During the 1972 Christmas air raids, Vietnamese soldiers in Hanoi shot down a B-52 bomber. The plane crashed in Hun Tiep Lake, where it has remained ever since. About the size of a backyard swimming pool, Hun Tiep is not much of a lake. Plastic bags, candy wrappers and other garbage drift about its murky green water.
The Lake is not easy to find. It's accessible only through a series of narrow alleyways and tall apartment buildings surround it on all sides. Remove the plane and plant a few trees and flowers and Hun Tiep might become a lovely courtyard. Instead, it's a rotting reminder of what the Vietnamese call the American War.
My first reaction to the lake was disgust. No matter how you feel about the war, there is nothing beautiful about the plane's rotting carcass. As the daughter of a pilot, my gut reaction was to think of the men on that plane. Looking at the plane, I saw a potent symbol of the ugliness of war and its human cost. Powerful stuff, and not something I'd want to look at out my front door.
Which led me to wonder how the people in this neighborhood saw the plane. Why had they left it there for nearly 35 years? Perhaps, I thought, this plane means something entirely different to them. My suspicion was confirmed when I stopped a group of 15-year-old girls to ask them about the B-52.
The girls were dressed in blue school uniforms and they told me they walk by Hun Tiep every day on their way to class. "This place is a symbol of the Vietnamese soldiers' courage," one told me. "When I see this place, I think of all the people who gave their lives to liberate Vietnam," said another.
The same monument I'd seen as tragic and ugly appeared noble and proud to them. To this new generation, the B-52 wreckage was not a reminder of the tragic brutality of war, but of the triumph of the victors.