Over years of travel, there have been a blur of teachers, and only a handful standout. One in particular was an American geography teacher at an International school in Asia. His name, Mr. X (I changed his name for privacy reasons).
One of the greatest things about International schools, no subject is off-limits, and most of the teachers have amazing stories to tell.
One morning we entered the class, and this photo was on the projector.
The image of Kim Phuc running naked down a road captured worldwide attention and later won a Pulitzer prize for photographer Nick Ut.
This photo was the first of many that haunted me, but Mr. X’s story haunted me more. As we went deeper into the subject, we watched Full Metal Jacket, not necessarily a movie I would let a 12-year-old watch, but Mr. X thought that it was appropriate before he told his story. We heard weeping in the back of the class. My teacher, 6’3, and burly, was sobbing.
Mr. X was drafted into the Vietnam War when he was 18. On one of many long days he was terrified of dying, He watched his best friend detonate a land mine which blew up instantly, his friend’s body ripped apart, and died in Mr. X’s arms. He also told stories of how rape was prevalent and that no, it was never o.k., under any circumstance. In the instant he became a soldier, he lost his childhood. The most difficult aspect, was coming back to the U.S. after fighting a war he was told to fight, to nothing, no hero’s welcome, no thankyou, no support, and left to deal with night terrors that never seemed to go away.
The most difficult aspect of his life story to hear, was discovering after he got his teaching degree, he left the U.S and never returned. He decided to travel Asia, and teach. His students became his kids, as he put it, he suffered so badly of nightmares (which we now know as PTSD), that he decided early on to never marry, terrified he would kill his wife by accident in sleep of nightmare rages.
There was a strange loneliness about him, yet, he loved teaching us, and being around us. He wanted every student to do well and love learning.
His story, was the reason I fell in love with Vietnam, and why, Vietnam was a country I needed to experience.