Vietnam vet returns to Vietnam after 40 years

On February 1, Fritz Schultz of Brodhead flew into the Hanoi airport with his son Jacob and Jacob’s family (wife Zoila and daughters, Julia, 5, and Sophia, six months). The Vietnam veteran was excited about going to Vietnam after 40 years, but being there was surreal.

“Even though Hanoi looked quite modern, you still have this strange feeling. Hanoi was a city we were bombing all the time. Here I was in the middle of a place that while serving—that Hanoi—was a place I didn’t want to be.”

Schultz served a year in Vietnam and left in November, 1970. He was among the last of the traditional draftees just before the lottery system of drafting was initiated, he said. He was trained for fighting in the infantry, but he said that God had His hand on him. Because of a series of unexpected events, he got a job as a clerk. He recalled the adrenalin pumping when his base was overrun a few times, however.

In recent years, he has been reading a lot about Vietnam, learning about the culture, the people, and the history.

“I’m very glad that I went because when we left, it felt like I finished my tour the way it should have been finished. I got a better picture of the culture. It was satisfying to go. I would encourage other vets to go back,” he said.

The Schultzes arrived just before Tet, the lunar New Year celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese. In history, the Tet Offensive was when North Vietnam and the Viet Cong attacked South Vietnam on Tet, catching people totally by surprise, killing many. In contrast to this sad time, this Tet was a week-long festive party with lights, balloons, and a celebratory atmosphere. It was fun. It is a custom for the people to visit different groups each night. For example, one night, they might visit family, the next teachers; each time bearing gifts of orange trees with little oranges or cherry trees full of blossoms. Since many people travel on scooters, they would see what appeared to be big bushes going down the street.

They were also able to see many places of historical interest, despite it being extra busy because of the holiday. They walked to the Ho Chi Minh Museum, and he had his picture taken in front of the mausoleum.

Touring the “Hanoi Hilton,” a prison, was an eye opening experience. They also went to the Temple of Literature, a 1,000-year-old, 14-acre site based on the philosophical teachings of Confucius. It used to be a school where people went to earn doctorates, but now it is a shrine.

The old quarter, which was originally set up to make products for the monarchy, was interesting. One street was dedicated to silk shops, another for pottery, another for clothes. There were a lot of original paintings.

Another highlight was taking a day trip to Ha Long Bay, which was a two-hour bus trip from Hanoi and an hour out into the ocean. It features about 2,000 large limestone cliffs that jut out of the emerald green ocean, complete with sea caves. They visited different islands, one of which was a system of caves. They went under some arches in a little boat and came out in an open area surrounded by cliffs.

Julia, was mesmerized and amazed at the water puppet show that they attended. This traditional show has been performed for thousands of years. It is like a theater, but the stage is water. The puppets—dragons, peasants—portray the culture and its struggles. He said it was quite entertaining with the puppets moving about on long bamboo poles, some with smoke coming out of their heads. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra played on Vietnamese instruments.

He enjoyed trying the traditional Vietnamese food. He particularly enjoyed the French quarter.

In addition to his time spent in Vietnam, Fritz spent time with Jacob and his family in Bangkok, Thailand, where Jacob works for the U.S. Embassy. He was able to watch his son run in a 10K (6.2 miles) fundraising marathon.

He visited fairly old, authentic teak-wood houses brought in by Jim Thompson, an American WWII vet who stayed in Thailand and became successful in the silk business. The teak wood houses were brought in and reassembled and made into a museum. They also visited the zoo and saw a wildlife show. They rode in a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled motorcycle with a canvas roof that carries six people. Fritz said it was a “wild and crazy ride”.

Before leaving Thailand, Zoila showed him around, and Jacob gave him a short tour of the embassy where he was able to see his son’s office and view the grounds.

His trip, which began January 27 and concluded February 16, was a trip to remember. He is especially grateful to have been able to share it with some of his family. It was meaningful to visit Thailand and Vietnam; one to see family he hasn’t seen for awhile, and the other to see that a people who have endured decades of war and poverty have hope.

Story by Michelle R. Welsh
Photos Provided

Originally published in the Brodhead Free Press, April 6, 2011.

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