Our Man in Hanoi
In 1968 Suel Jones arrived in Vietnam and was immediately sent to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division (D-l-3-3) as an infantryman. Three weeks later he was shot during a massive engagement near the Cua Viet River in Quang Tri Province, the northernmost province then bordered by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a no man's land between north and south Vietnam. Alter six weeks of rehabilitation Suel returned to first platoon of Delta Company. Suel completed his tour despite receiving another Purple Heart for wounds received from mortar fire during a battle on Mutter's ridge, an area known for its rugged terrain and for being a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) haven.
In June of 1969 Suel felt extremely lucky to be flying out of Vietnam and back to the USA in one piece. The thought of ever returning to Vietnam was as far from his mind as the thought of staying another year. The story of his return in 1998 is the story of one man's desire to complete what he had gone to Vietnam to do as a young Marine, and that is to help the people, and to learn about the people he had once considered his enemies.
As the plane carrying Suel and other Marines home from Vietnam taxied down the runway, the tension on each man's face, and their almost breathless silence, revealed the fear each had lived with for the past year. But as the wheels lifted from Vietnamese soil a sudden deafening roar filled the plane like a thunderclap as each man accepted that it was really over, that he was going "back to the world," that he had in fact survived. Then, just as suddenly, a prayer-like silence fell over the plane as each man settled back into his seat, alone in his thoughts. For Suel, those thoughts were to forget Vietnam ever happened and to get on with a normal life in the USA.
But he couldn't forget, so in 1998 Suel decided to return, to meet the Vietnamese as a people and to see the country as it greened and healed. On his first day back while walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, a Vietnamese man about Suel's age approached him and asked if he had ever been to Vietnam before. Because he had no idea what the man's reactions would be, he answered nervously. "Yes, I was here in 1968." The man paused for a minute and then said, "You were the enemy?" "Yes," Suel answered softly, "I was the enemy." The man then put his arms around Suel, smiled and said, "Welcome to Vietnam." That was when Suel realized that everything would be OK. The real healing process had started and in a strangely ironic sense he had come home. He has told himself many times that he had two births: his natural birth and the day he first arrived in Vietnam, because his life as he had known it started on that day in 1968.
While in Hanoi, Suel visited the Vietnam Friendship Village, which had been founded by George Mizo, another American veteran. He saw the children and met the Vietnamese veterans who had been affected by Agent Orange, a chemical used as a defoliant on the triple canopy jungle to deny cover for troop movement and to destroy rice crops. For ten years more than 20 million gallons had been sprayed throughout South Vietnam. Suel learned while visiting the village that a second generation, and now a third generation were disabled by the dioxin, leaving a legacy of pain and suffering for more than thirty years. After talking with the veterans and meeting the children, Suel decided he wanted to be part of this project and to give something back to a country destroyed by war.
Suel Jones has been a board member of the Vietnam Friendship Village Project's U.S. Committee since 1999, and has been residing in Hanoi off and on for about five years. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.