There was a time when Jane Fonda was the only American in Hanoi who wasn't a prisoner of war.
But that is all changing as some American veterans, many of whom were drafted into service in Vietnam, are preparing to face the ghosts of the Vietnam War by going back.The interest among those who would like to see a more peaceful side of Vietnam is a by-product of President Clinton's decision to lift the trade embargo that has functioned as a shield between Vietnam and the United States since 1975.
Veterans are also taking battle souvenirs back to Vietnam to help the Vietnamese identify war dead they were never able to account for. (See related story.)
Nor has veterans' interest in seeing Vietnam been lost on Hanoi entrepreneurs. Wedged between the other store fronts in Hanoi's business district are numerous enterprises whose signs advertise travel services for American veterans.
Tourist resorts are springing up at the uniquely scenic Ha Long Bay, at Danang's China Beach and in Ho Chi Minh City. The red carpet the Vietnamese are rolling out for veterans in Hanoi is particularly unique because the Vietnamese capital was at the heart of enemy territory during the war.
Veterans going back will have plenty to see but should remember the war remnants in Hanoi's Army Museum celebrate the nation's victory over the Americans.
Exhibits include photographs of Americans after they had been taken prisoner and a stack of bone-white American fighter pilots' helmets. A MiG-21 fighter is mounted in the museum's courtyard and carries a sign boasting that it shot down a dozen American planes.
American aircraft wreckage forms a 20-foot pile in the museum's center courtyard. Several miles away, the twisted wreckage of a B-52 bomber wing sits in the middle of a small pond where it fell after the bomber was shot down Dec. 27, 1972. A marker stands in the water near the wreckage, honoring the missile crews that shot down aircraft.
On a busy thoroughfare closer to the Red River, a concrete marker commemorates the downing of an American pilot in 1967. He parachuted into Truc Bach Lake on hanoi's northwest side and was captured by Hanoi residents.
Perhaps the most ominous war relic in Hanoi is Hoa Lo Prison, better known as the "Hanoi Hilton" by pilots who tell of torture and solitary confinement there at the hands of the North Vietnamese.
The prison fills a triangular block in the heart of downtown. Its tall, yellow, walls are topped with shards of broken glass and electric wire. It stands empty now, waiting to be demolished so the site can be used for a 20-story office building.
Hanoi's government is not anxious to show-off the Hanoi Hilton and has even forbidden photographs there. Unlike the spoils of battle, Hoa Lo has no patriotic value because it was also used before and after the war to hold Vietnamese prisoners.
American veterans, as with other foreign tourists to Vietnam, are likely to find a curious sort of friendliness on the street compared to the stiff formality found whenever interacting with the government.
To see the American flag wave in Hanoi, visitors should drive past the USMIA office compound known as "The Ranch" in Hanoi's Cong Vi district. The Ranch is the Army headquarters for Joint Task Force Full Accounting Detachment 2, which directs field investigations and searches for the remains of America's missing.
Also located at The Ranch is a three-member State Department contingent established about a month ago. The rumor among Americans living in Hanoi is that a site has been selected for an American embassy, once diplomatic relations progress to that stage.