Only Time and Support Can Heal Wounds
Terry Fincher/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
After the war, I moved to Saigon. At that point I'd never lived in a city and had spent half my life utterly detached from society. All I knew was how to hide, kill, and drill. It came out everywhere I went. I fought people because of the way they were carrying a loaf of bread, because it looked like they were smuggling a radio. I had the bathtub taken out of my apartment and built a custom one out of metal, tarps, and dirt -- to simulate bathing in a river. In hip U.S. neighborhoods, they'd call that something like "paleo bathing" and charge you a fortune for it, but I just knew no other way to be. I had to be reminded constantly to pay for things, because I was just so used to taking them. I struggled with PTSD and depression. I thought a lot about suicide.
In a weird way, Communism actually helped keep me alive. Workers in unified Vietnam were forced to socialize with each other during breaks and lunch. That's down to the whole "commune" part of "Communism." Lone wolves might have strange ideas; they might not be committed to the party. I started talking with others around me to avoid suspicion and found that, to my surprise, human interaction has some kind of value.
Many of them had similar experiences: They'd lived, but they had lost their family and friends in horrific ways. Over months and years of breaks, lunches, and trade meetings, my group of co-workers turned into a "Depression Anonymous" support group.
Life is much better now. By the 1990s, the U.S., Australia, and South Korea all more or less apologized for their role in the war. Today, the U.S. is actually viewed favorably by over three-quarters of the population. The general negative feelings are actually aimed more at France and China than the U.S., since you guys at least apologized. I've personally forgiven the U.S. and everyone else for their involvement in the war. I lost my entire family, but I managed to start a new one with a wife who also lost nearly everyone, including her husband, in the war.
We're all building a whole out of pieces.
I went back to the site of my village a few years ago and found it to be a forest. The sunken area with the grave is still there, but there is a small memorial with trees growing over it. It made me feel oddly at peace: Death had been covered by new life.
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder at Cracked and was honored to talk with Nguyen.
For more insider experiences, check out 6 Insane Things You Learn Overthrowing Your Own Government and 5 Bizarre Realities of Life at the Edge of Gaza.
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