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Their “Eyes and Ears”: Vietnam Veterans Reunite with Interpreter After 40 Years

This video moved me more than I thought it would. Many units in Vietnam worked closely with Vietnamese scouts and translators. They often came to respect one another and became very close to one another through their mutual experiences. They fought side by side and depended on each other to degrees that only those who have been to war can know. The reunion you will see in this video is a very rare occurrence, given the fact that so many of those Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans were either killed by the North Vietnamese when they took the South, or they were sent to prison camps where many died due to the conditions they were held under.

For these Vietnam veterans and their former Montagnard translator, Phan Sui, who had been their “eyes and ears” in so many dangerous situations, to once again be reunited was a very emotional and welcome experience for all of them. Those who have been to war know the strength of the bond that is formed between men who have faced the dangers of war and the reality of death together. This bond is clearly seen here in this video. It is a bond that could not be destroyed by the 40 and more years that separated them from the last time they saw one another.

This video moved me deeply, because it made me remember a Kit Carson Scout we had in our company after we had left the siege at Khe Sanh and started working our recon patrols out of our base at Quang Tri, Vietnam. His name was Pham Van Vinh. I remember going with him one time into the city of Quang Tri to where his mother, grandmother, and his siblings lived on a small boat on the bank of the Quang Tri river. I remember thinking that this was crazy. Anything could have happened. But I was welcomed into their living space and was fed generously from their poor stores. He then took me to meet his girlfriend and her family.

A Most Unique Experience

I was too young at the time myself to understand the full significance of that experience. I had briefly stepped out of the war and into a familial circle that, though it was very different from mine, their genuine hospitality was very familiar. It was the most unique experience I had in Vietnam. I remember walking with him down dusty, tree-lined, neighborhood streets where people went about their daily lives just like anywhere else. But the war was never very far from my mind.

It seemed so incongruous. Pham Van Vinh was slight of frame, and his affability was contagious. He was no more than a teenager himself, but when he went out into the bush with our patrols, he was as serious and knowledgeable as any seasoned veteran. He walked point and knew the terrain and the telltale signs of the enemy. I have often wondered about him and whatever became of him.

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Many of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan can relate to this video as well. Those who have worked with and formed that warrior bond of friendships with Iraqi or Afghan interpreters, or with those local troops they worked closely with as advisors, know exactly what these Vietnam veterans feel about their friend Phan Sui. I know that many of them have formed similar bonds with their Iraqi or Afghan counterparts.

Getting on with Life

This is one of the realities of all wars. Sometimes, for all the right reasons, we form friendships like those you see in this short video, that are life-long, meaningful, and enduring. Distance and the “getting on with life” after we come home from our wars often means that we never see each other again in this life. We have our memories, and that is that. The men in this video have gotten to experience something very rare, indeed, here. We are happy for all of them. Phan Sui is battling a very serious form of cancer when this video was made.

You can see that Phan Sui’s joy in being reunited with his old wartime friends, here in the United States where he had found a home and the precious freedom he had dreamed of ever since the Americans had left VIetnam, is now complete. The joy of his American brothers is clear in their faces and in their voices as well. There is a sweetness born out of adversity here. Their friendship was formed in the crucible of war, and it has endured over a lifetime. Its force and its bond has proven to be stronger than the time and the distance that separated them all for over 40 years.

We here at the Veterans Site want to thank all of our veterans for the service they have given to this nation over the years. We also want to thank and honor those warriors and friends from those nations who fought beside us and with us for their freedom from the various forms of oppression that mankind can dream up. We do not forget. Freedom is worth it.


Image U.S. Army Pfc. Nicholas Weeks plays an Afghan checkers-style game with Nas Nahs, an interpreter, in the Kohi Safi district, Afghanistan, Sept. 6, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Teddy Wade, CC BY 2.0).


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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.