Herron, 63, is going back in large part because of a friend. A Vietnamese man named Hau befriended Herron and his Army buddy, Doyle McEacharn, during the 1970s when they served overseas.
Assigned to a water purification post in Kontum, Herron and McEacharn worked up to five hours a day suctioning water from the river and purifying it for drinking.
It was there along the Dak Bla River that Hau, a South Vietnamese soldier, visited them one day and struck up a friendship that would last.
“I told everyone he saved our lives because where we were, we lived by ourselves, and we didn't have electricity or anything,” Herron said. “He would bring us a block of ice every day to keep our refreshments cold. That was just awesome because if it hadn't been for that, we would have been drinking hot beer all the time.”
The men's friendship continued, but once Herron returned to the states, they lost contact. That was until April, when Herron got a call out of the blue.
“I was sitting there watching TV,” he said. “Well, it was on a Sunday night. I remember about 9:30, the phone rings.”
His wife, Debbie, handed him the phone with a look that said, “Who is this?”
“As soon as I got on the phone, I could tell it was a foreigner and it was a lady,” Herron said.
In a thick accent, she asked for someone whose name sounded like his.
“And she said, 'You live in Texas?'”
“And I said, 'Yes. I do.'”
“And she said, 'Were you in Vietnam in 1970?'”
“And I mean, I like to have fell out of my chair. And I said, 'Yeah, I was.'”
“So she said, 'I am the daughter of Hau.'”
“I just sat there in shock,” Herron said, recalling the conversation. “I couldn't believe it, and she said, 'My father wanted me to find you. … He still remembers you and talks about you and Doyle (Herron's friend) all the time. He's told me many stories, and he wanted me to find you.”
“She was there with him and she put him on the phone and I talked to him,” Herron said, his voice still sounding somewhat stunned. “You can't imagine how I felt. I mean it just blew my mind. I sat there and cried. I couldn't believe it.”
Herron said through his conversation with Hau's daughter he learned that Hau has cancer and is not doing well. It was one of his last requests that Herron visit if possible.
“I have always kind of wanted to go back and see what (the) changes were and everything but never had a real good reason to,” he said. This gave him a reason.
Raised in Irving, Herron was 20 years old when the U.S. Army drafted him in 1969. He had graduated from high school in 1967 and was attending college part-time before he dropped out to work full-time. Right after that, the military called.
“When I got my draft notice I felt like the world had been yanked out from under me,” Herron said, who was an only child.
But after thinking about it, he came to terms with his service.
“I live here in the United States,” he said of his thoughts at the time. “I love the United States. I will go serve if that's what they're asking me, you know. I didn't want to go, but I didn't mind going because you know it was the law at the time. I just felt that it was my obligation.”
After basic training at Fort Bliss, he traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for water-purification training. Although Herron wanted to work in engineering, the Army assigned him to water purification. And once in Vietnam, it was at his second post in Kontum where he and his friend, McEacharn, would meet Hau.
In pictures Herron has from his service, Hau looks like a kid, maybe 14, but based on what Herron recently has learned, they were about the same age. Herron turned 21 in Vietnam, an age that pegged him as an “old man” among his fellow soldiers, he said.
Hau is slight. In one photo, he and Herron stand next to each other near Herron and Doyle's bunker and close to the river where they drew water.
Because Herron and Doyle were isolated and, for the most part, out of the line of fire in Kontum, they had more of an opportunity to interact with locals.
Doung's father had been a doctor, and at least one of his sisters had studied in Paris. He and one of his sisters spoke English and invited the Americans to spend Christmas with them. Doung's family had Buddhist and Catholic members, which is why they celebrated Christmas, Herron said.
It was through Doung that Herron and Doyle went to a school and read English to the students. Doung's brother-in-law taught there and wanted the children to hear Americans speak English.
“I always joked, I'd write home, 'We're going to have the only Vietnamese with a Texas accent,'” Herron said.
Although Herron suspects Doung is dead (he believes he worked as an interrogator during the war), he is hopeful that he can find his sisters or other relatives while visiting.
Herron considers himself lucky. He served at three locations during his year in Vietnam and came out of it with his life. Almost 60,000 of his peers did not.
Herron plans to spend two weeks in Vietnam. In addition to visiting his friend, Hau, he plans to visit Hanoi and other parts of the country.
“I'm excited, but it's also kind of a sad feeling too …” he said. “I'm kind of apprehensive about it, just to go back and see where I was.”
He said he already has looked at pictures on the Internet, so he has a sense of how it has changed at least visually.
“The main thing that I think I'll feel really good about is that even though it's communist, I'll be able to see how the country has changed for the good, maybe not as good as it could have, but it's better than what, of course, it was,” he said. “And also my biggest, I think, joy will be that I'll bring a lot of happiness to (Hau) in (him getting to see me) knowing that he may die soon.”