Judge Joel Medd, Class of 1975, Returns to Vietnam
Judge Medd Returns To Vietnam
Joel Medd left early Tuesday for Vietnam, curious to see how it’s different from the more tumultuous times of 40 years ago.
“I want to see what’s changed, both physically and psychologically,” said the Grand Forks man, who was a military adviser to South Vietnamese troops during the conflict. “I want to see what the people are like and the country is like now.”
But this is more than a sightseeing tour for Medd, a Grand Forks District Court judge of 31 years.
“This is not like going to Europe to see the Eiffel Tower,” he said. “It will be nostalgic, but it’s sure to be emotional, too, because lots of folks got killed over there.”
It will be like old times in more ways than one. His travel partners include two men who were comrades in Vietnam — a U.S. Army doctor who is now a surgeon in Los Angeles and his Vietnamese interpreter, Phu Nguyen, who escaped the country in 1976 and became a U.S. citizen also living in California.
Nguyen has done most of the planning for the group, with stops in Saigon, Danang, Hue, Hanoi in Vietnam and Cambodia.
“Phu and I became very good friends,” Medd said. “He tried to keep me out of trouble.”
A different place
Medd’s Kodak snapshots from those days are curled and faded, many of them picturing a lanky 23-year-old American wearing a red mustache and a South Vietnamese Army beret posing with his even-leaner friend/aide, Nguyen. Medd entered the Army as a second-lieutenant after being a UND ROTC graduate.
“I figured if I was going into the military, I might as well go in as an officer,” Medd said.
By the time he served eight months in Vietnam over 1971-72, the United States had dialed back its war involvement. But Medd was stationed in the northern part of South Vietnam, where most of the battles were being waged, providing strategic and logistical advice. He wasn’t a combat fighter on the front lines, but he witnessed plenty of bloodshed and despair.
In sharp contrast to that duty, he took an R&R leave to Sapporo, Japan, for the 1972 Winter Olympics. While there, he spent time with Mike “Lefty” Curran, a UND goalie who was on the U.S. hockey team.
But most of his overseas’ memories are rawer, of images of rice being planted by hand, water buffalo, motorbikes spewing black smoke, using mosquito nets at night to ward off rats, not mosquitoes, and the ravages of war.
He anticipates a much different Vietnam from 40 years ago.
“We left it as a socialist country, but it’s much more free enterprise now,” he said. “And I hear there is now a cell phone store on every corner. You can get a connection everywhere.”
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