"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gunner/Crew Chief, Thomas Chase

Thomas Chase
Having read the blog yesterday on Jim Schertz's upcoming sojourn and background, I can very much equate with Jim.

Having the same MOS - 67N20 - as a door gunner and then becoming a crew chief myself on Hueys, air crewmen have had a special bond ever since.

The scenario where being assigned to one bird (Huey) as stated was usually the case, as well, as with the aviation company I was assigned to when in country in 69-70.

Pilots may have changed, but usually the enlisted flight crew of two, the Gunner and Gunner/Crew Chief, remained the same. That was due to the fact that we were always accountable for pulling the daily inspections, both Pre and Post Flight, as well as the periodic maintenance on our "birds" we were assigned to. We knew our birds as well as we knew the idiosyncrasies they exhibited.

In line with the scenario that went down with Jim, we also had a crew re-assigned to another Huey when theirs was in for Depot Maintenance. That usually did not happen, as normally the crew members stayed with the bird during the depot maintenance, as well. 

However, there was a significant CA planned for the area around Firebase Ripcord and R&R had deleted the number of our available flight crews. So the two crewmen whose bird was in Depot Maintenance got assigned by the Flight Platoon C.O. to the bird of two aircrew personnel who were on R&R in order to have another Huey partake in the CA.

They were hovering as troops repelled down into the jungle drop zone when an RPG was fired and their ship exploded and fell into the jungle below. It was a hot LZ and it was two days before the remains of the four aircrew members and other KIA's were able to be extracted out.

The two crewmen returning later from R&R were reassigned the Huey of the two men that had died on that mission. They did not want it, but they had no choice.

Needless to say, NEVER after that were any of the aircrew "transferred" to any other ship and they remained ALWAYS assigned to their Bird by the Commanding Officer.

I am sure that there were many other similar events of irony in various places throughout that war, and in many of the preceding wars as well. Many events like that absolutely contribute to the Survivor Guilt complex.

Best wishes to you, Jim, on your "reconciliation" at "The Wall" next month.

Thomas Chase
a fellow Gunner/Crew Chief

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vietnam Vets Get Special Honor Flight

Jim Schertz
Jim Schertz of Milwaukee will be on board for an Honor Flight for Vietnam veterans, leaving EAA AirVenture on Aug. 2. Schertz was a door gunner and crew chief on Army helicopters in Vietnam.

The first thing Jim Schertz will do is find four names etched into the black granite. They're not simply names to the retired Milwaukee firefighter and Vietnam veteran. 

They were his buddies and comrades. They did not come home from the war. "Just the fact they're still missing in action is unbelievable," said Schertz, 62.

Schertz will head straight to one of the last sections of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known as 2W, and his eyes will scan to Lines 128 and 129. That's where Douglas L. O'Neil, Larry A. Zich, Allen D. Christensen and Edward W. Williams are listed among the more than 52,000 other Americans killed in Vietnam.

Schertz has never been to The Wall, or Washington, but he's flying to the nation's capital on Aug. 2 with 110 other Vietnam veterans in the first Honor Flight for Wisconsin veterans of that war.

Appleton-based Old Glory Honor Flight, whose motto is "It's never too late to say thank you," has organized numerous one-day trips to Washington for World War II veterans to visit memorials. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the end of hostilities in Vietnam, organizers decided to arrange a one-time-only trip for Vietnam veterans.

Old Glory Honor Flight's goal is to continue the free trips for World War II and Korean War veterans. With a waiting list of more than 500 names, it will be a few more years until the group can turn its attention to Vietnam veterans.

"Vietnam veterans as a group have been so incredibly supportive of our organization and really helped us get off the ground for our first flight in '09, so we thought this was a perfect way to give back to them," Old Glory Honor Flight President Drew MacDonald said.

The flight will leave Oshkosh early Aug. 2 with stops at the Wall, Smithsonian American History Museum and Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard ceremony. Veterans will wear special shirts and receive small tote bags filled with snacks, tissues, and pencils and tracing paper if they want to make an etching of a name on the Wall. The group will return that evening to EAA AirVenture to a hero's welcome and concert by actor Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band.

Organizers received 525 applications for the Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight and randomly chose 110 names. All branches of the military are represented plus one Hmong soldier who fought with American forces. The vast majority are combat veterans. All are male. Most are from Wisconsin, though a few are from other states.

MacDonald said he hopes other honor flight groups in Wisconsin and around the country will add Vietnam veteran flights during the summer.

"Most honor flight hubs stand down during the heat of the summer because taking an 80- or 90-year-old veteran in that heat is risky. The younger veterans will be much more able to tolerate the heat and humidity," said MacDonald, who organized a trip to Hawaii last year for Pearl Harbor survivors from Wisconsin. "I don't know why we didn't think of that earlier."

Tim Baranzyk, 65, of Milwaukee, has traveled on a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight out of Milwaukee as a guardian to a World War II veteran. When he got an email about the flight for Vietnam veterans he forwarded it to many others. He also filled out an application.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get picked," Baranzyk said at the Greendale American Legion post where he's commander. "It's like winning the lottery."

Baranzyk's cousin is on the Wall, killed in Vietnam before Baranzyk arrived in 1967 with a Marine artillery unit. He plans to bring a small Bible he received from a chaplain in Vietnam who was killed there and leave it at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Nao Tong Vang, 77, of Appleton will bring a picture of an American radar installation. The photo is a fitting memento to leave at the Wall because Vang took part in intelligence missions along the Ho Chi Minh trail, the main supply route to South Vietnam.

Vang, a native of Laos, and other Hmong put themselves at great risk to aid Americans and saved many downed pilots. Vang, whose brother was killed in the Vietnam War, recalled the four-month-long intelligence missions when he could eat only uncooked rice soaked in water and sleep in a hammock as they constantly moved to avoid detection.

At first Vang wasn't sure if he should apply for the honor flight.  "But they write on the application: whoever served in the Vietnam War. I didn't know if they would accept me or not," said Vang, who has five children and 17 grandchildren. "My children were very happy for me."

Schertz had a very low draft number and received his "Greetings" letter in 1970, volunteering to go to Vietnam. He arrived in January 1972 and was a door gunner on Hueys before moving up to crew chief, delivering top-secret radio gear.

His small signal unit had only four helicopters. Normally, crew chiefs are assigned to one particular helicopter they always fly, but a few days before April 3, 1972, Schertz was asked to move to another helicopter. His original aircraft and his newly assigned helicopter were sent from Marble Mountain Airfield in Da Nang on a routine resupply mission to units near Quang Tri.

They were supposed to travel in tandem, but Schertz's new helicopter was delayed about an hour and the other Huey, the one he had flown on many times, took off. That chopper and its four-man crew were never seen again. The military report says the helicopter with O'Neil, Zich, Christensen and Williams was likely shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Schertz's eyes well up as he talks about his four buddies, about that day, about fate. He returned home to Milwaukee, married a girl he met through mutual friends and worked as a firefighter for 30 years, retiring in 2006. He and his wife, Nancy, have three children plus two grandchildren and two more on the way.

"I tell him," Nancy said, "it just wasn't his time. He was spared for a reason."

[Reprinted from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinal]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Story, by Australian Veteran, Stan Middleton

Stan Middleton
I am an Australian Vietnam Veteran who was stationed in Vung Tau in Vietnam in 1967-68.

I read the story of Jesse Gump's return to Vietnam. I was so very happy he had success in locating the two ladies from his camp and I decided to share my own story.

I also started a search for one of our Vietnamese Employees in 1999. It took me three years before I had any luck, but I was finally successful. I have now found many others that were employed at the Australian Base in Vung Tau.

My background:  I was drafted into the Australian Army for two years in July 1966. I served in Vung Tau in Vietnam from August 1967 until May 1968. I was attached to the Australian Ordnance Depot at the Australian Base (1st Australian Logistical Support Group). My rank was a Private.

Most of my time was spent in the base; however, I did some shot gun escorts up the river to Saigon and also to Nui Dat by road where our field units were based.

We also manned the main Defence Post at the Australian Base in Vung Tau. I was fortunate that I got the chance to work with many of our local employees which of course many of our Infantry & others at our Nui Dat Base did not.

I worked for 30 years with the ANZ Bank. I struggled with my health and retired in 2000. My first wife passed away from cancer in 1991. I have, in fact since, married a Vietnamese girl who I did not know back then, who also worked at our base.
Sinh Middleton

Sinh & I met in 2002 in Vung Tau and married in 2005 in Melbourne. The lady I first tracked down has since married a Veteran friend from Perth. They had a romance during 1968 during the war.

I have 3 daughters and my wife Sinh has 6 children of which 2 are in Australia. We have 11 grandchildren between us. Our families have never had any problems between each other. My daughters love Sinh very much. 

I initiated reunions for our unit in Vietnam in 1998 and we have had one every two years since. I am very involved in the organising of each reunion. Myself & another veteran set up a data base for all who served in our unit from start to finish (1966 until 1972). 

We are continually updating details and tracing Veterans that have dropped out of site! Sadly we are finding many of units veterans have passed away from various causes. I also keep a close watch on Veterans from my unit who are struggling or need assistance through our Department of Veterans Affairs.

My passion is getting slides from Australian Veterans from my & other units, scanning them, improving them and putting them up on my Vietnam Site with Flickr. At present I am way behind as there are not enough hours in each day for me!

A group of us in Melbourne have set up a program named Water Safety Vietnam. Only a couple of us are Vietnam Veterans. Most involved have background in swimming, life saving etc. I have no swimming background but with my wife Sinh we provide a lot of knowledge from a Vietnamese perspective. We are not political! 

The number of children who drown in Vietnam each year is in the thousands. We send voluntary trainers over several times a year to train both trainers and children to swim & in basic water safety. Raising money for our project is our hardest task so if any of your readers of your blog wish to donate I would be only too happy to supply details of Water Safety Vietnam's Bank Account in Australia.

As my wife speaks very good English we are regularly asked to organise return trips to Vietnam for Vietnam Veterans & their partners. We have done trips in 2011 & this year with approximately 33 each time for a month. We have toured one end of Vietnam to the other and had wonderful times.

This time we spent 4 days in Cambodia as well. Each time we have put on a dinner for our former Vietnamese Employees at our expense at Vung Tau. Very enjoyable and emotional nights as many on our tours caught up with their former Vietnamese workmates. A lot of our former employees can still speak English and if they can't Sinh & others do the translating!

I know with the number of former Vietnamese we have located we have helped the renewal of many friendships between our Veterans and ones they formerly worked with at the Australian Base.

About once a year I send out emails to many of our Veterans for donations to our former employees and always get a great response. All the funds go direct to individuals to spend as they wish. no admin costs or money to the Vietnamese Government. Most use the funds for medical purposes. We have helped pay for two funerals and the headstones on graves as well.

Our Veterans have raised about US $60,000 to help our former employees who did not escape Vietnam. I have also located many that did escape Vietnam to Australia or the US.

My experience may not be able to help, but it shows that nothing is impossible! Send me an email with info on where you were stationed, etc., and your full contact details. My email is: stanmid@bigpond.net.au

I live in Melbourne Australia. Click on the below link and you will find in the first set photos from a dinner for our former Vietnamese Employees in April of this year. We gave out $6,000 that night.

On the site you will find many photos from Australia's involvement in Vietnam. If you return to Vietnam you will not regret it. It is a wonderful place to visit now.

Regards, Stan Middleton


“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Peace in Knowing: by CJ Heck

Combat Medic Memorial

Through Memoirs From Nam, I have now heard from several people who knew and served with my husband, Doug, ("Doc"), in Vietnam.

I will be forever grateful to these men for the courage it took to reach out, because I have come to understand just how difficult it is for them to talk about brothers they lost in country. 

From a widow’s perspective, their reaching out creates a precious Bridge -- a Bridge of Healing.  To hear from someone who knew and served with their loved one, someone who may have been the last to see him alive, does help answer some of the agonizing questions they have held inside for decades.

Several years ago, I received a letter from Lt. James McCraney, who was Doug’s friend in Vietnam. On the day Doug was KIA, the Lt. had also been part of the same mission.

With his permission, I posted that letter here on the blog, where it touched the hearts of those who read it. (Memoir of Douglas S. Kempf, 8-2-10)

Later, I spoke with Lt. McCraney by phone. It was emotional, but it was good for both of us to talk about Doug, and I respect Lt. McCraney for the courage it took to contact me. There were some things he couldn't share, but it was an important beginning.  He said some day, maybe he would be able to tell me more.

Time passed and we stayed in contact through occasional emails. Then I received another letter that touched me deeply.  It was as difficult for me to read as I know it was for him to write.

I extend my most profound and sincere thanks to you, Lt. James McCraney.
I am ready to tell you as much as I can remember about my short time with Doug. 
As I have mentioned to you before, I was a brand new 2nd Lt., not two months out of Officer Training. I was flown out to a remote firebase on the edge of a small, rice-growing, and very poor village. This firebase was so small that I can't even remember the name of it.

As I made my way from the landing zone, (which was in the middle of a road), I saw a couple of guys walking toward me. One was the guy that I was to be replacing, and the other was Doc Kempf. Both had big smiles -- one was about to go home, the other just seemed genuinely glad to meet me.

I went in and met the officers in charge of the artillery unit at this base. Doug hung around and after a while showed me my "hooch". It was mostly sandbags on top of a metal culvert and an air mattress. His was next door. 
I don't think that Doc ever met a stranger. Everyone knew and loved Doc. He was our friend and our Mama. He treated us for everything, listened to us, and he always seemed to know what to do. We hung out a lot whenever we both had some "free" time.

I was asking him about being in country and where all he had been He stated that the infantry had been south in the area called Pineapple -- this is the Mekong Delta. All were glad to get out of there, since it is wet and muddy most of the time. It was the rainy season when I hit Nam and it would rain until November or December.

Doug and I would sit in our hooches and fight the rain, play cards, but mostly we would talk. Since I was single, I didn't have family to talk about like he did. He always talked about you and about how he missed you, since you had only been married for such a short time. He showed me pictures, too, however, the only one that I can remember clearly now was a photo of his niece. He was so proud of all of you.

Doug and I didn't know when the next mission in the boonies would be. Bear in mind, this would be my first mission. He tried to prepare me as best he could, telling me what to take and all. Also trying to let me know what to expect even though you can't explain it. Remember, he was my Mama at this time. Even though I was an officer, I never looked at Doug as an enlisted man. We were just friends, that's all.

One day he asked me to go into the village with him to "doctor" some of the kids. They were dirty and had skin rashes on them. Doug would treat them and give them what "goodies" that we had. I was always fearful that someone would kill us down there, but he didn't seem to worry. He had a great big heart especially for the kids. I told him that he would make a great doctor someday.

The time came for my first mission. We were going out for about three days recon. Doug didn't seem to think that this would be much. He was right. They were uneventful, long days of scorching heat -- when it wasn't raining. Since I was an artillery officer, I walked in the formation in the middle with the Captain, his radio, and Doug, We were always together, or close.

Upon coming in from this mission, Doug worked on us as best he could. He called me a big baby since he cut a boil out of my back. I told him that he could at least give me a stick to bite on. He just laughed. 
Doc treated scratches, sore feet, or whatever else ailed us. We would laugh and talk and dream of home and loved ones during this downtime. Doug always liked to hear me talk, since I was from the deep South. I told him that he talked funny to me and he would even try to talk like me -- I couldn't get the Yankee out of him.

The next mission was in September. There was still a lot of rain and humidity. This mission was to be for two weeks. That is no fun. Again, Doug told me how to pack. For the life of me, I don't know how he always seemed to be in such a good mood. We had been out for one day and nothing happened.

The second day, around 11:00 am, we were ambushed. The forward units were hit the hardest. Doug and I were in the middle of the unit and "fairly" safe at that point. They radioed back to the Captain that we had hurt and dead. This had gone on for about 30 minutes. 
Doug was listening to the Captain's transmissions. He started to go and someone pulled him back. He would look at me and me at him. He knew what he had to do. 
Momentarily, someone hollered, "Medic!" He didn't balk. Grabbing all of his gear, he raced up to the front.

We thought they were gone. That was not the case. They had left a couple of guys behind just to wreak havoc on us. As Doug got close, one of them opened up on him and Doug never knew what hit him. I hate to be so graphic, but that is how it was. He did not suffer. 
After everything was really over, it was time to gather everything up. We called in medivac choppers and had to cut down trees in order for them to hover and receive the hurt and dead.

As I got to the front and saw the ponchos on the ground, I asked who they were. Someone turned to me and pointed and said, "That's Doc Kempf". 
I can't describe to you -- and I mean that -- how I felt. All I could think of was, no, no, no! I uncovered him to make sure. He looked peaceful, if that is possible.

As the chopper hovered and the grass was blowing from the rotors, I helped strap Doug into a chair-like device to pull him up into the chopper. 
The last visual I have of him is seeing him going up and going round and round with his arms outstretched. I can't get that out of my head -- and I don't really want to.

That was the end of a too short, but fulfilling, friendship. I have shed many tears over Doug throughout these years. His death has touched me like very few have. I know that all of you feel so much more for him than I could ever feel, but I was fortunate to have been exposed to him.

I never knew anything more after we came back in from this mission. We had a medic replacement, but no one could take Doug's place. He was discussed many times after that.


“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Friday, July 12, 2013

Vietnam, The Return (Part 3), by Jesse Gump

Vietnam: Forty-five Years Later 

What Are The Odds?

(Part 3 of 3)

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. Forty-five years is a long time. I know I have changed from a handsome young soldier into an ugly old man.

Perhaps she wouldn’t recognize me. Perhaps I wouldn’t recognize her either. Perhaps she wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me. Maybe this would be the wrong person altogether. I didn’t know what to expect.
My driver led the way onto the front porch and shouted something in Vietnamese. I assumed he was saying hello and asking if anyone was home.

In a moment, a short slender woman appeared at the door. Her eyes flicked from the driver to me several times as if wondering what a foreigner was doing on her front porch. 

The driver handed her one of my flyers. I thought the woman would faint on the spot as recognition lit her face. She and the driver spoke in Vietnamese. I didn’t understand a single word. 

Finally she smiled and said to me, “You said you would come back.” During our encounter, those would be the only English words I would hear her say. Her name is Bah.

My driver pointed to the other girl on the flyer, apparently asking Bah if she knew her. This led to a long conversation and a lot of pointing down the street. 

After a minute my driver indicated that he and Bah would go and bring the other woman to see me. 

While they were gone, Bah’s husband chopped the top off of coconuts and poured glasses of juice. I was reluctant to drink raw coconut juice not knowing what effect it might have on my stomach, but out of politeness I accepted the glass and drank anyway.

By now I had attracted the attention of neighbors and there was a constant stream of people going up and down the road. Their eyes were all on me. 

A few stopped in and talked to Bah’s husband. I assume they were close friends or relatives but I don’t know that for a fact. I don’t think I have ever been pointed at so much in my life as I was that day. Twenty minutes later Bah returned with my other friend. Her name is Tay.

Neither Bah nor Tay could speak more than a few words of English, and what little Vietnamese I once knew had long since been forgotten. 

Our reunion was joyful, awkward, and frustrating at the same time. Smiles, touching, and gestures were our only way of communicating. There were many things I wanted to say and questions I wanted to ask, but I couldn’t. Perhaps my old friends felt the same. I regret not having a driver with better English skills. I took a few pictures for my memories, said my goodbyes, and headed back to Nha Trang. 

I need to add that I had my wonderful wife and grandson with me on this adventure. They got to share my reunion with my Vietnamese friends. I wrote this travelogue from my point of view because for an hour or two I was alone with my memories. I felt like I was in some sort of time warp between yesterday and today. 

Even now the entire trip back in time seems like a fantasy. I mean, what are the chances of finding someone half a world away after forty-five years? It was an experience I will never be able to recreate. 

You can read more about Tay and Bah when we were all much younger in my short story book, “Blame It On Bangkok”, which can be downloaded for free from the internet. 

You might also enjoy my novels based on my years of working on a long term project in Pattaya, Thailand. You can find them on Amazon in paperback, or as eBooks from Bangkok Book House. Thank you.

Copyright: J. F. Gump 2013

J.F. (Jesse) Gump's Profile and Books

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vietnam, The Return (Part 2), by Jesse Gump

Jesse Gump

Vietnam: Forty-five Years Later 

What Are The Odds?

(Part 2 of 3)

I took a train from Saigon to Nha Trang. After passing through the countryside, I can assure that not all of Vietnam has prospered like Saigon and other cities. Many still live in conditions that westerners would find unacceptable. But it has always been like this in most SE Asian countries.

I suspect the people are happy, or at least satisfied, with their standard of living. They have a roof over their heads, food to eat, and clothes to wear. They live, fall in love, marry, and raise families like anyone would and live into their senior years. They may not have all the amenities westerners have become accustomed to, but perhaps they are better off without them.

But I am rambling. I arrived in Nha Trang with three goals in mind:

1) See if I remembered anything from the trips I made to Nha Trang to pick up rounds for our forward air controllers in Ninh Hoa,
2) Make a trip to Ninh Hoa to see if I could recognize the old Korean Infantry base, and
3) See if I could locate my old friends in Ninh Hoa.

Nha Trang had changed so much that I didn’t really recognize it. However, I did recognize the area where the air force had once had a base (with landing strips). When I tried to enter the area on foot, I was turned away by Vietnamese soldiers. I was able to get a photo of an old Huey on the base from a nearby building so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

An Old Huey

For the record, I need to say that Nha Trang is now a very pretty city with great beaches, plenty of good restaurants, and a large expat community. I could have easily spent my entire vacation in Nha Trang. I would recommend the city as a destination for anyone wanting to visit Vietnam.
Nha Trang Beach

I hired a car with driver to take me from Nha Trang to Ninh Hoa (about 30 miles north). Even though I had made that trip multiple times years ago, I had trouble recognizing anything in the landscape. 

When I finally reached Ninh Hoa, I immediately recognized “Big Charlie” mountain, but pinpointing the old Korean base eluded me. The landscape had changed. Gone was the barbed wire fencing, the watch towers, the hooches we lived in, and the artillery battery that made restful sleep impossible. I knew the basic area but pinpointing the exact location of the old base seemed impossible. The second of my three goals quickly became an impossible dream.

Big Charlie Mountain


Before I had left the US for my journey back to Vietnam, I had dug through some of my old pictures from my military days. As mentioned, I wanted to locate the two girls who served as hooch maids during my stay with the Koreans. I wanted to see if they had survived the war and how their lives had turned out. After 45 years it seemed like an impossible task.

I found a couple of pictures of the girls and myself and scanned them into my computer. Next I created a flyer using the old photos and wrote in both English and Vietnamese, “Do you know these people? Please help me locate them.”

I gave a copy to my driver and despite his lack of English skills he immediately understood what I wanted to do. He began stopping at every roadside shop near Ninh Hoa and asked people if they recognized either of the women. The first couple of stops were fruitless. A couple of folks were able to point out the general location of the Korean base but nothing specific. Hopes of reaching my final goal faded by the minute.

On our third stop we struck pay dirt. An old woman said she recognized one of the women and pointed in the general direction of where we might find her. We stopped two more times and got more confirmation from other shop owners. Finally, an old man gave my driver specific directions. Five minutes later we were parked in front of her house. 

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vietnam, The Return, by Jesse Gump

Jesse Gump
What are the chances of finding a Vietnamese friend after 45 years have passed?

After two heart attacks related to Agent Orange, I began saving my money for a return trip to where I was stationed in Vietnam.  I wasn't sure why I wanted to return, but it was a feeling I couldn't put aside. 

I finally made my return to the small village of Ninh Hoa, Vietnam, where I spent more than a year with the Korean 9th ROK Infantry. 

One of my goals was to see if I could find a couple of Vietnamese people who I considered friends. I thought the odds of finding them were nearly zero, but I made the effort anyway. I was surprised when I did locate them and they remembered me after all these years. I thought they would be dead or had moved from the village. 

It was an awkward but happy reunion. What little Vietnamese I once knew had evaporated over the years, and what little English they once knew no longer existed. Our meeting involved a lot of smiles and pointing at old photos I had with me. It was healing, in a way, to know my old friends had survived the conflict and that they were well. 

Now that I've made my return, I'm writing about my personal experiences on this venture. 

Jesse Gump

Vietnam: Forty-five Years Later

What Are The Odds?
(Part 1 of 3 Parts)

Location: Ninh Hòa, a district-level town of Khanh Hoa Province in the South Central Coastal region of Vietnam, 1968.

Situation: American GI’s working liaison for the Korean 9th ROK Infantry (which was charged with maintaining security for that specific area). I was one of those GI’s. I was stationed with the Korean Infantry from January 1968 until February 1969.

During my time in Ninh Hoa with the Koreans, my job was part of the night-time perimeter security team. That meant I worked at night and slept during the day. Well, sometimes I slept but as often as not I only slept for short periods of time due to the light, heat, artillery firing, and general activity around my cot.

As a result, I came to know the Vietnamese “hooch maids” we hired to help us with things such as laundry and general clean-up of our quarters. We all chipped in to pay for their services and the women did a good job. One’s name was Tay and the other was Bah.

In reality, these (back then) women were actually girls in their late teens, not much younger than most of us GI’s.

Because daytime sleeping was difficult at best, I spent some of my waking time interacting with our “house-keepers”. They had questions about GI habits and preferences, and I had the same questions about the Vietnamese.

I taught them English words and they taught me Vietnamese words. In time, we became friends.

Before I rotated back to the real world, I told them I would return someday. I didn’t believe it and neither did they, but I did return -- forty-five years later.

What are the chances I could meet up with those two girls/women, unplanned, unannounced, and on a date and time even I couldn’t predict? In my personal opinion the odds were about one in a million, if not worse. Still, I promised myself that if I ever went back to Vietnam I would try to fulfill my promise to my friends.

Fast forward to 2013. For years I had toyed with the idea of making a return visit to Vietnam. It was on my bucket-list. Unfortunately life has a bad habit of getting in the way of personal wants and desires. Eventually I retired and had actually saved enough money to make the trip back to Vietnam. 

I bit the bullet and made my travel plans. Pittsburgh to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Three nights in Saigon to recover from the trip (it’s brutal) and then onward to Nha Trang with a side trip to Ninh Hoa to find my old base and my old friends. 

For anyone who hasn’t been to Vietnam recently, I can assure you it is nothing like you may remember from the war years. Yes, the people still look the same, but their clothes are more western than the silk pants, cone-shaped hats, and “áo dài” that we all remember.

Automobiles and motorbikes have proliferated beyond belief and vehicle traffic jams have followed suit. The older buildings in towns and cities look much the same but many have had face-lifts over the years. New buildings give the Saigon skyline a modern look. It’s a scene you have to see to understand.

One thing that hasn’t changed in Saigon is the heat. To me, early June in Saigon feels just like an August heat wave in the US – with 90% humidity. By the end of my second day in Saigon, I was ready to move on.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Taps: Melissa Venema

I know, I've posted this before, but it's so beautiful.  Today, most especially, I want to share it again with everyone.  Melissa is now 17 and you can hear the maturity in her music.  Enjoy ...

Happy 4th of July.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Arlington", by Trace Adkins

“Arlington” by Trace Adkins

A beautiful song honoring the brave men and women who gave their lives for us. We remember them and offer our eternal thanks for their selfless service.

I wish you a safe and peaceful 4th of July.

With love and respect,

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale