Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rick Larson and Vietnam

Last week Patti Patterson let the reunion committee know that plans are proceeding to build a 35,000 square foot Education Center near the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. The organizers are attempting to put a face on all of 58,000 names on the Wall by collecting photos. Patti digitized Rick Larson’s yearbook photo and emailed it Janna Hoelin at If you have a higher resolution photo of Rick please send it to Janna. If you have any memories of Rick you would like to share please send them to me at Are any of our other classmate of ours on the Wall? Let us know.

I remember Rick as being as an easy going guy who liked to joke around, we had a couple of semesters of gym together. Rick was in Artizens, and in the group photo in the yearbook he’s laughing, standing between John Nicholson, and Gilbert Anaya. The facts on the official record about how he died don’t tell us much.  Rick was in B Company, 6th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. He arrived in Vietnam on February 12, 1969. On July 25th he was killed. He died of wounds on the ground from an explosive device. He was 19 years old.

It’s good to remember the 58,000 who are on the wall as well as all of those who made it back. During the war the divisions between Americans were sharp. It divided families, co-workers, and students. Today we still disagree on what the war meant, and on how we can avoid “another Vietnam.” 

One thing thing we finally seem to have agreed on is not to blame the war on the warriors. Whether they enlisted or were drafted, few went to Vietnam for personal glory and career advancement. The war wasn’t their choice, but when they were called they did their duty. We’re all worse off for the loss of Rick Larson and all the others on the Wall. Bless them all, the long and short and the tall.

Vietnam was the first war that came to us every night on the evening news. That’s how most of us saw the war, but your prospective could change quickly. It became up close and personal when it was you or someone you knew who went, or if you got a letter from the Selective Service. Then, finally, it was over and we had “peace with honor”. Vietnam abruptly dropped off our television screens and receded from our national consciousness.

I didn’t think much about Vietnam after the war ended until I hired a computer engineering student from ASU, Trong, who had come to Arizona as a refugee. Then, years later, I was driving through Westminster and whoa!, (or I should say Pho!) I was in Little Siagon.

One thing that has really surprised me about Vietnam after the war has been the slow, small, steady re-invasion of Vietnam by unmarried American men my age. The first time I heard about it was from a surfer in Costa Rica named Duncan. He moved to Hanoi in the late 1990s to join his brother. In 2010 my sister put me in touch with Phil (aka Randy) Slocum from the class of 1967 who moved to Vietnam about 2004. This is a picture of Randy and at Randy’s Book Xchange, which began as a hobby he started in one of his bedrooms. He lives further south in Hon An which has some nice beaches. If you want to get in touch with Phil he’s on Facebook, his email is

Phil Slocum in Hoi An Vietnam

Duncan had originally described Vietnam as a cheap tropical paradise, cheap enough to live well even if you're living on Social Security.  Here are some prices from someone who says you can live well in Vietnam on only $600 a month.

For about $200 a month I get a two-story house split into four rooms (plus bathroom) Cars are expensive but for $800 you can get a brand new Honda (motorbike) that will cost you three dollars to fill up once or twice a week. Taxis are about 50 cents (flag fall) Bus rides are 10 cents. For $1 you can get a bowl of phở which many people in the North eat for breakfast every day. Lunch a rice dish with meat, some veggies, soup, and some fresh fruit and iced tea will set you back from $1 to $2. Getting a coke or coffee outside could cost you less than 50 cents, the same price as a Vietnamese sandwich. A French sub-sandwich roll is only 10 cents. A feast with friends outside with a few beers, maybe some seafood, may cost each of you $5. A Heineken is $1. Local beers are cheaper. Home-brewed is 10 cents a glass. A movie in the afternoon will cost you $1.50, more if you want to watch Avatar in 3D. A DVD at the shop is 50 cents. And I've always had HBO, Cinemax, and Star Movies at home for free, included in rent.

Apparently the Vietnamese don’t hold a grudge from those years when we tried to bomb them back to the stone age and I think there’s a lesson here. If you want to win peoples’ hearts and minds, free HBO works better.

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