Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So Long Leonard


 I first heard Leonard Cohen when I was stationed at Fort Hood Army base in Texas. I had a year left to serve. My unit was filled with Intelligence personnel, back from Vietnam like myself. The Army didn’t really know what to do with us. I was a POW Interrogator and Order of Battle Analyst and in Texas there wasn’t much need for my expertise, so they put me to work in the motor pool. I kept track of and ordered parts for vehicles.

I shared an open bay on the second floor of an Army barracks with a bunch of guys and two of them became good friends. Both Phil and Tony were excellent guitar players. In the evenings we would sit on the edge of one of our bunks and they would play music. Tony was a polished musician, having played in the LA clubs before being forced into the Army. Phil played an old Martin D-28 and finger picked like Mississippi John Hurt. I loved their music and wanted in. They helped me pick out a guitar in a Killeen music store and began teaching me how to play. I picked up some music books to help with the process and one of them was the “Songs of Leonard Cohen”.

Tony was knowledgeable about all the folk artists of the time and he introduced me to the music of Eric Anderson, Phil Ochs, Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne (Tony knew Jackson from the LA circuit and they exchanged songs before Jackson had his first album out), Tom Rush and Leonard Cohen. Leonard had two albums out in 1969, Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room. I loved his music. Unlike American music, his songs sounded more like the French singers, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaff. I guess this isn’t surprising, since he came from Montreal.

I loved his poetry of existential/religious/symbolic language. He was intellectual and classy, in his natty attire, a "continental" man.   The guitar music in his songbook was in tablature, which shows you exactly where to put your fingers on the strings. Many of the songs were easy to learn on the guitar and I spent hours painstakingly learning a bunch of them.

The songbook also contained biographical information about Leonard and pictures of his house on the Island of Hydra, Greece with Marianne, his beautiful Norwegian girlfriend and muse. For a twenty one year old boy back from the war and soon to be free with plans of travel and college, I was enchanted by Leonard and his lifestyle. I wanted to be him or some version thereof.


Years later I got the chance to see him live. In 1993, Katie and I drove up to Vancouver, BC to attend a Leonard Cohen concert. Even then Leonard was not widely known in the US. His songs were not top 40 material. This was before his song Hallelujah, from his 1984 Various Positions album, became a huge hit.  At the time his most famous song probably was Suzanne made popular by Judy Collins on her 1966 album In My Life and Leonard’s first song on his first album. Here’s the last verse.

Now Suzanne takes your hand, and she leads you to the river, she’s wearing rags and feathers from salvation army counters, and the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor, and she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers, there are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning, they are leaning out for love and they will lean this way forever, while Suzanne holds the mirror, and you want to travel with her and you want to travel blind, and you know you can trust her for she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

To my surprise, the concert at the Orpheum was packed and the audience knew the words to most of the songs. Like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Leonard was Canada’s own. With an exceptional back-up band and angelic sounding women singers enveloping and surrounding his low gravelly voice, his songs filled the beautifully ornate theater. It was definitely one of the music concert highlights of my life.

Leonard has been part of my life since I was twenty. I wish I could have thanked him personally.

First verse of his song Anthem from the album The Future. A very timely message.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

 Thank you Leonard.

 

  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dylan on the Jukebox

      Just the other day Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. For most of us boomers, this is world wide validation of one of the main artists and driving influences of our generation. Only Elvis and the Beatles share such an exalted place in single handedly redirecting the popular music and culture of our time. The poets of our generation were the singer song writers--Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Neil Young, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Carol King, and Leonard Cohen. 
      Dylan's music brought protest songs into the popular arena and influenced  musicians to write and perform their own songs. Yet he was not widely accepted by the popular music listening audience. In his entire career, he never had a number one hit on the Billboard Top 100 charts and made it to number two only twice. In the sixties, most of Dylan’s popular songs were made famous by other artists, Blowin’ in the Wind, Peter Paul & Mary, Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds, It Ain’t Me Babe, The Turtles, All Along the Watch Tower, Jimi Hendrix. 
     In 1963 I first heard Dylan’s music. He was a “folk singer” and had only two albums out, Bob Dylan and Freewheelin. I’d like to say I liked him from the very beginning, but I didn’t. I thought he had an obnoxious nasally voice and was an even worse harmonica player. What I did like at the time was a girl who wanted me to like him.
     Her name was Marley and she attended a local Catholic school. I met her at a party. That’s not exactly true, we first met at a local Steak & Shake. She was in the back seat of a convertible with three other girls. They pulled in next to the car I was in with three of my friends. She caught my eye immediately and smiled and said hi. My friends knew the other girls in the car. They all attended McCluer High and invited us to a party at one of their houses.
     The party turned out to be just the four of us and the four of them. Marley and I hit it off right away and began talking about music. Her passion for folk and jazz equaled my own for rock & roll. We started seeing each other regularly and listening to music. And that’s all we did, listen to and talk about music. We became good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. I would have liked to have changed the friendship, but “dating” might have ruined it. Besides, I was too  chicken to make a romantic move.
     We influenced each others taste in music. I began to like folk music and learned to appreciate Dylan’s  hard edged poetic language that mocked cultural conventions and exposed the hypocrisies. I helped Marley appreciate rock & roll.
     It was in 1965 on a week long trip to Florida, where I first heard the fusion of folk music and rock & roll. I went with two of my high school friends, Petie and Jeff. We took turns driving Petie’s Corvaire Monza convertible non-stop all the way from Ferguson to Fort Lauderdale. With the top down the entire way, the three of us were painfully sun and wind burned by the time we arrived. After renting a cheap motel room, we agreed on one important rule. If any one of us picked up a girl, the other two had to “get lost” for the entire night.
     Over the course of the week, I became intimately acquainted with a bench on the boardwalk, while Jeff and Petie took turns in the motel room . One night while sitting on that bench, I heard Dylan on the jukebox. The music was coming from inside a pinball arcade directly behind me. I located the jukebox in the back of the arcade. The song was number B-25, Like a Rolling Stone. I plugged the machine with quarters and played it over and over.
     The next morning I called Marley long distance from a pay phone next to the highway to tell her the news,  Dylan was playing rock & roll.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Last Wild Ride


Don was not supposed to be driving. He has dementia. His wife told me before we left
the house, “He is not to drive” and she knows what she’s talking about. So Don and I took off in their Subaru Forrester with me behind the wheel and headed up to Louella’s Cabin. It’s about fifteen miles from our home in Sequim, a beautiful drive up into the foothills of the Olympic Mountains.
Louella was Don’s Grandmother. She and her husband built the cabin in the early 1900s, when the Peninsula was sparsely populated. It is now owned and run by the Park Service and can be rented. I had been to the cabin with Don once before, before he had dementia. He and I had walked around the cabin and looked in the windows. Don was excited to point out the pictures hanging inside on the cabin walls. They were pictures of his relatives. I really couldn’t see them clearly, but Don told me who was pictured in each one. We talked with several of the neighbors.
They were excited to meet the grandson of Louella. Everyone in the area knows a little about Louella or at least they know her name. At the intersection of Louella Road and the gravel road leading up to the cabin, a Park Service sign identifies it as “Louella’s Cabin”. 

On the drive home in my car on that first trip, Don made sure I took the narrow asphalt road that angled off the main road leading down the mountain and ending at Highway 101. He told me that when his grandparents lived in the cabin, the road was dirt and/or mud, and Louella would harness the mule with a rope, throw saddle bags over his back, and walk the five or so miles down to the Blyn store to get supplies.
When we reached the cabin, I parked the Subaru in front and Don and I walked into the woods behind it. He told me he had roamed these woods often as child. As we walked, Don whistled. He is an avid whistler. He doesn’t whistle complete songs, only pieces. Once on a walk, I asked him what he was whistling and he said he didn’t know. I was able to identify a few of the songs, but Don really wasn’t that interested in knowing what they were. He became a little disoriented a few times as we traipsed through the woods, but clearly he enjoyed being in the familiar territory of his childhood. When we returned to the car, I opened the driver’s door and started to get in when Don called out, “I’d like to drive.”
I hesitated, but there was something in his look that caused me to toss him the keys. He caught them one handed. He drove slowly and carefully down the driveway and out onto Louella Road, but as soon as he turned down the narrow asphalt road leading to Blyn, he sped up. The road is windy and my body was thrown from side to side. “Don, don’t you think you should slow down?”
He looked at me with fire in his eyes and continued barreling down the mountain. What have I done? Don’s wife told me not to let him drive and now we’re both going to be killed in a fiery crash.”
“Don, you need to slow down.” I yelled, but instead of slowing down, he accelerated. My good friend with dementia seemed to be channeling Mario Andretti. He flung the car We came around a sharp turn and onto a dirt road. We were heading straight for the cliff edge overlooking the river. I braced myself for a “Thelma and Louise” ending, but suddenly Don rotated the steering wheel, putting the car into a sideways skid, and we came to rest at the edge of the steep embankment. Don looked at me and smiled with open, clear eyes. He was completely focused and aware of what he was doing and never looked more alive. I realized he must have driven these roads hundreds of times. I relaxed after that and let Don skillfully maneuver the car down to the highway.
My relaxed attitude quickly dissipated when we got to the busy intersection. Don was having trouble deciding when to pull out into the traffic. He began inching his way out as cars whizzed by.  I realized his disorientation was back and he needed my help.
“Don, pull over, I can take it from here.” He looked at me, his focus and clarity gone, replaced by uncertainty and confusion. He got out of the car and walked around to the passenger’s side and I drove home.
Don now lives in an assisted living facility. We are going to visit him next week. I bet he’s made lots of friends in his new home and I hope he’s still whistling. I’ll never forget going with him on his last wild ride. 

 

 

           

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Historical City of Hue



Our hotel in Hue was located down a small alleyway off a main street. In the hotel lobby we were greeted by three employees, all were gracious and accommodating. Our room was on the third floor. The elevator had no depth. We walked into it, turned around and our backs were to the wall and our faces next to the door. It was a nice hotel for less than $25 a night. The room was clean, the bed was comfortable and the staff arranged for any trips or cab rides we needed. Breakfast was included and served every morning in the lobby.  I had a small freshly baked baguette or Croissant with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and Vietnamese coffee, yum.

The first day we went to the Citadel, located across the Perfume River from our hotel, the walled Imperial City filled with ornate temples and buildings. It was Vietnam's capital from 1804 until 1945 and the home of Vietnamese Royalty. Instead of walking all the way down to one of the bridges to cross the river, we paid $2.00 and rode an ornately painted “dragon boat” operated by a man and his wife.


Image from alphaonefive.com
In February 1968, Hue was attacked by ten battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong. American forces along with South Vietnamese units battled it out in the city for 25 days. The last stronghold of the enemy was the Citadel. In order to root out the enemy, we bombed it, destroying many of the structures. I was in Vietnam at the time and one of our interpreters had taken some time off to visit his family in Hue for the New Year’s celebration. He survived the month long fighting and returned to our unit and told us all about it.


























The day was extremely hot when we wandered around the palace grounds. We carried bottled water and had rags to wipe away the sweat.  There were a few signs that mentioned the war and the battle of 1968, but without the negative tone against the “American aggressors”. There was still much evidence of the battle from almost 50 years before, destroyed buildings and walls, bullet holes in the bricks and deep holes in the ground. I tried to imagine my fellow soldiers fighting the enemy in and around these historic buildings.

After an hour or so of taking in the many beautiful ornate buildings, they became rather redundant. We read about the royal family and looked at many pictures. They seemed rich, spoiled and out of touch with the rest of the people in their country. They enjoyed gluttonous meals consisting of hard to get or hard to prepare foods and they used eunuchs (castrated boys) as personal servants. The men in power had many wives as well as many concubines.







The next day we hired a cab driver to take us to a restored primitive village with an historic old bridge. The expansive countryside around Hue was beautiful, green and lush. The cab driver told us he was a journalist and worked for one of the local papers. As Katie and I traveled the country, we were disheartened by all the trash, plastic bags and bottles etc. scattered along the sides of the roads and floating in the waterways. In and around the cities the trash problem was the worst, less so out in the country. We asked the journalist/cab driver about it and he admitted that it was a big problem. He told us he had written an article about it and submitted it to his paper. “My editor asked me if I was willing to go to jail over it and I told him 'no, I didn’t want to go to jail'.” So his editor told him to drop it and write about something else.

Even though under Communist rule the Vietnamese people do not yet have all the freedoms of a democracy, in general, this young population seems happy and hopeful about their future.  In Hoi Ahn when the school kids rode past us on their bikes, invariably they would shout out a friendly “Hello”. One evening when we were strolling along the Perfume River in Hue, we were approached by a small group of young Vietnamese women. They were students at Hue University and asked us if we would mind talking with them so that they could practice their English. We sat on the river wall and talked for over an hour. They were excited about their future and wanted to learn all about the world. They did not seem the least bit worried about their country or the government and no topic was off limits. 

On the third morning we took a cab to the Hue airport, flew to Hanoi, then back to Singapore. We had spent fifteen days in Vietnam, and similar to my first time there in the sixties, I was both happy and sad to leave.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

PTSD Express


 
As we sat waiting with other passengers to load onto our bus from Hoi An to Hue, a Vietnamese man stood up and began yelling at us, “Come on, let’s go, get on the bus”, as if we weren’t paying attention or were late to arrive. We didn’t realize our bus was parked over to the side of where we were sitting. There were no signs or directions of any kind.  It was one of those sleeper buses that run up and down the few highways of Vietnam.



When you enter these buses, the bus driver hands you a plastic bag for your shoes. You are to place them in the bag and carry them back to your seat. The seats are like recliners, with an enclosed area for your legs. Within the enclosed area is (but not always) a blanket and small leather pillow. Above your midsection is a built in tray to hold snacks and drinks. There are three rows of seats and two levels, like bunk-beds. Katie and I had ridden this type of bus before and we chose the lower seats because they are easier to get in and out of, but are still difficult. The distance between the top seat and bottom seat is small and you have to slide in at an angle one foot at a time to get your legs into the leg area.

Everything in Vietnam seems to be made for small people. I had to buy an XXL tee shirt, which is the largest size at the souvenir stands, and I’m not a very big guy. One washing and this shirt will fit my twelve year old grandson perfectly.

A very tall young man entered the bus. The quick tempered purser directed him to a seat in the back. I watched this lanky northern European tourist attempt to maneuver his long legs into the leg compartment. He couldn’t do it. One of the other passengers who had witnessed his frustrated attempts, directed him to a seat up front where there was no leg compartment. The bus driver and purser had exited the bus and were attempting to cram a motor scooter sideways into the luggage compartment. The relieved young man sank into the open fronted seat with a sigh of relief.

When the cranky purser came back on the bus and saw the man sitting in the front seat, he yelled and frantically gestured, “You go in back.”

“I’m too tall,” he replied, “I don’t fit.”

But the purser kept yelling and gesturing for him to move. This went on for a while, each man repeating the same thing. Finally the tourist said, “You are not listening, I don’t fit.”

The purser got off the bus and talked with the bus driver who immediately came on the bus and began yelling at the man, “You go in back.” But the tourist wouldn’t budge saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”

The bus driver was beside himself. He totally lost his temper and began shouting at the guy to move. The tourist just kept saying, “I’m not moving”. Some of the other passengers tried to explain the situation, but he didn’t understand or wasn’t listening. The driver grabbed the keys, turned off the bus engine, pushed the purser toward the door and they both exited the bus. He slammed the door shut, locking us all in. He sat down on a plastic chair just outside the bus, in defiance.  

It was a standoff between the Scandinavian tourist and the bus driver and the rest of us were unwitting victims of the situation. It was a hot, humid day. The inside of the bus was heating up and it was becoming stuffy. After a few minutes, a passenger needing to use the bathroom, began pounding on the bus door, but the Driver and Purser paid no attention.  I was feeling panicky, a familiar feeling that had visited me from time to time since last being in Vietnam. My heart was racing and I felt claustrophobic. How are we going to get out of here? I imagined myself kicking out a window. I knew the bus driver could not kill all his passengers, that wouldn’t be good for business. But I wasn’t thinking rationally, so I focused on my breath, deep breath in, deep breath out, to help me calm down. The other passengers were now beginning to talk to each other about the situation.

In January 1968, I was awakened in the middle of the night by one of my hooch-mates. “Yeager, get up! We’re being attacked.” The five of us in the hooch all scrambled to pull on our pants and boots. We were used to the sound of explosions in the night, but these were getting closer and there was a strange new noise. It sounded like the whistling bottle rockets we set off on the 4th of July, only bigger and more ominous.  I grabbed my rifle and steel pot. The other guys were huddled at the screen door, looking across the dirt road to the bunker on the other side. Tracer bullets filled the space in between. We didn’t know who was shooting at whom, but the explosions were getting louder and we needed to get our butts over to the bunker, post haste.

Looking over the damage after Tet offensive

One of the guys said, “We’re gonna have to run for it,” and he took off across the road for the bunker. Another guy went and another until it was my turn. I waited for a break in the tracer bullet action and took off. At the entrance to the bunker someone grabbed me and pulled me in. We all made it and spent the rest of the night hunkered down in the bunker, listening to the explosions and hoping we were not being overrun by the enemy.  I kept thinking about how easy it would be for someone to lob a grenade or satchel charge into the bunker and kill us all. We sat huddled in that humid smelly bunker until daylight, not knowing what was going on or what would be the outcome.

This hooch took a direct hit from a rocket
This was one of many experiences I had the last time I was in Vietnam and it seemed to be fueling my current anxiety on the bus. I looked out the bus window at the Bus Driver and he was talking on his cell phone. He hung up and shortly after that a man showed up on a motorbike, apparently the bus company supervisor. He got the keys from the driver and unlocked the bus door. The passenger who had been beating on the door, ran off to the bathroom and the man climbed on the bus and stood in front of the tall tourist.
“You need to go to a seat in the back.” And in broken English he tried to explain why. But the tourist didn’t want to hear his explanations and kept saying.

“OK, I’ll go in back, but you just shush.”

The man continued to explain and the tourist kept saying, “You shush,” but then went to the back and into a seat, with his knees up in his face. The Supervisor left on his motorbike and the Bus Driver and Purser came back on the bus. Now the Driver was late on his run and his frustration and anger were not abated. He started the bus engine, slammed it in gear and stepped on it. I think he was trying to peel out or pop a wheelie, but the bus just shuddered, before starting forward.

 It was a wild ride to Hue. The driver tailgated every car and bullied every motor scooter to the side of the road, all the while laying on the horn. When we finally got to Hue we were all relieved. A woman passenger with a Spanish accent told the bus driver off before exiting the bus. She told him he was a menace on the road and one day he was going to kill someone. A few of the other passengers clapped. Katie and I got off the bus and walked around the parking lot a few times just to get our bearings.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The "HomeStay" in Hoi Anh


The local bus from Danang south to Hoi Anh took about an hour. Bus drivers in Vietnam have assistants who take care of the passengers, help them on and off the bus and load and unload luggage and packages. On the sleeper buses, the assistants were often pushy and rude, but the assistant on this local bus was a friendly older man who treated the passengers with respect and performed his duties earnestly.

The bus became overcrowded quickly. Katie and I had seats, but others had to stand in the aisle. A woman climbed onto the bus carrying a large basket filled with her products to sell. The assistant helped her on, seating her on a ledge next to the driver. When a seat became available, he made sure she got it, leaving her basket up front under the watchful eye of the bus driver.

We passed by Marble Mountains, a popular tourist site. There are five mountains, each one named after one of the five elements. The area is famous for its stone sculptures and carvings. Each mountain has a cave entrance and many tunnels. During the war there was a Marine Helicopter facility near the mountains. Also, according to William Broyles book “Brothers in Arms”, there was a Viet Cong hospital hidden in the area at the same time.

In Hoi Anh we all got off in an open lot, the end of the line. We were approached by men wanting to take us to our hotel on the backs of motorbikes. The hotel was several miles away at the other end of town and across a bridge, on Cam Nam Island. Katie and I each had a back pack and a purse, a “manly bag” in my case. It didn’t seem wise to hop on the back of these small scooters and try to hang on to our baggage. And besides, if I’m on a motorcycle, I want to be the guy driving, it’s a trust issue.  We declined their offers and walked.
 
It was a long hot walk. We stopped for lunch and to cool off. Hoi Anh is a beautiful old town. The buildings are rustic and colorful. Right before the bridge going over to Cam Nam Island, we passed through a large open produce and fish “wet” market, bustling with people.   









Our hotel was called Homeland River Home Stay and was not really a hotel. The Home Stay program is worldwide and allows students or tourists to rent rooms in a family’s home with the idea of getting to know the people more intimately and immersing in their culture.  Our Home Stay was three stories tall with many rooms.  The bottom of the building was the lobby and open to the street. The family’s living quarters were behind the lobby with the kitchen in the back.

The family who owned and ran the Home Stay consisted of a husband, wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandmas.  We stayed there for four nights and only saw the husband a handful of times. Thuy (pronounced Twee) ran the place with the help of her son and his wife, also named Thuy, who was pregnant. Not to confuse the two women, when Katie and I talked to each other about them, we referred to the mother as “Thuy One” and the daughter-in-law as “Thuy Two”. We couldn’t help but wonder if “Thuy Twee” was in the hopper.


The back of the hotel faced the river. A path ran along the river to a bridge and the main part of town. It was about a twenty minute walk. The open air dining area in back of the Home Stay overlooked the river. Thuy One was an excellent cook. Her fried spring rolls were delicious, especially with a glass of Tiger beer. This became our appetizer of choice. I especially liked breakfast, Vietnamese coffee, eggs and/or fried rice and a crusty baguette with butter and jam. In the mornings we watched fishermen paddle by on their boats, and in an open field on the opposite side, locals tended a commune garden and cows grazed. One of the Thuys checked on us periodically and asked if we needed anything more. Any request we made was met with “I can do for you”.

Our first day, we met a couple from Victoria BC. This was their second time at the Home Stay and they had become quite close to the family. They were leaving for home the next morning, after traveling extensively for six months. They encouraged us to take over their room which had a balcony overlooking the river, since our room didn’t have a view or balcony. Thuy didn’t have a problem with the plan, so we moved in the next day. For the next three mornings and evenings, we sat out on the balcony watching the river flow by.
Living at the Home Stay and interacting with this sweet, beautiful family, I frequently thought of a comment Anthony Bourdain uses on his show, “It doesn’t get any better than this”.  

 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Danang


Train Depot
We took the overnight train from Phan Rang-Thap Cham to Danang. I like to call it the "cockroach express", the train car was infested. We were in the regular seats, the uncomfortable kindWe decided not to get a sleeper compartment because they were tiny and you had to share the space with strangers and probably cockroachesThe last time I was in Vietnam I had to battle critters. On guard duty, which I pulled once a week, the bunkers had rats, poisonous centipedes and lots of mosquitoes to deal with. The bathrooms on the train were nasty and got progressively worse as the night went on. 
It was an excruciatingly long night of traveling. For the first couple of hours, when it was still light outside, Katie and I enjoyed watching the countryside roll by. The landscape looked like the Vietnam I remembered, acres of rice paddies with lush green mountains in the background. Missing were the thatched huts and small villages, replaced by substantial concrete houses, paved roads and small shops  
Katie, along with everyone else in our car, eventually fell asleep. That left just me and the cockroaches. Early in the morning, when it was still dark, a group of young men entered the train and came into our car. They were talking
and laughing, not seeming to care that everyone on the train was trying to sleep. They began playing cards in the back of the car and never bothered to lower their voices. When I stood up to stretch my legs, they all became quiet and looked up at me as if I might be some sort of authority who was going to come down on them. I smiled and gave them a friendly wave. They waved back and returned to their boisterous card game. I could not be mad at these young men who were trying to have a little fun. I was happy they were alive. During the war there weren't any young civilian men. They were all fighting and dying, for either the South or the North. After a couple of stops, the young men exited the train and we returned to the steady rhythmic sound of wheels on track. We were relieved to finally arrive in Danang at six am. 
Hotels along the Han river
Even though  my basecamp at LZ Bayonette was only about 60-70 miles south of Danang, I had only been there one time.  I flew out of the Airbase for my five days of R&R in Tai Pei, Taiwan. My flight was filled with American Marines from Khe Sanh. They told me about the conditions there, the almost constant shelling by the North Vietnamese and their having to live and crawl around in the mud. This was a rowdy bunch of guys and they were determined to have a good time in Tai Pei and I can't think of anyone who deserved it more. 
China Beach
Danang is Vietnam's third largest city with around 750,000 people. Our hotel was within walking distance of My Khe beach, the twenty mile long curved stretch of beautiful white sand that we used to call China Beach. Many US soldiers took in-country R&R there, but I don't think they would recognize the area today. Danang is on the way to becoming a premier tourist destination. Large hotels and resorts are popping
A community garden, one of many throughout the city
up 
everywhere, especially near and along the beach. The Han River runs right through the center of town and both sides are being developed for tourists as well 
Dragon bridge across the Han river


If a friend was traveling to Southeast Asia, I would highly recommend a few days in Danang. The city is open and spread out, not nearly as hectic as Ho Chi Minh City or HanoiThe hotels and restaurants are good and the beach and mountains are beautiful. All over Vietnam the people were friendly and gracious and that was true for Danang as well. Also Hoi Anh is only about an hour'bus ride away, and one should not visit Vietnam without going to Hoi Anh, which was our next destination.