Historians of Ho Chi Minh City, part 3: Return to the Scene

January 11, 2010

Henry BechtoldHo Chi Minh City is racing towards the future at breakneck speed. But there are some who have dedicated themselves to remembering and preserving the city’s past. In this five-part supplement to January’s Urban Archaeology feature, contributing editor Thomas Maresca profiles the self-made historians who helped us piece the puzzle together.

Return to the Scene

After the French colonial period, the tumultuous years of the American War followed quickly and left their imprint on the cityscape. In the United States, the conflict remains as a scar on the American psyche, and more than a few veterans who served here would just as soon forget.

However, for some others, their time in Saigon as young men touched something else in them—a fascination with the place and the people, and a wish, perhaps latent for decades, to someday come back.

Henry Bechtold, who lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was drafted and came to Vietnam in 1967, spending most of his time in Long Binh.

“When we went home, no one wanted to talk about the war. We just kind of put it away somewhere,” says Bechtold.

But Bechtold could never entirely close that door. He finally made his first trip back in 2001, without much  of a plan and just a couple of Internet pen-pals as contacts. Looking back on his return, he says he instantly wished he had come sooner.

That first trip inspired him to come back for another five visits. During these trips, Bechtold has tracked down some of the places he remembered from the war years and become a collector of memorabilia and photographs and an amateur historian, avidly searching out locations on old maps and photos and using Google Earth to locate them. His website, www.henrybechtold.freewebspace.com, has become a repository for his images, stories and impressions of Vietnam.

One thing Bechtold has discovered while developing his website is that he isn’t alone among veterans in his love for Vietnam: “So many people wrote, saying, ‘I can’t believe someone else loves Vietnam like me.'”

Bechtold made his most recent trip this past October and stayed through December. He says it won’t be his last.

“My wife keeps thinking I’m going to get it out of my system,” he jokes.

See the next post in the series: Fond Memories


2 Responses to “Historians of Ho Chi Minh City, part 3: Return to the Scene”

  1. Cpt. Larry Says:

    Hard to imagine that we Vietnam Vets are entering the status of the gray WWII vets of our youth. I’m 66 — I was in my mid-20’s during my Vietnam service — So I guess our age group ranges from 55 to gone from the planet.

    How about connecting also with the Vietnamese men and women we knew. There was a family I mention in my book, TEARS OF THE DRAGON, THE OTHER VIETNAM WAR, that I have thought of constantly for years. The husband was my “counterpart” in my Civil Affairs work in Vietnam. He had 10 children, and there is a picture of most of them in my book. I’ve thought about them repeatedly over the years. Cpt. Chin, the father, was reportedly killed in an ambush in 1971 — after 30 years of military service. I wish there was some way of finding that family.

    Posted by Cpt. Larry, Author, TEARS OF THE DRAGON, THE OTHER VIETNAM WAR

  2. Curtis Gilliland Says:

    I know exactly what Henry is talking about, for I started returning in 1992, when we had no relations with Vietnam and after this past December I’ve made somewhere around 20 or more return visits. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would return, let along take my wife, daughter, sister-in-law and nephew with me on several trips. Vietnam is speeding to the 21 century at full-speed ahead. I add that the generation of today and yesterday are no longer our enemies but are partners who are outspeeding us.
    I think Henry has it right on.

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