After viewing Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s movie involving bucket lists, I decided to create one of my own. One of the top items on that list was a desire to visit one of the unofficial Wonders of the World. It is the Khmer Buddhist Complex, located in Cambodia, known as Angkor Wat. The complex includes ancient temples and a gallery of 1,000 Buddha exhibits. When I was stationed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Angkor Wat was occupied by Cambodian Communist guerillas; they knew that neither the Cambodian government nor the United States government would bomb this antiquity. After the war, it became a tourist attraction. As I checked with tour agencies, I learned most of them included Vietnam and Laos in their tour packages.
I first arrived in Vietnam during Tet (February) of 1971 and was stationed there for a year. I was an Army captain, in charge of all of the Army and Navy military ships in Vietnam. I was awarded the Bronze Star associated with my tour. It was an unforgettable time in my life, for a variety of reasons. Some of the things I would learn and experience that year included the knowledge that soldiers fear something more than death in a war. That fear is being blinded or losing one’s legs and, thus, being dependent on others. I also learned that 90% of the time you are bored to death and the other 10%, you are scared to death. Near the end of my tour, I had decided to apply to law school— I took the law school admission test in Saigon at a small University of Maryland office, dressed in my jungle fatigues.
Having left Vietnam in 1972, I was conflicted as to whether or not I wanted to return and, ultimately, decided to do so. I stepped off the plane in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and felt like Rip Van Winkle. Having “reawakened” in Saigon 40 years after my departure, I saw a McDonald’s, a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, and multiple high-end retailers, such as Gucci. I thought we must had won the war after all! There were no tanks on the streets or soldiers with automatic weapons. It was wonderful walking down the streets without fear and without seeing the black market corruption that pervaded Saigon in the early 1970s before Vietnam fell to the Communists in 1975.
I visited the Presidential Palace, which was nicknamed the White House when I was stationed in Vietnam, and which was not open to me during the war. I also visited a museum that had glorified pictures of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers and showed horrific pictures of adults and their children, deformed by Agent Orange. There were also pictures of individuals disfigured by napalm. It was a strange and uncomfortable sensation in the museum, as I fantasized that people were staring at me as an American touring the museum. In any event, the Vietnam War was described as the “American War” in the museum and by all Vietnamese who brought up the subject with me. All said that they had nothing against the American people as the American people were “duped” by our government into prosecuting the war against the Vietnamese people.
I traveled by boat through the Mekong Delta. It was interesting seeing homes built on stilts in the water and watching the water traffic. During my last visit, I was in a small boat nervously visually searching the jungle vegetation hoping no one would shoot at me. I remember at the time thinking how difficult it would be to swim with my jungle boots on if I had to dive out of the boat. While moving through the Delta, I also recalled the surreal experience of long ago being the guest of honor at a lunch sponsored by the Vietnamese major whose district I was visiting in the Delta. We dined on white tablecloths in a jungle clearing, and ate duck’s blood soup and raw snails from the Saigon River. I ate everything with a smile on my face, to make sure I did not insult my host to the point where he might not return me to one of my ships.
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BIO: A. Craig Fleishman is the managing partner of the law firm of Fleishman & Shapiro P.C. His practice includes representation in the areas of divorce, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, commercial, construction, personal injury, professional liability, employment law, bad faith, and insurance litigation. He has served on the Boards of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Rose and St. Anthony Hospitals, the Anti-Defamation League, the Colorado Neurological Institute, and Epilepsy Foundation. Mr. Fleishman has been a contributing magazine columnist and a column editor for The Colorado Lawyer, and has been a contributing columnist for the National Law Journal, Homebuilder, Women’s Business Chronicle, Colorado Real Estate Journal, Colorado Trial Lawyers Association Trial Talk Magazine, American Trial Lawyer Association Trial Magazine, and Colorado Medicine.