Veteran shares story of return to Vietnam

Jake Old • Updated Dec 7, 2016 at 2:00 PM

Local Vietnam War veteran Jim Harding shared the story of his return to Vietnam during a Lebanon Noon Rotary Club meeting Tuesday.


“I was told ‘don’t retire and then wake up the next morning and decide what you want to do,’” Harding said. “I like doing off the wall stuff … I Googled ‘international volunteer opportunities,’ and Vietnam popped up. I saw it was something in rural northern Vietnam.”

While in Vietnam, Harding lived with a project family, helping them reorganize their charity rehab project. He volunteered with a group that helped to rehabilitate disabled women so they could re-join the country’s workforce.

“I was about a four-hour bus ride west of Hanoi,” Harding said. “It was really kind of a fun place to be.”

Harding said he didn’t have trepidation about Vietnam trip, but he realized such a trip was uncommon.

“They said ‘with your life experience, are you sure you want to go that far out by yourself?’ and I said ‘that’s what I’m looking for,’” Harding said.

Harding learned about Vietnam’s culture, including their cuisine, which he said was unusual to him at first. Early in the trip, he was presented a meal that included pig eyes, congealed beef blood stew and crickets. He shared some tips for anyone who might eat crickets.

“Either start with the back legs or break the legs off and eat them separate, otherwise you bite into it and the legs start poking you in the gums,” Harding said.

Harding also shared a typical breakfast he had, which consisted of a bow of noodles with bread and a banana and a room-temperature bottle of water to wash it down.

“Everything you drink there is a room temperature because they believe that if you drink something cold, it will make you sick,” Harding said.

Of the food that was unusual, including crickets, Harding said there was a sort of mental hurdle to get past before he could eat them.

“I was going to be there for another two months or so, and it was important to me that I be accepted,” he said. “Snails taste like mud, and everything else just has that deep fried taste. One thing I ate was so grisly and tough, I just swallowed it. They told me there was no American word for it.”

Although he traveled with an interpreter, there were many situations where Harding found himself on his own, dealing with Vietnamese people who did not speak much, if any, English.

“People were excited to see the new American who was around,” he said.

The Lebanon Noon Rotary Club meets at noon each Tuesday at the Lebanon Golf & Country Club. Each week, a guest speaker offers a presentation about something related to the community.

The club features volunteer-minded people who live or work in Lebanon. For more information about Rotary, visit lebanonnoonrotary.org.

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