There’s nothing like the slap of cool air on the face to wake you up. I was awake early, clinging to the back of a “Grab” scooter driving me towards a coffee shop and breakfast spot in Hoi An. I was going to meet and interview Manus Campbell, a U.S. war vet, expat, and charity organizer. This was exciting, as he was one of the first handful of people I reached out to while I was planning the trip. His story is interesting. Campbell, a marine serving in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, moved here in 2010, starting his charity organization HIVOW (Helping Invisible Victims of War) to lift up orphans and children exposed to Agent Orange (sometimes both). He is here to heal some of the wrongs the U.S. perpetrated not too long ago.
Manus and I sat on the patio of the local cafe. I didn’t pass on the opportunity for a French press and some scrambled eggs. After eating my breakfast and saving some coffee, I started the interview.
Manus has a healthy beard of silvery white hair, the same color as what is thinning on his scalp - which might be the reason for his beret. He’s dressed casually: jeans and white tennis shoes. He looks to me to be at peace, or at least on the journey towards it. We talked a little bit about his story, but I wanted to get into my research topic - changing cultures and economies of Vietnam. I apologized to him in advance that this topic might not be as much in his “wheelhouse” as healing from the war, but what I came to realize is that there is overlap.
One of the takeaways from conducting all of these interviews is that they each answer or address a piece of the puzzle. No interview tells the whole story. Manus’s was no different.
What I did learn, though, is that in reflecting on cultural and economic change, the Vietnam war can not be forgotten. The legacies of Agent Orange and un exploded ordinants affect Vietnam. And while it is something that many (the Vietnamese included) would like to move on from, it’s not that simple. We all want to move on, but in that path towards the future we have to take into account the past. Agent Orange is still having profound affects on second and third generation Vietnamese people, not to mention American veterans (which the U.S. has done little to recognize). The importance, then, of Campbell’s organization HIVOW is to change the economic narrative. To lift up those who would otherwise be left behind. My interview with him opened up my mind towards the idea that cultural and economic change is just as much about legacy as it is about the future.