Many memories and emotions hit me as I arrived at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in the city named Ho Chi Minh in May 2008. I had flown out of the same airport 38 years ago, when the city was called Saigon. This time, I was visiting Vietnam with 25 students and five other faculty of the Marine Corps University's School of Advanced Warfighting, part of its graduate program to produce military and operational planners. The week-long trip was part of the Far East segment of the program.
On this day I felt sorrow over lost comrades, excitement about returning for the fourth time, and some lingering resentment that we had lost the war and walked away from the South Vietnamese who had trusted us. My low point was seeing the flag—not the Republic of Vietnam gold flag with three stripes (for the three regions of Vietnam) but the Communist red flag with the gold star. We had surely lost, and now the enemy's flag flew over the country that had consumed so much of my adult life, from ages 24 to 30 during the war and, since 1970, teaching, reflecting, and remembering.