I have many friends; they are Vietnamese and American. It is easy to make Vietnamese friends because we are the seed of Lac Long. We have the same culture, language, and skin color. The friend I want to tell you about today is an American. In every way he is different than me, but we became good friends.
In 1968, I was commander of a troop of Armored Personnel Carriers at Tam Ky, a province of central Vietnam. One day a lieutenant of the U.S. Army came to help my unit. He introduced himself as William Shea, but people called him Bill. I shook his hand and introduced myself. “I am Captain Lao, troop commander. I am glad to meet you.”
Bill was always smiling and had a great sense of humor. He was average height and had yellow hair. He walked with a short step and his toes turned out. He looked very funny. He was also intelligent.
We had a very good time working together. When we went out for the operation, he helped me – requested air and artillery support or a helicopter to evacuate the wounded soldiers. We also had many times of heavy fighting with the enemy; sometimes it was dangerous for us. We did not know we were hovering between life and death.
Bill only served one year with me in Vietnam, but we went through a lot together. At the end of 1969, he heard I had been killed. He was very sad.
In 1997, he learned I was still alive and living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In October of that year, he and his wife came to see me. In 1998, my son and I went to visit Bill’s family in Manhattan, Kansas. We brushed up on all memories again. It was a beautiful two days at his house. Two men who knew each other for one year, but saved each other’s lives several times.
So far, Bill has come to visit me three times. Now we are older and the chance to meet each other is very difficult. We can only get in touch with each other by phone.
After 29 years separated, now we meet again. We have many memories. We will never forget the nights waiting for the enemy, dividing a bowl of rice or a cup of water during combat. The memories will live in my mind forever.
This story by Lao Le was featured in the 2014 publication of Journeys, an anthology of student writing published annually by the Minnesota Literacy Council.