Richard Lennon Biography and 1996 Trip to Vietnam

Richard Lennon, Captain, USMC 1803 (Amtrac Officer), was in Vietnam in 1968 with 1st Amtrac Battalion located at Camp Kistler at the mouth of the Cua Viet River. He later was assigned to 3rd Marines at Camp Carroll. Both were sites of heavy fighting in I Corps in '68, and equally heavy and intense NVA artillery shelling from within the DMZ.

"In 1996, I returned to Vietnam to revisit these sites and others in the DMZ region. My trip was arranged through a travel agent with offices in Hong Kong and Hanoi called Sundance Travel. Mr. Otto So Ky Quan (Otto So) put together all the details, including guide/translator, driver w/ vehicle, transportation within Vietnam and hotels.

Just initially hearing from a travel agent by fax in Hanoi was a mind boggling experience. I had spent almost 30 years believing that anyone from Hanoi must be 'the evil empire.' Absolutely untrue.

The trip, itself,took me from Singapore into Hanoi, with a view from the plane off the coast of Vietnam going north over Danang and the mouth of the Cua Viet.

"In Hanoi, I toured the city with the assistance of a personal guide with driver, saw the Hanoi Hilton prison, Ho Chi Minh's tomb, and the old historic district of the city--quite unlike what I had envisioned. Beautiful old, french-styled buildings with tree-lined streets and thousands of people on bikes and mopeds. Virtually no traffic lights. The right-of-way at intersections is determined by eye contact --- and courage!

"Later, I was put on the Reunification Train to Hue in the evening for a 16-hour trip overnight. Was lucky enough on this trip to have a group of Japanese businessmen/engineers in the adjacent sleeping compartments. It gave me someone to talk to. Accommodations were very sparse -- the windows wide open (terribly noisy) and the food a basic broth soup and bowl of rice.

"We crossed through the, then-DMZ area, and over the Ben Hai River during the early morning hours, and many things became recognizable from that point. We made a quick stop in Dong Ha, then continued on south to Hue.

"In Hue, I was met by another tour guide/interpreter, a Mr. Dinh Mien of East Asia Company in Danang (a travel company with specialized knowledge of the DMZ region) and a driver with 4-wheel. We spent almost two days touring Hue and the Citadel, in particular, before heading north to Dong Ha. Dong Ha has replaced Quang Tri as the provincial capital.

"Working out of a fairly basic motel on Route 1 in "downtown" Dong Ha, we spent days touring most of the DMZ region, including USMC bases at Khe Sanh, Carroll, the Rockpile, Dakrong Bridge--essentially covered Routes 1 and 9.

"All are markedly different than my memories, having been swept ENTIRELY clean of anything that would remind one that there had ever been a war there. The ground has been recontoured in places, pepper plants and trees planted, and families moved into many of these spots. I had difficulty trying to find the exact same spots, which were so vivid in my memory, yet was ultimately able to, once I could get my bearings with the horizons.

"Finally, it was a trip up the road to Cua Viet, into the area that had served as Camp Kistler, and its northern outposts of C-4 and Ocean View. I was immediately met by the local police, who look amazingly similar to Viet Army! Cua Viet is viewed as a strategic port location and, therefore, houses a garrison of local police. I was brought to police headquarters to meet the Chief and to answer some basic questions as to why I was there and what I wanted to see. I explained my trip and shared some pictures from 1968 --- at which point, he realized we'd been there at about the same time. He'd been a teenager we placed in a nearby resettlement village with his family.

"The most striking change (and perhaps the only one since 1968) is the four story lighthouse that now sits on the beach. There, along with the police chief, I was greeted by the lighthouse keeper for a tour of his building and surrounding area. The three of us walked and talked (through my interpreter) of our experiences of many years ago. We returned to the lighthouse for a mid-afternoon snack of some cold cuccumber and white "wine," cut with the blood of a sea snake! Thanks, but I didn't need to know that!

"Next day, I'm back on the train in Hue and going north to Hanoi all by myself, arriving 6 a.m. at the downtown train station. Finally, out to the airport, through customs (easy), and onto a Vietnam Airlines aircraft--a 767, no less.

"In retrospect, the best trip of my life. Mindset is changed, and the memories are of new, more positive Vietnam. The people are warm and interested in visiting Americans; and, although by myself, I had no concerns about the trip. OK. Maybe one...

"I found myself in downtown Dong Ha on the day (April 30) they celebrate Reunification Day! Everyone is out in the street for a national holiday--and I'm wandering around as the only person looking even vaguely like an American! What am I doing here?

"The entire trip, for those that are thinking about it, cost me $975, excluding airfare from/to the U.S.. That covered the travel agent, guides, drivers, train tickets. and hotel accommodations. Best $1,000 I ever spent. The only additional out-of-pocket was for meals for myself, guide and driver each day, which generally ran $7-$10 a meal for two cold beers each and 3-5 courses. Everything is paid for in American currency (10,000 dong equaling $1).

"Otto So Ky Quan is reachable in Hong Kong, by EMail, at : Telephone is: 011 852 25116038. Fax is: 011 852 25074502. He is able to arrange customized trips, like this, for one or for a group. Will only send you exactly where you want to go. Speaks fluent english, so no difficulty in making arrangements"

copyright © 1997 by Richard Lennon, all rights reserved

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