A quick poll of our travelers at the end of Day 7 was almost unanimous: they wanted more time in Danang.
I don’t blame them. If I had to choose one place to live in Vietnam, it would be Danang. It’s considered Vietnam’s cleanest and most livable city.
It’s also thriving. Centered at the halfway mark on Vietnam’s coastline, Danang has an extraordinarily diverse economy that includes colleges and universities, tourism, a bustling seaport, textile manufacturing, and high tech production and software engineering.
But it also has 20 miles of sandy beach and somehow couples all its vibrant economic activity with a relaxed vacation-town vibe. It’s like South Florida with a dash of Myrtle Beach and San Jose.
During the Vietnam War, Danang was a small city that only boomed because of the overwhelming American presence there. There were dozens of Army, Air Force, and Navy installations in the area, all anchored by the massive Da Nang Air Base, the main welcome center for American servicemembers arriving in-country for their tour of duty. They also came to Danang for R&R to enjoy the famous China Beach.
We did the same, standing on the exact stretch of beach that served as the R&R Center. It’s beauty is breathtaking.
Geoff and Pay Hurd on Danang Beach
Ray and Valerie Brendel on Danang Beach
Four of our veterans spent time in Danang, and two were stationed here. Terry Choate was a Navy Corpsman assigned to the Marines in Danang. He patrolled from the base of Marble Mountain across from the Marble Mountain Air Station.
Nick Edinger served with the 1st Logistical Command right next to the R&R Center on China Beach. I took a quick selfie with Nick on the beach where he played volleyball almost daily–yes, Nick had good duty, which 101st Airborne veteran Bob Anckaitis never lets him forget.
Left to right: Todd DePastino, Vietnam Veterans Jerry Augustine, Bob Anckaitis, and Nick Edinger. On the right is Peg Deibel, whose brother served in Vietnam. She’s been wearing his dog tags all trip.
Vietnam Veteran Nick Edinger atop Marble Mountain, Danang
Each was thrilled to see the place again, military buildings all replaced with resorts, hotels, restaurants, and stores.
American-built hangars and revetments are vestiges of the Vietnam War at Da Nang International Airport
We made two special stops along the way. You can call them photo opportunities, but they were more than that.
The first was to the Phu Bai International Airport, built by Navy Seabees as Phu Bai Combat Base back in the 1960s. It was take over by the NVA in 1975 and today serves as one of Vietnam’s smaller but busy airports.
Rich Doerr before Vietnam in 1969
Vietnam Veteran Rich Doerr was stationed at the Phu Bai Dial Telephone Exchange in 1970-71. He was Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Phu Bai Signals Support Detachment, which served the 101st Airborne Division. It was here, in March 1971, with just a couple months left on his tour of duty, that he opened a package from his wife, played the cassette tape enclosed, and heard the crying voice of his one-month old baby for the first time.
We stopped to take a quick photo of Rich before a police officer asked us to move along.
The next stop was on a more remote mountain road in the hills near Phu Bai. We were searching for the location of Fire Support Base (FSB) Tomahawk, which Bob Anckaitis served. Most FSBs were so remote, you still can get to their coordinates easily today. But Tomahawk was one of the few, perhaps only, FSBs supplied by road.
We found the location and snapped a photo of Bob at the entrance to the base, which is now re-enveloped by nature.
Our travelers would agree that the highlight by far of our trip to Danang was dinner at Bamboo Bob’s Cafe, where we were met by our host, Rob Carscadden, the one and only Bamboo Bob himself.
Rob Carscadden, second from the left.
Bamboo Bob Coffee is a company with a powerful social mission and vision. It supports only family farms and Direct Trade, eliminating middlemen and allowing money to go directly to support community programs in Vietnam and the farmers and families that grow the coffee. It’s the product of Rob’s extraordinary business acumen and love of Vietnam, which is now calls home. Watching him interact with our group and honor our veterans honor was moving, and the American-style pizza and cheeseburgers he served was welcome and abundant.
I’d known Rob for over three years, but this was the first time I met him in-person and was kinda star-struck. He’s a charismatic but gentle force, orchestrating a busy restaurant while connecting with everyone there, it seems, staff and customer. The whirlwind of fascinating people we met dropping by and heading out of the cafe on their motorbikes was a delight in and of itself.
Take Amira, for example. She’s opening the first real Macaroni n’ Cheese restaurant in Danang, if not Vietnam. She’s 28-years-old and from Pittsburgh’s North Side. Ray Brendel, also from the North Side, posed for a photo with her.
Next trip too Vietnam, we’ll add a day to the itinerary to spend more time in Danang and neighboring Hoi An.