The Return Trip 2000 – 3
Sunday, March 5, 2000 - A more mixed bag today. We toured the old Presidential Palace, visited a couple of Buddhist temples, saw the War Remnants Museum with its one-sided account of the war and spent some quiet moments at the Hoc Mon bridge.
Let's begin with a correction. The Presidential Palace is no more. In fact it never was. The building that was the home to President Nguyen Van Thieu from 1962 until 1975 was formerly known as the Independence Palace but these days is known as the Reunification Palace. It is remarkably well preserved and the tour with an English speaking guide was informative and worthwhile. Rick Everett was so inspired by the experience that when we went through the amazingly reinforced war room in the basement that he plopped down in Thieu's chair and "took command." If the guide hadn't turned the lights out we may have never gotten him out of that seat.
The stop at the War Remnants Museum served as living proof that history is written by the victors. It is a mix of fact and hyperbole. Willy has visited several times since his first trip in 1996 and says it has been "toned down" so as not to offend American visitors. If it has been toned down I would hate to have seen the earlier version. The English brochure starts with a quote from Robert McNamara saying "we were wrong, terribly wrong" and takes it from there with a long littany of facts and figures "represent(ing)...those terrible wrongs" by the U.S. Government. Photos of vicitms of napalm and other bombings fill the 12 page pamphlet which ends with a vivid and gruesome color photo of the My Lai massacre. It is a stop that not every vet will want to incude on a return visit.
We finished the morning with lunch at a very agreeable restaurant the Ciao Cafe. Clearly an establishment for the uppercrust and the prices, though modest by American standards, showed it. A pizza and beer cost $7 dollars - a fortune in comparison with the more standard fare our guide Hien's restaurant offers where a traditional and filling lunch would be more in the under $2 range.
After a visit to a large and impressive Buddhist Temple we drove out to Hoc Mon - the site of the ambush of March 2, 1968. I think we all shared some powerful emotions as we climbed down from the van and walked along the road where 48 young Americans died. Willy expressed what we were all feeling when he said that even though he had visited the site a year earlier it still gave him chills to stand in that spot. Manchu son Ryan Tipton climbed a tree on the bank of the canal and left a Manchu crest in memory.
Then on a hunch we followed a narrow dirt path down the northern bank of the canal the Hoc Mon bridge spans. There, some 500 meters away from the ambush site, we found another place with special signifcance -- at least for me. I never thought I would find any particular piece of ground that I would recognize all these years later. But I did. The place where a man in my platoon had died on June 9, 1968. Our group stopped to reflect and remember David Stoehr. To make this remarkable event even more meaningful, we were joined by a former ARVN soldier who lives nearby. He filled in many details of that place and the events that had taken place there during the course of the war. Perhaps, when there is more time I'll be able to pass on what he shared with us.
As I said in the beginning it was a mixed day. Tomorrow we are off to the Delta to visit Mr. Sau's island known for its botanical gardens and bootleggers.
Make sure to join us then.
D Co. 68-69
War Remnants Museum