The young Harvard researcher explained why he and his wife visited Vietnam for a month during the holiday season.
Daniel Green wanted to go ever since his ninth-grade history class in 1998 in his native Detroit. His teacher had served as a Marine Corps sergeant in Da Nang during the Vietnam War.
“I was fascinated by his experience and what he taught in his class,” Green, a lecturer employed by Harvard to teach and do research, said. “And I was interested in going to Vietnam ever since then.”
A few years later, he had a subsequent class in military history with the same instructor. This included an exercise in which half the class acted as North Vietnamese soldiers and the other half as American Marines. “It was a great lesson,” Green, 35, said.
Green and his wife of three and a half years, Karen, toured Vietnam from late December through January. Besides their mutual interest in the country, this trip also marked the 10th anniversary of their relationship.
“In general I loved the experience,” Green, who resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said of the trip. “It was really wonderful and we were fortunate to be able to visit.”
They visited Hanoi and nearby Ha Long Bay, which featured a multitude of small limestone islands. “It’s this beautiful place. It’s very calm,” Green said of the busy port. “Since I study paleontology, seeing these limestone formations is especially exciting.”
In Hanoi they visited the Temple of Literature, which was built a thousand ago in honor of scholarship and learning. The beautiful cultural center was protected by sandbags and concrete during the war from 1964-75. “But it was damaged in 1946 when the French launched their second conquest of the country,” Green said.
He confirmed what has been widely reported about today’s Vietnam. Americans are welcomed with
“People were I would say extraordinarily gracious and kind,” Green said. “People really like Americans. Of course they got what they wanted – their independence – at great cost. But they are happy to meet Americans and learn about them. My experience is I that the people are very proud of Vietnamese history and Vietnamese culture as well.”
He did see memorials dedicated to Vietnamese who had died in their multiple wars of independence. He saw bomb craters at the My Son temple complex, which is about an hour’s drive from Hoi An and not far from the former U.S. air base at Da Nang.
My Son, protected by mountainous terrain, was used by Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese troops during the war. In August 1969 it was heavily damaged by American B-52 bombers. The bomb craters remain. The area had been heavily mined during the war; so, Green and his wife made sure they stayed on the tourist paths.
They followed the information panels at the temple site. My Son goes back hundreds of years as a remnant of the Champa civilization, once a major regional power. “This was a center of their religious worship,” Green said.
He visited Ho Chi Minh City which also proved fascinating. While there he toured Cu Chi, which had served as a destination of supplies from the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war and was the site of intense fighting.
“It is full of the most beautiful gardens and orchards. Every farmer has fruit trees. There are herbs everywhere, and a lot of buffalo,” Green said. “It’s a rich and beautiful landscape.”
He saw bomb craters in some areas. He also saw tunnels which had been preserved since the war. With secret entrances and exits, they served as underground bunkers and had rudimental medical facilities. “The tunnels are small, dark,” he said. Inside the tunnels Green saw bats, insects, frogs and toads.
Before their trip, Green and his wife read “The Sorrow of War,” a book by famous Vietnamese author Bao Ninh, a veteran who had joined the North Vietnamese army at age 17.
“It really helped getting a Vietnamese perspective on the war before we went,” Green said.
He plans to lecture at Harvard about historical climate change in Southeast Asia and its relationship to the rise and fall of different civilizations over time. Green teaches an undergraduate introduction to human evolution and a course on climate change in human evolution. He was a graduate student before lecturing at Harvard for the past few years.
Green has a bachelor’s in science from the University of Michigan in 2008, a master’s (2012) and doctorate (2017) in human evolutionary biology from Harvard.
“As my high school history teacher told our ninth-grade class many years ago, we need to understand the lessons of the past so we don’t repeat our mistakes in the future,” Green said. “My teacher wanted to use his experiences as a Marine in Vietnam to educate the next generation of Americans. I think he succeeded in that.”
Green invites veterans who served in the Quang Nam province in 1969 to email him at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This is the 254th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.