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Return to Vietnam
By Mike Kerber
Why return to Vietnam after spending time in the war there? Have you ever been curious as to what it is like after 40 some years? The curiosity got to me enough that when I saw a trip put together by the Veterans for Peace chapter 160 of Vietnam, I had to go. There was no way I was going back with veterans that still believe we should have "won" the war. Our group of 12 was made up of veterans, relatives of veterans killed there, peace advocates, a journalist, a military nurse and an airline stewardess that flew solders to and from Vietnam.
We met vets that live in Vietnam and work there. These vets work with agencies that help the Vietnamese recover from the damage the US caused. One agency clears unexploded ordinance in the Quang Tri province. From 1975 until 2002 42,135 people have died and 62,143 have been wounded from some of the 600,000 tons of bombs left behind. Another agency works with farmers that have been injured from unexploded ordinance and families of veterans to help them improve their farms and small businesses. When we visited the agencies, orphanages and hospitals that care for 3rd and 4th generation kids that are physically handicapped from the effects of Agent Orange, it was heart wrenching.
I was very apprehensive as to how the Vietnamese people would accept us. After arriving at our hotel I took a walk and was amazed as to how people, especially ones my age would say hello and smile.
We traveled from Hanoi to Da Nang, Hue, Dong Ha, A Loui (Ashau Valley), Hoi An, Nha Trang and Saigon.
Although there is not much left that would suggest there was a war, we did get to see the Vinh Moc tunnels north of the DMZ, Khe Sanh, Trough Son National Cemetery (it reminds one of Arlington) and a couple of war museums.
As you walk around the Saigon war museum with a VFP shirt on, it was amazing how many people wanted to have their picture taken with you. You can interpret that anyway you want, but the people were very friendly.
Meeting the Vietnamese veterans of the war was full of emotions until one them puts his arm around you when someone takes our picture together. The veterans love to exchange lapel pins. Knowing this, I presented many of them with Vietnam Veterans Against the War pins. When we met with veteran's organizations, they would say that the war is past history and that they would rather focus on peace and healing.
After meeting many Vietnamese, you come away with a sense that these are peace-loving people that fought for hundreds of years for their independence and they now have it. They have peace and they enjoy what is important to them, which is love of family. They do not talk much about politics and religion because these things do not affect their everyday lives much.
After reading many books on Vietnam from the prospective of those that struggled thought the war, you get a sense of what people did to survive whether it was US soldiers, NVA and Viet Cong soldiers or Vietnamese civilians. It is rewarding to see that the country is at peace. It also reinforces the work that all of us must do to continue the job of preventing unnecessary wars and the healing of veterans now and in the future.
Mike Kerber was drafted in 1968. He went through artillery training at Fort Sill and spent 8 months with the 101st Div. 2/319 arty in the A shau valley in '69 and '70. He was at Camp Evans, Eagles Nest, FB Rendezvous, FB Rakassan and FB Barbara. He spend his working life in the grain business in the midwest and is now retired and living in Bloomington, IL.
Swords to Plowshares - empty bomb casings used
for planting at Mine Action Center, Qunag Tri.