"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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Return to Vietnam: by Byron Edgington

Byron Edgington's Return Visit to Vietnam - 1992
For veterans of the war in Vietnam considering a return visit, I encourage you to do so. 

I went back in 1992, and the experience was not only healing, it was energizing, fun, revealing and filled with gratifying insights.

It was, admittedly, one of the stranger experiences of my life when the airplane stopped at the gate, and I looked out the window at a sign that said: "Welcome to Hanoi International Airport."

It was a bit unsettling, but oddly soothing in a way, to know that Vietnam might be just another tourist destination. (The sign was in English.) Indeed, many of the people I interacted with spoke English. This was one of the first revelations. Vietnamese kids study English very early in school. Indeed, I was told that more than ninety percent of Vietnamese people are literate.

I stayed in Hanoi two days, visited Hoan Kiem Lake in downtown Hanoi made famous by a certain Naval aviator who parachuted into it in October 1967, a fellow named John McCain. I drove by the old central prison where McCain spent the next six years as a POW, the infamous Hanoi Hilton. I went to the mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh lies in state, guarded day and night by the same North Vietnamese soldiers whose fathers likely took pot shots at me.

Speaking of which, the above photograph was taken near the national park forty miles from Hanoi. The fellow seated to my right was a retired NVA soldier. 

In the course of our conversation, we came to realize that he and I shared the experience of war. He’d been posted in and around Khe Sanh and the northern end of the AShau Valley, the same areas I flew, and at the same time. 

Sitting next to my old enemy, I realized—as I’m sure he did—that twenty years before we posed for this picture I may very well have flown my Huey over his position in South Vietnam, and he may very well have put my aircraft in his gunsights.

With a car and my interpreter, I traveled around my old AO, visited what’s left of Camp Eagle, (my old base), and toured the old city of Hue’. From Hue’ & Phu Bai I drove south, across the Hai Van Pass, into Da Nang, then to Marble Mountain and Hoi An. The accommodations were first rate, roads (mostly) excellent and when I went in October, the weather was perfect.

The people I met were incredibly friendly, welcoming, warm and happy to see a returning GI. They were of another generation, mostly, so the war was a memory to them at best, a lesson in school for the most part. For those who lived through it, they seemed willing to discuss it, but preferred to move on to what the new Vietnam looked like.

So despite the fact that Vietnam is still very much a communist, one-party country, it has recovered very well from the years of war and sacrifice, and is taking its place in South Asia as an economy to be reckoned with. 

My return visit was a high point of my life. I encourage anyone who served there to go back. It’s a trip you won’t regret taking. 

Byron Edgington
Byron Edgington
The SkyWriter

“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

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  1. Byron - a trip back will likely NEVER evolve for me. Too many personal tragedies and events occurred in my year there to EVER "heal" the scars I carry. Trips as you took are fine and fitting for some veterans - others whom I know, like myself, just will not let go the negative feelings and animosity towards the country and Vietnamese people. I for one could never sit next to a Vietnamese as I wear a pith helmet on my head.

  2. A trip that I have avoided since leaving there November 1, 1968. I have many demons that haunt me from the war and have always tried to distance myself from conversations or things that bring back memories of the bad times there.

    Recently I was invited to join a group of Purple Heart recipients, for a trip to a village on the Cambodian border. The village was pretty much decimated throughout the war and has never had any assistance in rebuilding to an acceptable level of living.

    Our intent was to put in a filtered water system and begin construction of some small homes, which the villagers would finish with the materials left for them. We needed 20 people, some with good skills in building trades and a contribution by all toward the materials needed.

    Our date was set and coordination made for the trip. This was to be our healing trip to bury some of those demons. We were unable to go this year due to not having enough volunteers sign on for the challenge. This was not a pleasure trip to Ho Chi Minh City but, hard work and rugged living for two weeks, probably why no participation during the hot summer.

    My healing trip is yet to come.
    Dannie Watkins
    173rd Airborne 167-1968

  3. Don't see any healing in going back. If anything, I see it as proof that the govt lied to us. Remember the old domino theory? So, we wasted 50,000 plus lives and destroyed who knows how many more to fight a war that had no meaning. As said above, you won't see me sitting next to a former enemy especially in a pith helmet.
    Al 199th infantry 69-70

  4. I applaud you for this heart felt blog on your excursion. Still waters run deep with men of valor. Lucky are the ones that survived that time just to come back to what was the beginning of a troubling life of an indifferent kind.. I envy those vets with abilities to give something back that was never accounted for.


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