What was the MSR for us is now a decent two-lane road all the way to Hoi An.
Beach resort development at Hoi An is a wonder to behold.  We stayed at a
five-star resort, the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort ---- fantastic place,
with at least 90% of the customers being foreigners; French and Australians
in the majority, I think.  Check the place out at  If you click on
"Virtual Tour" then click on "Vietnamese Deluxe Room Beach Front" I think
that is a picture of the room I stayed in.  Quite different from the muddy
foxholes, etc, that I knew before; the food was also better!!  There was a
large French tour group in residence, and I was delighted to observe that
every member of the hotel staff (Vietnamese, of couse) spoke at least a
smattering of English, but they had to trot out a specialist when French was
needed.  That has to be galling to those pompous pricks.  On the subject of
languages, English is very prominent in every place I've been (even in
Hanoi) and is obviously the "second language," while I have seen VERY little
French (even in Hanoi).  Perhaps there is a lessen in there for Jacques

Friday was our "day trip" to Hue and beyond.  The road from Danang was in
pretty good shape, with some notable repair projects along the way.  Not
much in the way of road repair equipment; much was still being done the
old-fashioned way --- by hand, even a guy spreading oil (in preparation for
paving) with what looked like your standard can for watering plants in your
garden.  The ride over the Hai Van pass was spectacular, much better by road
than by helicopter (which was the only way I had made the trip in the past).
Really breathtaking scenery.  No evidence whatsoever of the huge base we had
at Phu Bai, but views of any distance are obstructed by the growth (both
buildings and foliage) along the roads.  A bypass has been constructed
around Hue, and that bypass rejoins highway 1 at precisely the place where
my ARVN regimental HQ had been located --- at PK 17, for those of you who
might remember that.  I was able to pick out a couple of areas (and one
hamlet) where my ARVN outfit had had some significant engagements, and was
able to find the old MACV Compound in Hue.  From the outside it looked
pretty much the same, but I didn't attempt to go inside, since it is now a
"military billeting area and restaurant" (according to my son's rough
interpretation of the sign at the entrance).

On Saturday, the Marine Corps Birthday Ball was very impressive from just
about every perspective.  It was held at the Sheraton hotel (definitely a
five-star place, and there are several of them around Hanoi).  Beautifully
decorated ball room; well attended by a mixture of diplomatic personnel;
military attaches from several countries; some business people; and four or
five Vietnamese military officers.  I chatted briefly with a couple of
Vietnamese Colonels, compared a few "where were you, when" notes, and posed
for a few pictures with them.  I would have very much liked to spend some
time with them in meaningful discussions, but the Ball was obviously not the
place to do that --- perhaps during my next visit.  The Embassy Detachment
did a great job pulling off the Ball, even though they had to "import" one
Marine from Manila to flesh out the Color Guard, and to augment the watch
standers.  Of course, Ambassador MARINE (yes, that is his REAL name) was the
Guest of Honor, and gave a very nice speech, based in large measure on his
own experiences as a Marine in the late 60's/early 70's, and the many Balls
he has since attended.  I did not ask if he had served in Vietnam during his
four-year stint.  The main speaker was a BG who had come from Okinawa for
the occasion.  He is the CG, FSSG there; didn't spend a lot of time talking
with him.  Playing my role as "oldest Marine present" turned out to be more
strenuous than I had anticipated.  Having followed the cake into the
ballroom, I had to stand at parade rest through the entire ceremony,
including the speech by the BG.  During the rehearsal earlier in the
afternoon, the Gunny's parting advice to the four cake attendants (and me,
by extension) was, "Remember, don't lock your knees while standing at parade
rest."  Well, I didn't heed his advice, and got a bit "shakey-legged" while
waiting.  Then, since I had to move from behind the cake to a position in
front of the cake to receive my due, I wondered if I was going to fall on my
ass when I tried to move.  I didn't, and all worked out well.  In the end
result, I met many really interesting people, and highly recommend any Ball
hosted by an Embassy detachment.

As you might expect, Sunday and Monday were rather anticlimactic; primarily
loafing on Sunday and some final sight-seeing on Monday.  All in all, it was
a fantastic experience, and I am already looking forward to my next visit,
and ranging farther into the country.  I strongly recommend Vietnam as a
"vacation destination."  The extra you might spend on air fare will be more
than offset by what you save on accommodations, food, etc.  Most
importantly, I will confidently GUARANTEE that there is no other country
where you will be more warmly received, or treated with more courtesy and
respect.  Talk about irony of ironies.  As a final note, I will be happy to
respond to any questions you might have.

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By Paul Ruh
Paul Ruh is holding a piece of paper that says"Lt. Jim Cannon slept here" This is what is left of the concrete steps that went into my command bunker.
This page was last updated: April 25, 2014
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