When I was growing up, the Vietnam War was a world away. But I did see television news reports with the body counts, which definitely left the impression that the U.S. was winning the war. William Potter, the son of Mrs. Potter, one of my elementary school teachers, died in Vietnam on March 27, 1969. A few days later, my parents told me they were going to the Potter’s home to pay their respects. I was 10 years old.

U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1973. I never had to contend with the possibility of compulsory military service since the draft was suspended in 1975 when I was 16.

As fate would have it, in 1978 when I was 19, during my second semester at the University of Iowa, I got a new roommate. Two weeks earlier, he had been unconscious on a raft floating in the South China Sea. He was one of the Vietnamese boat people who had risked his life to flee the country. Somehow, he survived the ordeal, made his way to Iowa City, and enrolled in about every electrical engineering course that was offered. When faced with life or death, the only thing that matters is survival. This was his chance and he was determined to succeed. Since he was away from the dorm studying 16-18 hours a day, I rarely saw him. But when final exams were over, a few of my friends and I made sure he had a chance to “unwind.”

Years later, I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on a summer day. Hallowed Ground.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Sherry Talbot—iStock/Thinkstock