Burns and Novick on VietNam: Episode 2

I had forgotten the horror of those monks burning themselves to death on Saigon’s public streets.

By contrast, this episode had a clip of early Peace Corps volunteers boarding a plane — which friend and sister Peace Corps volunteer Bev pinged me not to miss. The first volunteers went to Ghana, in August of 1961. I noted how spruced up they looked. After six months in-country in rural Panama six years later, we were positively bedraggled. Our cotton clothes, hand washed in a bucket with harsh soap or beaten to cleanliness on rocks in the river, were faded and worn. We had bad haircuts. Having come during rainy season, our sneakers never fully dried. We had fungal infections between our toes.

Friend and regular reader Phyllis, who is watching the documentary too, remarked on the young soldiers who had never traveled anywhere who found the VietNamese strange and foreign — and this when we were in their country, burning their villages, dropping bombs on their rice paddies. We have a friend in Rochester named Be Walters, a VietNamese woman who married a soldier and came back with him. Be named her restaurant Mamasan’s — I assume because that’s what the young GI’s called Vietnamese women and she thought her customers would find the name familiar. At an early point, when my family had become regulars, she said, “Please not call me Mamasan. Please call my name, Be.” From that day on, we did.

Watching the series is surprisingly emotional, for something 50 years past. But as they say, nothing past is ever really past, is it?


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