|Back during the Vietnam War era, the last hotel you wanted to visit was "The Hanoi Hilton" or what was officially known as Hoa Lo Prison. When the author started visiting Hanoi in the early nineties, the "Hanoi Hilton" was still standing. It would have been on a great jogging route from the Metropole Hotel but too depressing because of the bad spirits that resided there and the author chose another jogging path around Truc Bach Lake. The "Hanoi Hilton", shown below in a photo surreptitiously taken by the author on an early morning jog, was formerly a French prison so there were many lost souls wandering around. No worries, as it has subsequently been demolished and a proper hotel built on the site and it seems it bears the Hilton name.
In fact, one day it starting raining while jogging around the lake and the author popped into an art shop that had a memorial shrine to family members lost in the war. The number of family members killed in the Tet Offensive in 1968 was staggering and represented the "caution to the wind of General Giap" that defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and ultimately the U.S. twenty-one years later. Some U.S. military urged a massive counter attack following the Tet Offensive that could have resulted in a near-term U.S. victory given the depleted forces of the Vietnamese. However, it was never seriously considered given the demoralized mind set of the American people that caused President Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election. President Richard Nixon ultimately declared victory seven years later and ran for the hills. "Peace with honor" sounds better than "I surrender."
Having been involved in South Vietnam until the end of April 1975, Hanoi was the last place one would have wanted to visit during that period. In the early nineties, the author went to Hanoi with the promise of a visa on arrival by some Vietnamese friends. Obviously, there were no U.S. airlines involved on this trip with their customary visa checks. In fact, the U.S. had not yet sanctioned Americans going to Vietnam so the visa process was a bit off the books so to speak. Have you ever been the only one standing around with no visa while everyone else with their "handlers" were long gone? The troubling question on the Vietnam entry form was "Have you ever been to Vietnam?"
In the old days, it took forever to enter Saigon as a civilian since the South Vietnamese immigration authorities went through massive hand-written ledgers checking out every one of your names to determine whether you should be denied entrance. Having "T" as a middle name was a show stopper. In any event, with some trepidation I said "no previous visits" many years later in Hanoi. After all, how good could their records have been? All of a sudden, a powerful Vietnamese lady bullied her way through armed guards, had a word with the immigration officer and that was the beginning of a new Vietnam commercial chapter. The woman had promised a hotel for the stay though I had begun to wonder if it were the "Hanoi Hilton."
If you think it is time to bring some focus to this story, you are correct. During the recent Republican primary contest a famous hero and U.S. Senator was slandered. The hero was Senator John McCain who as an A-4E Skyhawk pilot, was shot down on his 23rd bombing mission over Hanoi. He parachuted into my jogging lake, shown below, being beaten by Vietnamese who took offense at all of the bombing runs and crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt.
A couple of bits you may not know about John McCain is that he was born in 1936 in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone where the author's father served in WWII. Like his grandfather and father who were four-star Navy Admirals, McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Upon graduation he requested a combat assignment and began flying Skyhawks from aircraft carriers. Following the time of the above image, he spent five and one-half years in various Vietnamese prisons, most notably the "Hanoi Hilton," where he endured severe torture while declining to accept an early release. Moreover, he was quite adept at being insubordinate to his prison commanders and a leader and role model to his fellow prisoners.
The rest is modern history and more recognizable to most people. Senator McCain assumed office as a distinguished Senator from Arizona thirty years ago where he has made many legislative contributions. They include the restoration of diplomatic relations with Vietnam--the same people who tortured him such that he cannot raise his arms above his shoulders. And, has been a serious presidential contender. So what do you think-war hero, serious legislator and distinguished public servant?
We salute you sir!
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