“The good memories I have of Vietnam are of the people I met and befriended, most of whom were children, ” R.L.Tecklenburg writes in The Boys Next Door: A Marine Returns to Vietnam (St. Johann Press, 134 pp., $24.95, paper). “Their fate haunted me for more than thirty-five years. Did the war take them? Could I have done more to save them?” The answers to those questions “eluded me until I returned in 2003 and again in 2004.”
In this short, readable book Tecklenburg juxtaposes a recounting of his time in Vietnam during the war with details of the first return trip he made to the small farming villages of Thua Luu and Nouc Ngot. He had served a 1968-69 tour there as an infantryman with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment attached to the First Marine Division, and then as part of the 3rd Combined Action Group in Phu Loc working with elements of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
His time in Vietnam was never far from his thoughts after coming home, Tecklenburg, who runs the Alexandria, Virginia, Vet Center, says. “Not a day passed, ” he writes, “that I didn’t think about the people I had left behind. For me, it was about commitments and relationships I had established among the Vietnamese, then abruptly abandoned when my tour of duty was up on August 4, 1969.”
Tecklenburg arrived in Hanoi in March 2003 and then embarked on an eleven-day trip with a group of other Vietnam veterans. He was able to find two people he worked with in the villages during the war. He learned that they and many other villagers “had had a difficult time” since 1975. “They were struggling to make it in the new Vietnam, but they were succeeding. Theirs was a young country, and they had not been excluded from its rewards.”
He “had to remember, ” Tecklenburg writes, “that I was a part of their past—and they a part of mine. We shared memories of a time when our destinies crossed, but our lives since the war have moved in much different directions. I decided I would help them in any way I could to achieve a better future for their children.”
The author’s website is www.rltecklenburg.com