Friday, January 15, 2010

Returning to Vietnam

Returning to Vietnam you might be interested in this article from the new January issue of Newsmax, a leading independent news site and magazine.

From the following article it appears we are becoming our fathers, many of us seem to have the urge to return to where many of our nightmares were created, my step father seemed to be a more calm man after he made a trip to Germany in the 70s, he had bombed much of it during WW2, Schweinfurt, Dresden, he flew the Berlin Airlift, but yes he had PTSD and no one can tell me differently. I have lived with it for to many decades and I watched him live with it, the trip showed him the people of Germany rebuilt their lives and time had moved on, and it was okay for him to do the same thing.

He was never able to watch the movie "Memphis Belle" past the first flak scene, that plane was in Dale's squadron, he knew the men and the officers. I won't share his words for some of them, they knew what he thought. One thing about Dale he was never shy about telling anyone what he thought about them.

I hope you enjoy the article:

Battleground tourism, especially to ’Nam, has become a vibrant business. Vets find the experience powerful and, sometimes, healing. CBS’ Peter Greenberg reports for Newsmax magazine.
Peter Greenberg, CBS News’ travel editor, is the author of numerous books under the “Travel Detective” banner. The most recent is Tough Times, Great Travels. He also hosts a weekly syndicated radio program heard on many stations around the country.

Jim doyle was just six months out of high school in Fresno, Calif., when he was drafted in 1968. By January 1969 he was in Vietnam, fighting with the 1st Infantry Division northwest of Saigon.

“I had never been out of the United States,” he recalls. Within days, he became familiar with terms such as trapezoid, iron triangle, and fishhook — all military IDs for hot-fire zones, or no-man’s corridors between the Cambodian border and Vietnam.

A year later, he was shipped back out. “I left with mixed emotions,” Doyle says, adding, “I was leaving all my friends behind. But I swore one day I would come back.”

When he did go back, as part of a 16-day trip in 1995, he was overcome with emotions, including shame and relief.

“We spent so much blood, energy, and treasure trying to blow this place up, and I didn’t know any better,” he says. As his plane was flying in, “I had this yin and yang of thrill and terror at the same time. But as soon as we landed in Hanoi, as soon as my foot hit the pavement, I felt this enormous weight come off my shoulders.” He’s been back 18 times since.

Like thousands of other veterans before him from other wars in other places, Doyle has become a battleground tourist.

These men and women, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, don’t travel just to relive the past but also to remember, reconcile, and forgive. Family members who accompany the veterans discover, often for the first time, what their loved ones went through and what they continue to cope with. Throughout history, veterans have frequented locations where battles, both great and small, have been fought.

War nearly obliterated Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, and Normandy, but they now thrive on tourism.

By far the fastest-growing beneficiary of battlefield tourism is Vietnam, as increasing numbers of U.S. veterans go on more well-organized tours throughout the country than just about any other region in the world.

During the first six months of 2009, 225,094 Americans — mostly veterans and their families — visited Vietnam. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has made several visits to Hanoi, where, as a U.S. Navy pilot, he languished in Hoa Lo Prison for 5 1/2 years after a Russian-made surface-to-air missile hit his jet in 1967.

Twelve years after his release, McCain flew back to Vietnam, returning to Hanoi on the 10th anniversary of the war’s end. He visited the lake where he was shot down, saw the monument the Vietnamese erected to mark the spot, even had tea with his hosts in a room next to the cell where he was kept.

He’s made a number of visits back to the country — taking his wife and son on some trips.

After World War II, soldiers who had fought in Europe and Asia had a desire to return to areas in which they had been stationed.

They wanted to show their families new locales and say goodbye to fallen comrades.

Not surprisingly, visitors to battlefields are interested in seeing history made “real.” For example, it’s one thing to read about the bombings and destruction of World War II, but seeing the ruins of a town made the war a reality to those who were not involved in the fighting.

For Doyle, the turning point remains his first trip back to Vietnam.

“We had information about a mass grave site in one of the provinces,” he recalls. “We all went there. We found the landmarks. It was the size of a football field. The ground was depressed. The air was very still. The heat was just oppressive.

“We all said prayers. I turned to a Vietnamese gentleman and he told me this is a good omen — the spirits of the dead finally released. I was overcome.”

Suddenly, a whirlwind came in, picked up leaves and scattered them. Doyle took it as a sign of the beginning of a new mission. Doyle and four other vets formed the Vietnam Veterans Peace Initiative, which works to build and fund clinics and schools in Vietnam.

Some vets return to their former battleground only once; they seek closure, find it, and never travel there again. Others, such as Doyle and Roger Helle, continue to return.

Helle did three tours in Vietnam, between 1965 and 1970, as a Marine. He was wounded three times, the final time, nearly fatally. During a particularly fierce firefight, a grenade went off at his feet. He was shot, and then bayonetted. Barely alive, he was taken by helicopter to Da Nang, then flown to Japan, where he was hospitalized for nine months. But he was among the lucky — many of his colleagues never made it.

“I relived Vietnam every night of my life with survivor’s guilt,” he says. “Why did I live and my friends get killed?

“I was nearly an alcoholic. I almost lost my wife. When America left Vietnam in 1975, I went into even more of a depression. I had left Vietnam, but it had never left me.”

So, 23 years after he landed in Saigon, he returned to Vietnam. It became the first of 20 trips Helle would make. He considers the experience the key to his true survival, redemption, and clarity. “I was shocked when I went back,” Helle says. “The Vietnamese were so happy to see us. So many years had gone by, and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Helle took his wife, son, and daughter along. “An old woman came up to me, grabbed my hand, and together we both started crying. It was a pivotal moment.”

Later, on a subsequent trip to help build medical clinics throughout the country, he met with a former Viet Cong colonel and told him that “Christ had taken away the wounds of my experience and allowed me to tell you that I love you.” The colonel replied: “I’ve never had anyone tell me that before. We’re not enemies. We are friends.”

In 20 years, Helle has escorted 1,200 volunteers to Vietnam with the group Vets With A Mission.

Bert Key, now 64, was in the 1st Marine Division in Chu Lai and did two tours between February 1966 and May 1968. He enlisted at age 18 from Portland, Ore., as a lance corporal and left as a staff sergeant. Forty years later, in March 2008, he took his wife there.

“When I joined the Marines, I was young and didn’t know much about the world outside Oregon,” he says. “And none of us knew anything about Vietnam other than that I was headed there.”

Once in Vietnam, the contradictions confronted him almost immediately. “Every time I got up in the air in a helicopter, I kept thinking, It’s so beautiful down there. I remember flying along the coast in a chopper thinking how amazing the place would be if peace ever broke out.”

But back then, there was a lot more to think about — mainly staying alive.

“I was consumed with painful irony all the time I was there,” he says. “It was always about the missed bullets. And those that hit. I saw people who died who shouldn’t have died, and people who lived who shouldn’t have lived, just because the bullet missed by inches.

“As a result, I couldn’t shake the unanswered question of why did I make it back and my buddies didn’t, so sooner or later, I had to go back.

“It was hard for me to explain. I couldn’t talk about it to people who weren’t there. I couldn’t even talk about it with my wife. I was dealing with demons.”

In 2004, Key met another Vietnam vet while working with the Army reserves in Afghanistan. “When we get home,” he told the other officer, “we gotta go back there.”

“Why?” the other veteran said.

“Because we owe it to the guys we left back there. We owe it to their spirit.” The two committed to the trip then and there.

Key connected with Global Spectrum in Virginia for a 25-day tour of Vietnam. “We saw everything,” he says. “In fact, I saw more of the country in 25 days than I saw in the 27 months that I had been on duty there.”

Key’s tour group of 16 included a set of brothers — one was a retired two-star general. They had just been told their father’s remains (from 1964) had been located.

“They were going for closure,” says Key.

When the group landed in Vietnam, Key hired a cab and an interpreter in Da Nang.

“It was surreal,” he says. “It was 93 degrees, 98 percent humidity. That’s how I knew I was back. But I got to walk the beach I landed on in 1966.

“I could remember running ashore just to find a palm tree to hide behind.”

On this most recent trip, however, he spied a little thatched hutch restaurant in a small fishing village.

“I walked over and saw a woman standing in front,” he says. “I was telling her I came ashore there in 1966. She remembered when the Marines landed there. She was only 8 years old then. Forty years later, she gave me a hug.

“It was indicative that Vietnam has gotten back to the business of living,” he says. “I came looking for all the pockmarked bomb holes. They’re all gone.” He dug down and filled a gallon plastic bag with sand and gave it to some of his fellow travelers.

“These tours aren’t for everyone,” says Julie Kink, who went to Vietnam for the first time with Military Historical Tours to retrace the steps of her brother, who died there 40 years ago.

On July 21, 1969, he was with the 9th Cavalry when his lightweight observation chopper was blown out of the sky. Two crew members died instantly. Kink’s brother was thrown from the helicopter. He lived for 12 days before dying.

“I was the youngest of four, and I had just turned 8 years old,” she remembers. “He was only 19. And my family didn’t talk about it.”

But many years later, Kink felt she needed not only to talk about it but also to experience it.

It took three years of searching just to find people who had crossed paths with her brother, and then to fine-tune the information.

“I wanted to put all the pieces together. I needed to go there,” she says. “I had to be there, not just for my brother, but for many others . . . for the other families that will never go there.”

She took along the names of 300 others killed in action. “During quiet times on the bus going through the country, I just read over the names and said them to myself in a time of peace,” she says. “It sounds kind of corny, but it’s something I had to do.”

It was a healing experience, she says. “I felt so welcome in Vietnam. And I just kept saying those names to myself. Throughout my search to learn about my brother, I just felt it was where I was supposed to be.”

Vietnam continues to grow in popularity as a destination, with better infrastructure and improved customer service. It doesn’t hurt that the dollar remains strong in major centers such as Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, Hoi An, Halong Bay, Da Nang, and Hue. Some highlights:

• The JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi is scheduled to open in 2012, adjacent to the city’s new national convention center, with four restaurants and 450 rooms. A JW Marriott in Da Nang is scheduled to open in 2013. Marriott has two properties in Ho Chi Minh City.

• In Ho Chi Minh City, the big tourist sites are Dong Khoi Street for people watching (right), shops, cafes, Notre Dame Cathedral (left), the old post office, Reunification Palace, and Ben Thanh Market — the city’s oldest and largest.

• Binh Tay Market is a less touristy version of a market and a great place to grab a bowl of noodles. For great dining, check out Quan An Ngon open-air restaurant, filled with locals.

• In Hanoi, visit the Old Quarter, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Hanoi Opera House, the National Museum of Vietnamese History, and military sites like Hoa Lo Prison (known as the dreaded “Hanoi Hilton”), and the John McCain monument at Truc Bach Lake.

• Hue is a beautiful city with French architecture and cuisine. Much of it was destroyed, but it still has historic pagodas, temples, and royal tombs monuments that place it on the UNESCO World Heritage list. One of the must-see sites is the tomb of Tu Doc, a miniature royal palace that more than 3,000 laborers built in 1864.

• Da Nang is a major port city on the coast of the South China Sea. The only five-star resort now is the Furama Resort Danang, which plans to expand. Marriott is planning a property here in 2013. Raffles Da Nang is proposed to open in 2011 with about 150 hotel suites and 15 private residential villas for sale. Hyatt Regency and Spa Danang unveiled designs for a China Beach hotel that will resemble a traditional Vietnamese village. — P.G.

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