Colorado Vietnam veteran moves back to country that changed him

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DENVER -- Veterans Day is Wednesday, and all this week, FOX 31 Denver is telling the stories of Vietnam veterans. Anchor Jeremy Hubbard recently traveled to the Vietnamese coastal town of Da Nang, where he found a Colorado man so immersed in the country, he never plans to leave.

“I came over here looking for my past, but I really found my future instead,” said Bill Ervin, a retired Marine from Boulder.

Ervin had a mustache on his face and a chip on his shoulder when he joined the Marines in 1968. He wanted to help stop Communist aggression in Vietnam. So it is ironic that he now calls that very Communist country home.

“The war is over, and life goes on,” Ervin said.

It took about 30 years for Ervin to first return to Vietnam. Too many memories. Ervin suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. But in the 1990s, he started leading tour groups for returning Vietnam veterans, and he liked the country. And then, a life change in Colorado brought about a big decision.

“After my wife died, two years later, I decided, ‘You know, I'm going to move over here,’” Ervin said.

That was seven years ago. Ervin lives in Da Nang year round. And he's not alone.

“There's probably 40 American veterans that I know that live over here. It makes you realize that you're not just totally crazy coming over here,” Ervin said.

Hard to believe a place so connected with such a painful part of his life could be the source of solace now. But Ervin noticed something after moving to Vietnam: He thinks less about the war now than he ever did back home in the U.S.

“You know, you've got this big bubble that's been inside of you for 40 years and it's a good place to let that go,” Ervin said.

Vietnam soon brought another surprise, too.

“I got married in Da Nang in a dress and rubber shoes,” Ervin joked.

A few years back, he reconnected with Nguyen Anh, a tour guide he had met years earlier. They fell in love and got married.

The first time he came here, Vietnam changed him. Little did that young man with a mustache on his face and a chip on his shoulder realize how much this place would change him again.

“Didn't find what I was looking for, but I found something much better,” Ervin said.

Over the years, Ervin and his travel agency have helped bring about 500 Vietnam veterans back to the country so they can experience the former war zone in a whole new way. For more on Ervin's travel agency, visit the website.