Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finding An Old Friend

Last November I wrote a blog summarizing my year in Vietnam. On April 20th there was a comment left from a Vietnamese Interpreter I worked with in Vietnam from 1967-68. He simply identified himself as Nguyen Van Tuat.  I was ecstatic.

Tuat is 3rd from the left
Tuat’s son somehow found the  blog,  where he saw a picture of his dad as a young man.                 

Shortly after my unit, the 635th MI detachment, 198th Brigade, got set up at our basecamp near Chu Lai, two Interpreters were assigned to us, Le Van Chang and Nguyen Van Tuat. Both were about twenty years old like myself. They were the first Vietnamese people I got to know. Both Tuat and Chang were friendly and loved to laugh and joke around.
Chang, Tuat and me at the beach on the South China Sea

We worked together every day, interrogating detainees or going on Intelligence gathering missions. We hung out in each other’s hooch’s  in the evenings, talking and eating snacks or C-rations.
When we had time off, we went to the beach.


Me & Tuat

Chang before he was shot
On New Year’s Eve 1967, Chang was shot by “friendly fire”. Tuat and I went up to the hospital to be with him. He was shot in the shoulder and survived. A month later he was back working in our unit.

When I returned home in October of 1968, I left them there in the war. Over the next 46+ years, I had no way of knowing whether they survived the war and the communist takeover in 1975.  So when I received the message from Tuat, I was relieved to discover that he was still alive.

I’ve Skyped with Tuat twice so far. He told me that Chang also survived and is now living in the US somewhere. We expressed our happiness to have found each other after all these years. We’re now both 67 years old, but talking with him face to face on the computer screen, I could still see that young man I knew from all those years ago.  He told me that after the war he ran away and hid, but the communists found him and put him in a “re-education camp”. He described the experience  with tears in his eyes as “bullshit” and “very bad”.                                                                       

Tuat, Duy Anh, Hue
When we first Skyped, Tuat was working long hours, six days a week on a farm. The second time he told me he got a different job, at a hotel. He said the work would be a lot easier, even though the pay was still very low. Hue also works as a cook and Duy Anh is in his last year of high school. Tuat is determined to send his son to college, so he can have a better life.

Katie and I have plans to travel to the Far East next year and I am looking forward  to visiting my old friend Tuat and his family.