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Epilogue : Le Ly Hayslip's American Life

February 05, 1989|KAREN EVANS | Karen Evans is a San Francisco writer.

In the meantime, she raised Tommy and Alan and managed a Chinese restaurant in Rancho Bernardo for a while and, in 1984, opened her own Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant with partners in Temecula. She took business classes at Mesa College and made a few profitable real estate deals. She had gained a foothold in her new country.

IN THE BACK OF HAYSLIP'S MIND LINgered a desire to return to Vietnam. Hayslip had not seen her mother, or her sisters Hai and Ba, or Ba's husband, Chin, for more than a decade. She had not seen her brother Bon Nghe, who had become a party official in Da Nang, since he had gone to Hanoi in 1954.

She returned in March of 1986, filled with trepidation, knowing that her past troubles with the Viet Cong or her work in the black market could endanger her and her family. And she wondered whether her family would accept her at all.

Ultimately, the survivors of her family, and Jimmy's father, with whom she had corresponded, at last sat down together for a meal. Across the gulf of years and turmoil, the family slowly mended its broken ties. Only her brother Sau Ban--believed killed by an American land mine in 1963, and Lan, in San Diego, were absent.

That trip back, Hayslip says, "completed the first cycle" of her life. She returned to the United States a different person. She sold her share in the restaurant and finished the book she'd been thinking about for 20 years. The book's message, despite its descriptions of death and destruction, is one of forgiveness and hope. "If you were an American GI," she writes in the prologue, "I ask you to read this book and look into the heart of one you once called enemy. I have witnessed, firsthand, all that you went through. I will try to tell . . . why almost everyone in the country you tried to help resented, feared and misunderstood you . . . if you have not yet found peace at the end of your war, I hope you will find it here."

"The U.S. is ready for the book," she believes. "There are signs of people looking for answers, lots of veterans wanting to speak out and go back to Vietnam." Then, in her curious amalgam of Eastern poetry and Western jargon, she says: "Souls are hungry. If the car is empty, you go for the gas."

BORN INTO WAR, HAYSLIP IS NOWsomething of a one-woman peace movement. She made a second trip to the new Vietnam in February, 1988--the 20th anniversary of the Tet Offen sive. Her album from that visit contains no photos of smiling tourists. Instead, there are pictures of war victims and inadequate medical clinics.

So affected was she by the lack of medical facilities to care for the thousands still hurt by the war, that a year ago, Hayslip founded the nonprofit East Meets West Foundation to support rural clinics in Vietnam. Her plan calls for "re-enlisting" Americans who served in a medical capacity in Vietnam or in other wars. One such group, the Vietnam Restoration Project, based in Garberville, Calif., has received approval to build a clinic, she says, and Hayslip is attempting to raise funds for that project.

"It gives me an opportunity to be a bridge," Hayslip says. For one generation of Vietnamese, such aid would be a chance "to see Americans as human beings, as civilians, with compassion--to change the old image." She'd also like American veterans to see a more compassionate side of the Vietnamese--"to have a bowl of rice, a cup of tea and sit down and talk."

In the Chinese astrological system, Hayslip was born in the year of the water buffalo and therefore destined, she says, to be a "servant of mankind." But family honor also motivates her. The words of her father echo in her mind. "Through him, I learned that although great love alone cannot remove all obstacles, it certainly puts no new ones in the path toward peace.

"You come here to do things, to grow and serve," she says simply. "If you complain, you miss the point.'

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