by Doug Young
Doug and Cindy Young, both veterans of the Vietnam War, returned to that country in 2005, to the city of Huế, where they taught English at the University for a year and half.
Outside of the teaching at the University, I found new friends of my own age. Mr. Phan Cu owned a small café dedicated to serving tourists - the Mandarin Café became my haunt after I found that Mr. Cu loved photography as much as I did. I learned much about the culture of Việt Nam from this English-speaking man who had worked for the Americans during the war. He and his wife Thanh’s first child was born just days after the fall of Huế in 1975 - in a hospital with no doctors or nurses, just abandoned birthing rooms. Life was hard for Cu during the decade of despair after the war, but today, this member of the new Vietnamese middle class freely tells any questioner that the war is long over and the Vietnamese have moved on.
It was Cu who showed me there were a few artifacts around from the war - but they weren’t obvious. I usually ate western food at his Mandarin Café and when eating western food, I used western eating utensils. The spoons and knives at the Mandarin were the usual tinny items found in most backpacker cafes, but the forks were solid. Cu had bought them in a village market years before. They were from an old American Army mess hall. The spoons and knives had been sold out, but since the Vietnamese don’t eat with forks, there were lots of these left in the vendor’s shop. Sure enough, many of the forks at the cafe were stamped “US Army” on the back.
And Cindy began to use her medical knowledge to teach English medical terminology classes to the physicians and nurses of the Huế Hospital. More friends were made - deeper roots were grown. I grew my own roots by photographing the wonderful people of the area - city folk and countryside peasants alike.
Time caught up with Cindy and me, and I knew I had to return home to care for my elderly mother, who was in the early throes of Alzheimer’s disease. But before we left, we got to know a young couple in Huế. James Sullivan and his Vietnamese wife Thuy (pronounced Twee) split their time between Huế and the US. We occasionally accepted dinner invitations to their home. Though far too young to be a veteran himself, Jim was fascinated that two American war veterans would actually live and work in the land where they had almost died. A professional journalist, Jim offered to edit my writing if only I would tell the story.
I protested - “Jim, I’m a photographer, not a writer.” But during many visits back to Huế, we kept meeting - and he kept pestering. On still another visit when the women were in the kitchen and the men in the living room, I agreed to write “Same River, Different Water: A Veteran’s Journey from Vietnam to Việt Nam.”
But the book has not been the only product of our time in Việt Nam. Remembering those bright students we had and thinking that I didn’t want those remarkable young minds to go to waste in the backwards Vietnamese higher education system, Cindy and I began bringing them to America for graduate work. Trang was the first - and she became the daughter I never knew I needed. Our love story with these remarkable Vietnamese young people continues in the next posting.
Doug Young met his wife, former Army nurse Cindy Mason, in Vietnam in 1969. After a successful career in law enforcement and higher education, Doug and Cindy retired early and moved to the city of Hue, Vietnam, in 2005, where they taught English at the University of Hue for a year and half. They enjoy their two cats, four grandchildren and one great grandchild as they also enjoy former Vietnamese students whom they have brought to the US for further study. Cindy and Doug live in south Texas.