Contrary to impressions shaped by movies and other media about Vietnam, one PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee says her research revealed a country no longer wrapped in conflict or war.

“Vietnam is a beautiful peaceful country. It’s a safe place to travel. It has welcoming people who are eager to talk with Americans. They do not harbor resentment toward Americans,” said Lindsey Bier from her office inside the College of Communication & Information at UT.

Her research on “country reputation” has led her to make a half-dozen trips to Vietnam, but her research took an unexpected turn when she started to interview US troops who are veterans of the war in Vietnam.

“I realized there is a lot of research that needs to be done on veterans themselves,” said Bier, who was struck by how many of the men she interviewed kept their service secret until years after the war.

“Whether the war was right or wrong, I’m really not concerned with that in my research. But instead these were young patriotic boys who did the right thing according to their value system and they served honorably in Vietnam and when they returned they were outcasts in American society, they had to hide their veteran identity,” said Bier, who interviewed a couple dozen veterans for her scholarly work.

Bier’s studies even took her with a group of veterans from the US back to Vietnam in December 2015 to visit a country they hadn’t seen in fifty years.

“I think that is one of the surprising elements for Vietnam veterans when they return and that is Vietnam has developed,” she said.

She has also witnessed veterans from both sides of that bloody conflict in surprise meetings, shaking hands or paying respect to each other decades after they fought in battle.

“To see war time enemies become modern day friends, I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful phenomenon to watch,” said Bier.