Veterans who Fought in Vietnam War Find Peace Living in the Very Villages they Fought in

While many think that men who serve in war would be ecstatic to finally come home, that is not the case with some. During the Vietnam War, many men made small Asian villages their home throughout the battles and after the war was over.

One man, Andy Richards, who is now 65 years old, says that ever since he came home from the war he has had three open heart surgeries and believes the war was the cause of the heart problems.  He also said, which is not surprising, that the war and the experience was the worst time of his life.

Richards says that he and the men he fought with grew accustomed to the villagers, the jungle, and just the overall life in Cambodia.  Richards also says that he liked the lack of rules in Cambodia; there were definitely more freedoms while living there.  It is also cheaper, and the people were nice to him and the men.

Richards joined the army in 1968 when he was 18 years old because he thought he’d be drafted anyway.  Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, he spent some time in the 82nd Airborne Division, but did not like it.  He then transferred to the 101st Airborne and was headed to the Vietnam jungles in no time.

He originally was a paratrooper, but then became a foot soldier.  He and his group of soldiers were in South Vietnam.  This area was particularly dangerous due to the fact it was in the northernmost part of Vietnam where there was the highest concentration of North Vietnamese Army forces.

After leaving the war in 1971, Richards got his journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin and worked at a newspaper for a few years.  Like many veterans and soldiers, he struggles with alcoholism, anxiety, and anger.  While back home and suffering, Richards listened to his friend’s suggestion that he return to Vietnam to get rid of the ghosts that were haunting him.  While he at first feared that returning to the nightmarish war zones would make things even worse, Richards proved himself wrong.  He said that other men there shared war stories with him, and this eventually helped him immensely.

While some people in the United States ignored the service Richards and his men gave to their country, he said that many people in Vietnam thanked him for his service.  They would come up to him and thank him; shaking his hand for protecting them during the war.  After a short time in Vietnam, he traveled to Laos and Thailand.  He traveled home to the United States, but eventually went back to Southeast Asia in 1999.  He first settled in Thailand then went to Vietnam, eventually settling in Cambodia for good.  He felt that there was the home he had been looking for after the war.

Richards is was not the only one to have permanently settled across the sea in their former war locations.  Another veteran, John Muller, who is 66 and from Seattle, felt the same way as Richards. He joined the army in 1969 and spent a year in Vietnam. He says that he wished he had never joined, as it destroyed many lives and had cost so much.   After the war, he returned to the U.S. to get his degree in political science.

He said after returning home, he felt as though he was a criminal for having served his country.  He managed to keep a few jobs, but ended up leaving the U.S. as well.  In 1976, he started out in Southeast Asia, just visiting.  Eventually he returned after 10 years to live there permanently.  He felt as though he could better living there than back home in the U.S. He managed to get a job running a private security company, working for the Cambodian government.  He manages to keep guns off the streets and helps ex-troops get jobs.

Though his story is a bit different, photographer Al Rockoff, who ably captured the war with his camera, fell in love with the country and found it hard to not live there permanently.  Rockoff was known to go through extreme measures to get the photos for which he was famous.  The images are still hanging in the U.S. Embassy and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Vietnam.

He was so dedicated that he once needed surgery to take shrapnel out of his heart.  He was injured while photographing at the front during the Khmer Rouge advancement.  He recalls that a Swedish surgeon had saved his life.  Even today he splits his time between Florida and Vietnam and he is known around many Vietnamese villages.  He zips through them with a moped, camera in hand to capture the everyday life with which he fell in love.  In his photos he wants to show others the life of villagers after the war; he likes demonstrating daily life in the villages.

While Thailand has many war veterans from the Army and Air Force living there, Cambodia does not have very many.  Even Vietnam has a growing amount of veterans living in the country.  Some believe the reason there aren’t as many veterans residing in Cambodia is because the country is still picking up the pieces from the war.  Due to the 1970s massacre from the Khmer Rouge wherein one million people were killed, there are still poor resources and poor people.  However, the people in the village do not let that get in their way; they are doing the best they can to live a comfortable life.

Richards says that Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, makes him more comfortable because even though it is a big city, it still has a small-city feeling to it.  Rockoff as well prefers the city over several other places he’s visited.  Like the men say, they are there to stay and live out the rest of their lives comfortably.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE