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Bill Ervin, 64, of Boulder, Colo., recounts his experiences as a Marine during the Vietnam War in an interview at his house in Da Nang, Vietnam. Ervin arrived in Vietnam in April 1969, and he served as a machine gunner for nine months along the Demilitarized Zone until his unit was pulled out as the U.S. drawdown began. "I wasn't really in favor of the war," he says. "To me, it was a test of manhood." But the reality of frequent and often fierce combat shocked Ervin, and within a couple of months he began to realize the futility of the U.S. effort. The Marines would fight to take a hill, only to leave a few days later. "And then you come back another two or three weeks later, and set in the same damn hole all over again," he says. "So, you'd think, 'what are we doing?' We're just bouncing around.'" After he returned home, Ervin tried to push Vietnam out of his mind, but "you don't ever forget about it," he says. For nearly 20 years, Ervin struggled silently with post-traumatic stress disorder, until his wife convinced him to go to therapy. But he found the experience unsatisfying, talking to graduate students who knew nothing about war. Returning to Vietnam in 1994, after the United States lifted its trade embargo against the country, "was probably the best thing I ever did for myself," Ervin says, comparing the experience to a child who finally musters up the courage to confront the imaginary monster under his bed. After his wife died in 2007, Ervin moved to Vietnam, married a Vietnamese woman he had known for several years and built a house. "And life's been happy ever since," he says. He and his wife frequently lead returning veterans tours to Vietnam. Feb. 12, 2013.
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