"Tân Ba 1964/65 . . ." Bien Hoa by Nemorino

Bien Hoa Travel Guide: 34 reviews and 58 photos

. . . and a re-visit thirty years later

From October 1964 to March 1965 I was the lowest ranking member of a five-man American "advisory team" stationed in a small Vietnamese village called Tân Ba on the bank of the Dong Nai River.

Since Tân Ba is not included in the VirtualTourist database, I am posting this page under the name of Biên Hòa, which is a city several miles downstream on the other side of the river. At night we could see the lights of Biên Hòa air base across the river to the east, which seemed strange because we didn't have any electricity in our village.

The composition of our "advisory team" varied from week to week, but basically it consisted of a major, a captain, two sergeants and me. It didn't really seem like being in the army, since I was not in a platoon or company or anything like that. The five of us took turns standing guard at night, so I would wake up the major when it was his turn. Most nights were quiet, except once or twice a month on dark nights with no moon, when small groups of Viet Cong would sneak in and try to blow us up.

Except for those few dark nights I really loved Tân Ba. The people were friendly and we lived right there in the village with them, not fenced off in a compound. It was sort of like being in the Peace Corps except that we weren't at peace.

Theoretically I was supposed to be the radio operator, but it soon turned out that I had a different function entirely, as I will explain in some of my General Tips.

Thirty years later, in 1995, my son Nick and I hired a car and a driver in Biên Hòa and set off to find the village of Tân Ba. I had a general idea of how to get there, but didn't know where to turn off the main road, so our driver kept stopping and showing my old photos to the local people.

They gave us directions, and after a while we found the village... and the small pagoda... and the school..., all intact and all looking very similar to the way I remembered them.

The big difference was that our old helicopter pad no longer existed and the roads were narrower because it was no longer necessary to clear away the vegetation on both sides.

We arrived in the middle of the morning, shortly before recess at the village school. At recess the teachers invited us in for tea and passed my old photos around, including this one of children in the schoolyard in 1965. I felt a bit anxious about this at first, because I thought the children might have been killed or injured in the war, or might have been traumatized or demoralized by all the awful things that had happened.

But I needn't have worried. The children on the photos were grown up now. They had families and jobs, some had moved away and some hadn't.

The school was now full of a new generation of lively children, and the whole village seemed just as friendly and beautiful as I remembered it from thirty years before.

After a while a large group of people took us up the road the house where I had lived in 1964/65. Of course the old man and woman I had known were no longer alive, but three or four generations of their descendants were still living in the house.

None of them had inherited the old man's passion for gardening, however, so the front yard was a bit overgrown. Also the house hadn't been painted recently, but otherwise it looked much the same as I remembered it -- except that they had electricity now.

The girl in jeans in the photo was learning English at school, and even had a blackboard set up on an easel in the living room with some English vocabulary on it. Her parents wanted her to speak English with us, but she was too shy so they didn't insist.

Instead they took me around to the back and proudly showed me the new addition that they had built onto the back of the house, because there were so many more people living there now than before.

They also took us down to the river to show me how the landing had been improved, and finally to the pagoda to have a talk with the monk -- more about that in the General Tips aka Favorites on this page.

I suggest that you read these tips/reviews in chronological order, which you can easily do by clicking on the link at the bottom of each tip.

First: My arrival in Tân Ba

Thanks to my older son Nick for taking the pictures during our travels through Vietnam in 1995 and for scanning my old photos from 1964/65.

  • Last visit to Bien Hoa: Jul 1995
  • Intro Updated Apr 14, 2013
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Reviews (33)

Comments (53)

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Feb 17, 2014 at 1:08 AM

    Marvellous that you have kept a record and all those photos from your time in the war. It's been interesting reading. Our neighbor was in the war, and he still won't talk about it, not even to his family.

    • Nemorino's Profile Photo
      Feb 17, 2014 at 2:01 AM

      Dee, thanks for your ratings and nice comments. I was very lucky in that nothing terribly dreadful happened to me in the war. For one thing, I was there early -- a year or two later it got much worse. Also my function as an interpreter kept me safely out of the jungle and out of the line of fire. But I know several people who, like your neighbor, refuse to talk about their experiences, and I'm sure they have good reasons. VT member breughel says his grandfather never told him anything about his service in World War I.
      "Centenary commemoration of WW I - My grandfather." - Ieper Travelogue by breughel

  • CDM7's Profile Photo
    Jun 11, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    So nice that you were able to make a return visit in peacetime with your son.A great personnel story!

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    I'm back with a functioning computer and have enjoyed reading the additions to your Biên Hòa page about Tân Ba. It's still an interesting story. Thanks Don!

  • IreneMcKay's Profile Photo
    May 10, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    Very interesting page and some wonderful old photos. Irene

  • sachara's Profile Photo
    Apr 28, 2013 at 9:53 PM

    Very fascinating personal story, Don. It's like a novel. Great you were able to revisit the place with you son.

  • wise23girl's Profile Photo
    Dec 18, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    This is so amazing...the memories and the history...superb. My sister was a nurse Vietnam and her husband a doctor. I gave her letters to the war museum and just kept copies.

  • Regina1965's Profile Photo
    Nov 4, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    Thanks for sharing, Don. This is a very special page.

  • breughel's Profile Photo
    May 1, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Dear Don,
    Last night I had a nightmare in which the army called me back for service. I protested and said I'm an old man, the oldest lieutenant in the Belgian army, my uniform doesn't fit anymore!
    Do you know what happened: the CO made me eat a lobster (affirmative a lobster!) and made me position my platoon on a rocky coast; then I woke up!
    I presume there must be a link between the lobster and the rocky coast?

    Very interesting comments on your military experience. By coincidence 1964-65 was my military service period but in the secure Germany. Shall I say I damn liked your Vietnam comments because they are so different from what we all write just about tourism.

  • lmkluque's Profile Photo
    Feb 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    Thanks Don for the past and present comments here. Did you ever meet anyone who knew/remembered you in 1964-65, while there later on with your son?

  • picek's Profile Photo
    Jan 28, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    What vivid memory and story! It has to be very interesting to revisit VN after so many years, when country is put in entierly different frame. Good that camera documented some of the interesting people in the village, and that after all you got along well with everybody. Thanks for sharing this story! Vesna


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