An Old Soldier Says No

It was a rainy day in Hanoi, and I was visiting Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, a kind of smaller version of Mao Tse Tung's in Beijing. The tour buses were pulling up and disgorging pilgrims to the site, never mind the bad weather. There was some partial shelter along one of the sidewalks where a canopy had been erected.

I was in Vietnam to write some stories. I had been there the year before, to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as I still call it. I was visiting my stepson at the time. I had also been in the Navy during the Vietnam war (called "The American War" in Vietnam). I was a junior officer on board an aircraft carrier cruising just off shore and launching planes that bombed the country around the clock.

On this day, however, I came in peace. I was being driven around by an assigned driver and a "guide," who in effect was my minder. The trip had gone very well. The Vietnamese were open and friendly and mostly curious about a tall American in their midst.

As we were parking, my guide noticed a minivan of older tourists unloading about 20 yards up ahead of us.

"They are old soldiers," he said. "They are probably from the south."

"Vietcong?" I asked.

"Yes, probably," he said.

Then he said, "Would you like to meet them?"

I was uncertain how they would react to a former enemy soldier, but I said yes, thinking that as a journalist it would be a great story.

My guide got out of the car and approached the minivan. He spoke to several of the men, occasionally looking back at me. After a few minutes, he came back.

"They don't want to talk to you," he said apologetically.

"No problem," I said.

A few minutes later, as we were walking toward the mausoleum, I caught the eye of one of the men that my guide had been talking to. I smiled, but he didn't He just shook his head, very subtly, but it was unmistakable. The war was not over for this Vietnamese veteran.