Sitting in an honored place in my living room is a jungle-green North Vietnamese combat helmet. In the middle of the helmet’s front is a small round medallion a little over an inch in diameter. Centered in the medallion is a five-pointed gold star on a red background surrounded by a thin gold wreath. It represents the insignia of the North Vietnamese Army in the 1970s.
The helmet rests on a table beneath an oil painting, dated 1974, of the Saigon outdoor central market at the height of a monsoon rain storm. Of the six paintings on the walls of the room, four are from Vietnam. In one corner of the room is a four-paneled folding screen, some six feet tall, made of tan unpolished wood and hand carved in stylized floral and leaf design. On either side of the fireplace are ornate rounded wooden garden seats, each over two feet high, with marble tops. All of these decorative pieces came from Asia during the years I was operating there. I don’t remember where or when I got them.
Nor do I remember where I got the helmet. It looks quite new and was never apparently worn on the battlefield. I have a faint memory that it was a gift to me from a fellow Vietnam veteran, but I don’t remember who or when.
Like the rest of my house, my living room is filled with tokens from my past. I can’t recall the details of when and where I got these treasures, but the experiences they evoke are always with me. They always will be.