Art Myers is a Viet Nam veteran with memories. In 2005 he and his wife Linda traveled to Viet Nam with a group led by a psychotherapist who works with veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). From the Mekong Delta in the south, to Hanoi in the north, it was a life-changing journey.
Art's story is not unusual. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1968, a radio repairman stationed at Da Nang during the Tet offensive. He saw only one day of combat, but that day affected every aspect of his life for 35 years.
Many veterans suffer from their memories of their time at war. They may bury them, or deny them, or run from them, or act out in other areas of their lives. Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates are higher than average, as are failed relationships and chronic unemployment.
Art decided to return to Viet Nam, to overlay the memories of the young man during a terrible time with those of a man in late middle age. It was a good choice for him - and for his family.
About the book Art says, "I hope that talking about this journey of healing - and how it has changed me – will help other veterans and their families. The idea of helping even one other veteran stop the nightmares and gain some peace made my story worth sharing."
We made our final approach into Ho Chi Minh City – formerly Saigon. Glancing at Art as he stared out the window of our descending plane, I wondered what he was thinking. I was grateful for the company of Ed and Jeanne, therapists experienced with PTSD vets. Art: I didn't know what to expect. I remember landing in China on vacation in 2000, and it being military with weapons everywhere. I was very expectant as to what was going to happen. I felt my first blast of tropical Southeast Asian heat when we left the terminal behind our in-country guide, Tran Dinh Song (Song). Art: The emerging into that country, which might have been hostile – was very high on my awareness. Checking everybody out. The military presence wasn't there. The adrenaline had me wide eyed and awake. We walked maybe 300 feet to our bus in sweltering humidity. The heat was more than a temperature. It surrounded me, pressing inward against the defenses of my personal space. Art: The high expectations and heightened sense of awareness was just increased by the smell of the country. It was there as I'd remembered it. And except when we were out in direct sun, it was just like that's the way things were. The heat didn't bother me at all. The trip from the airport to our hotel took half an hour. Through the bus window I watched a thriving, lively urban landscape, from a multitude of small sidewalk entre-preneurs to a torrent of motorbike traffic abiding by unstated and unmonitored rules of the road. At the occasional traffic signal, throngs of motorbikes waited side by side, in rows and columns, driven mostly by young Vietnamese men and women, either solo or carrying one to four other people, one or multiple baskets of produce or cages of chickens or crates of sidewalk sale merchandise. Continuous beeping announced, “Here I am,” rather than, “You're a jerk” – not road rage or even jockeying for road space, but a motorbike symphony, the rhythm of the road. The Bong Sen Hotel lobby had a marble-tiled floor and thriving potted plants, but no air conditioning. Neither the elevator nor the third-floor hallway was any cooler. Once in our room, Art found the remote control for the air conditioning. Such a relief! I took a shower and a nap. Jeanne's knock at the door was my reminder we'd agreed to meet Jim in the hotel lobby for a walk. I eyed the street traffic, still thick with motor-bikes. Not a crosswalk in sight, or even a traffic signal. Jim coached us in the art of “Zen walking”. To cross a street you stand at the curb. You watch for a small break in the traffic – 15 feet is about all you need. You glide off the curb with a casual conspiratorial glance at the oncoming riders. You continue the glide into the street, taking care to maintain a relaxed but deliberate and consistent pace as you “just happen” to walk across. You pay little attention to the motor vehicles behind you, in front of you, all around you. They see you. They take your existence into consideration as they drive by. What you must not do is change your pace or stop until you have reached the curb on the other side of the street. We found an open-faced restaurant and, with the proprietor's help, ordered our first lunch of spring rolls, vegetable and beef salad. And hot pot, which starts out as a mix of hot water and coconut milk bubbling over a portable gas stove. Diners add ingredients one at a time – slices of meat, for example, pieces of cabbage and bok choy and celery. With each addition, the soup acquires a new flavor, and everyone samples. The communal meal grows more and more richly textured, tastewise. At its completion, hot pot is a nourishing multi-ingredient meal. The proprietor taught us how to eat it – with chopsticks and heavy plastic spoons. The spoon I managed well, the chopsticks clumsily. Art: Not knowing what it was when they first showed it to me, I had experienced a hot pot meal with some of our Chinese brothers in my men's group. And have even prepared it at different times. It's a fabulous communal meal, and I just didn't recognize it at first. But I got right into it when I saw what they were doing. We walked maybe two miles in the city center. The motorbikes were everywhere – not just a torrent in the street, but a packed presence on sidewalks. Every open piece of sidewalk was a jammed parking lot. Interspersed among motorbikes, city residents squatted over red plastic stools in front of shops and “sidewalk cafes” – crouching women with small stove burners ladled out noodles and meat, clusters of customers sitting with the proprietors. These entrepreneurs needed only a small patch of sidewalk on the street. I didn't sense poverty, but communal outdoor meals. No front porches, but sidewalks. When we returned to the Bong Sen the quiet of our room was a welcome relief, as was a second shower and another short nap. We took the van to our first evening meal as a group, at a noodle restaurant selected by Song. The place was noisy with the voices of young people. Jeanne: In the restaurant, Art was sitting against the wall with his back to the door. I could see his eyes glazing over and his hands were shaking. He jumped up and ran outdoors, and I followed him. He said he couldn't stand sitting and feeling cornered, where people were watching him and he had no route of escape. We stayed outside until he settled down. Back at our table, I asked people in our group to move. I seated him at the table across from me. He ate very little at that meal. I explained the situation to the group members. They were thoughtful for the rest of the trip, seating themselves to accommodate him.
Linda Myers is the daughter of a military officer who served in the Marine Corps from World War II to Viet Nam. She earned a BA in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara during the war protests of the 1960s. Linda retired from a career in the IT industry and is now a certified mediator. Arthur Myers served in the Marine Corps from 1964 to 1968, including seven months in Viet Nam. He then spent 40 years as a power company lineman. He was called away from home and family to work every storm. Now retired, he still jumps in the car to track down the source of power outages in his community. Linda and Art have a blended family of eight grown children. They live near Seattle and spend the winter in Tucson.