While preparing for my second trip to Vietnam, I find myself reflecting upon my first “visit” to that hauntingly beautiful country. In April of 1968, I arrived in Saigon on a chartered jet from Travis Air Force Base. I was a 21-year-old Army corporal, assigned to the Green Berets, who fervently hoped that the next year of my life would be as uneventful as possible. I will arrive in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore almost 43 years later as a Cruise Specialists’ host on Silversea’s 6-star Silver Spirit, fully expecting this trip to be one of the great experiences of my life.
I like to think of a cruise vacation as three delightful phases—the planning and anticipation, the exciting cruise itself, and the wonderful memories and reflections that last a lifetime. The planning phase for my Hong Kong to Singapore segment of the Silver Spirit’s 119-day Inaugural World Cruise has been a whirlwind of recollection, reconnection, and reconnaissance.
But before getting into those details, I’d like to thank Greg Nacco of Cruise Specialists for inviting me to host this cruise segment. Greg and I have been friends for nearly a quarter of century. I might have never set foot on a cruise ship if not for Greg, and thus missed some fantastic adventures in places like Rarotonga, St. Lucia, Alaska, Mexico, Moorea and Mayreau. We even planned an earlier trip to Vietnam, in 1992, which was canceled by the impending birth of my beautiful daughter, Lauren. I’d also like to Cruise Specialists’ Holly Fraser for booking help and Alysia Murillo for facilitating this blog.
Now that I’m done with the credits, I’ll start with some recollections …
Vietnam was a frightening place in April of 1968. Despite more than 500,000 Americans serving “in-country,” the Tet Offensive, only a couple of months earlier, had proven that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong could attack any American installation—even the US Embassy—without warning. The Marines were besieged at Khe Sanh. The Green Berets were scattering around the country in tiny camps that seemed to invite assault. And I was about as far from Green Beret material as could be imagined, as a recent graduate of the military intelligence school at Fort Holabird, MD, where we actually marched to class while carrying briefcases.
As our 707 approached Bien Hoa Air Base, one of my classmates from Fort Holabird pressed his nose to the window of the plane and said, “I thought we’d have a fighter escort.” That laughable idea seemed entirely possible to me. But, as it turned out, Vietnam—even at the height of the war—wasn’t always as frightening as it looked on TV. And many parts of the country, like Vung Tau, Nha Trang, and Ban Me Thuot, were exotic and beautiful.
But my appreciation of that beauty was always tempered by the war, which is one of the reasons that I’m so looking forward to exploring Vietnam without that overlay of fear …
More on my Vietnam recollections, reconnections and reconnaissance during my cruise, which can be found by visiting Cruise Specialists Facebook page.
Cruise Specialists Host,