For thirteen years, between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in the tropical climate of Vietnam than I did in the U.S. It was so hot that I, like all other Americans, wore as few clothes as possible to cope with the heat. I stayed suntanned through all those years. And I became completely acclimated to the hot weather.
But then, in April 1975, the North Vietnamese conquered South Vietnam, and I was forced to flee the country under fire. I returned to the U.S. and did everything I could think of to acclimate to the temperature in the Washington, D.C. area of the U.S. I failed.
To this day, I yearn for the days of summer. When the temperature gets into the eighties, I start to feel comfortable. When it hits the nineties, I feel like I’m home again. I keep the air conditioning thermostat in my house set at eighty so that visitors won’t complain about the heat. That means I have to sleep with blankets rather than just a single sheet, but the company of others demands some sacrifice.
The cool temperatures at the beginning of the summer this year are disappointing. As I write, early in the morning, the end of June is approaching. And yet, it’s only 56 degrees outside and only 70 in the house. I bundle up.
It becomes clearer to me by the day that Vietnam changed me permanently. As a linguist, I became most adept at Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. My four children lived with me during my two accompanied tours in Vietnam and were shaped by the experience. I became an expert at signals intelligence support in combat on the battlefield, so that after Vietnam fell in 1975, I was shipped to other parts of the world to do the same thing, using my other languages.
Most of all, I remain acclimatized to the tropical heat. I guess I should be grateful that for a couple of months each summer, while most Americans suffer from the sweltering heat, I’m in my prime. Maybe all that will change for the worse for me with global warming. Even so, I’ll still be more comfortable than most.