Seeking through Saigon.

I remember the only thing in history class that held my attention was the Vietnam war. Unfortunately I only knew of an extremely filtered and skewed view.

Doesn’t look much does it? So many walk by without a clue as to what this is!

As I’m in the country I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading and discovering the real story, one that’s not an easy read at all! So I thought I’d hit the War Remnants Museum and try to understand more of what happened.

As a kid I was obsessed with the Bell UH–1 helicopter, building models for plastic soldiers, but now as an adult and in the country it’s most famous for, the entertainment value differs.

The place is a great source of facts and actual weapons including bombs and exploded fragments of such. The museum comprises of tanks and aircraft outside with 3 floors of the most moving photographs and information. There are accounts from both sides, including many photographs that don’t hold back with their actual portrayal. I soon discovered that I could read so much online but the museum laid down the cold hard story of the evil of military led capitalism and its blatant disregard for anything other than itself.

I highly recommend a visit if you visit Vietnam and are interested in the history or at least what can happen when power is in the wrong hands.

I always recall the images I saw as a child of the US Embassy being overrun in Saigon so I Googled what happened to the actual building after the US had pulled out. The original building has long since been flattened and now sits under the park in the new embassy compound. I specifically remember an image of what I once thought to be US members being flown out from the roof. Due to my intensive morning read, I discovered that the photo was of US workers, not Americans being flown out of another building that still stands! So off I went to see this iconic place and while doing so did more reading and learnt more about the building itself and also of that image.

ABOVE: 1. That lift shaft roof. 2. Wow! I was there! 3. The view of the shaft from roughly where the (original) ladder stood. 4. The ladder I had to climb to the upper roof — forget ISO 45001 safety here! . 5. Floor 8 which the CIA had rented, now offices but I could see not much had changed. 6. The famous shot by Hubert Van Es, April 29, 1975.

I’d read online — thanks to Trip Advisor and it’s members — that I could access the rooftop with my first bribe, and after a slight cloak and dagger discussion with a security guard, I was shown into an empty ground floor to a lift and told to got to floor 9. Excited I entered the lift and pressed the button trying to believe that I was actually doing it!

Once the lift door pinged, I found my way out onto an empty rooftop and within a minute I found my way to the lift shaft roof where the helicopter had been. I must say, I walked around the actual top of the roof with tiles that weren’t best in shape. Heading round the back I quickly realised that I was walking up to a sheer drop and almost froze! It took some serious mindfulness to keep calm, turn around and walk back to a safe place!

Once done with the roof and taking time to get a feel for its history, I took the lift to the floor below which back in 1975 was occupied by the CIA for whatever purpose for a quick look around. Being Sunday, the place was deserted and it had obviously not changed bar the new occupants. I wondered who else had pressed that same lift button or walked the same floor tiles in the name of secrecy, my imagination trying to fill the gaps.

This is the first time I’ve ever had a chance to attend anything like this and it was an awe inspiring experience — not in an entertaining but a somber, moving way. I’m so glad I gathered the gusto to go to the top as it made a huge difference to my experience. One thing I’m learning for sure is that no matter how negative a happening, we can all learn something positive from them.

https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/review/042300photo-review.html

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