Vietnam War Veterans often have very strong feelings in regards to the country. Many lives were lost on both sides and lots of veterans feel that the deaths were in vain, or they were left questioning why the war even had to happen. You’d think that they would never want to return to the country that now haunts them, but you’ll soon learn why hundreds of vets have returned to Vietnam. From gaining closure to therapeutic healing for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), these veterans all have their own personal reasons for returning. One veteran even had a very emotional epiphany during his visit.
Vietnam Veterans Remember The Exact Moment They Set Foot In The War-torn Country
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Chuck Palazzo, a retired U.S. Marine from New York, was only 18 years old when he landed in Da Nang, a coastal city in Northern Vietnam where Marines landed to protect the nearby strategic air base that was home to Agent Orange, a defoliant that was used extensively in herbicidal warfare efforts by the American military. Agent Orange contained dioxin, a toxic compound that not only contaminated the local food and water supply but had also caused birth defects and cancers in Vietnamese families and war veterans who were exposed to it during combat.
Chuck Palazzo Works With Agent Orange Victims As A Resident Of Vietnam
“One of my motivations… was to resolve my own issues, as well as to work with the victims. I continue to heal as a result of the work that we do with the Agent Orange victims here,” Palazzo told PBS News Hour. Palazzo has long struggled with post-traumatic stress syndrome but has dealt with it in trying to rebuild his life following the war. However, recently divorced and having spent 30 years as a software developer, Palazzo left his life in America to move to Da Nang where he works with local organizations to help Agent Orange victims.
Generations That Came Long After The War Are Still Affected By Agent Orange
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Palazzo says that Agent Orange has not only affected third-generation Vietnamese families, but he has also seen complications in families of American veterans. “We’re seeing more and more of the genetic results of Agent Orange… The problems have been skipping generations. Grandchildren and now great-grandchildren are being born with problems as a result of the genetic issue with Agent Orange,” he said. Many victims born with birth defects as a result of Agent Orange are incapacitated and unable to live life without constant assistance. Palazzo spends his time interacting with victims — often children — and enjoys being able to do something to make them happy.
Not all veterans’ visits are quite as happy, as you’ll soon see…
It Doesn’t Cost Much To Help Agent Orange Victims
Former Marine Manus Campbell, like Palazzo, works with Agent Orange victims. He served in Vietnam in the late 1960s and moved back in 2010, starting an organization that funds education for disabled children and victims of unexploded ordnance. “[For] $60 a month, I can bring a child out of his home, where he’s basically in bed or on the floor watching TV all day, bring him to a school, where he can interact with his own peers, he can realize that he’s not alone in life, that there are other people just like him, and he can develop friends,” Campbell told PBS News Hour.
The Vietnamese People Choose To Leave The War
Today, there is no bad blood between Americans in Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. “There’s no enemy here anymore. These people don’t care about the war. When you talk about the war, they say, forget it. They don’t want to hear — they don’t want to talk about it, because they want to live for today,” Cambell said. Because of his experiences in Vietnam as a young soldier, he wanted to return. “[W]hat happened to me as a 19-year-old during the war shaped my life, to the point where I came back here to do something good for the people.”
Some Veterans Cannot Come To Terms With What Happened During The War
Some veterans, like Terry Bell, seek forgiveness. As a U.S. Army infantry captain during the Vietnam War, Bell took part in some of the most atrocious battles in which he has lost more than three-quarters of his men in seven days. Of those who made it through battle, it was “kill or be killed” and as a result, many Vietnamese people lost their lives as well. Bell feels responsible for all of this. “Of all the things, the choices I made, I have serious — I have real problems accepting I did this,” Bell told Global Spirit TV.
Keep reading to see why a female veteran was shocked upon her return to Vietnam…
Sometimes They Need To Return To Vietnam To Gain Closure
Bell has worked with psychotherapists to come to terms with forgiveness but was never able to fully cope until joining Soldier’s Heart, a group that helps treat veterans who suffer from PTSD. This encouraged him to travel back to Vietnam. “It reminded me in a forceful way that I had unfinished business with the hatred I held for the Vietnamese people… This was all about my ability to lay down my sword with the Vietnamese. Clearly in their smiles, meeting their families, they clearly forgave me, and put the burden on me and all the vets on that trip to forgive them,” Bell told cleveland.com.
Other Veterans Return To See Vietnam For The Beautiful Country It Is
Some veterans return to see Vietnam in the aftermath of the war. Through Vietnam Battlefield Tours, veteran Dale Canter visited Vietnam with his daughter. “I want to see that country at peace. I want to see people without hate in their eyes. I’d like to find an old [Vietnamese] veteran who fought in the area where I was at, and shake hands with him if I could,” Canter told cleveland.com prior to his departure. Canter never imagined that he would return to Vietnam, let alone shake the hand of someone who he once considered an enemy.
Dale Canter Shook Hands With A Former Enemy Who Said, “The War Is Over”
Canter’s desire to shake hands with the people who were formerly known as “the enemy” came to fruition when he met a female Vietcong sniper in the area when his unit fought in 1967. “I told her that I felt a little strange shaking hands, and I know you’ve taken the lives of Americans… She didn’t speak very good English, but she did say, ‘The wars over,’ and that pretty much was it,” Canter told cleveland.com. Many veterans who return to Vietnam will find that the Vietnamese people do not like talk or even think about the war.
When a female veteran returned to Vietnam, she didn’t expect the reaction she got…
One Solider Didn’t Leave Vietnam After His Duty Was Over
British-born Ray Wilkinson had come to America and was working in the Midwest as a journalist for a few years before he suddenly found himself drafted into the Marines and headed for Vietnam. As a combat correspondent, Wilkinson was constantly on the battlefield and he’d often report about the atrocities he’d seen at war. When his time with the Marines was over, he ended up staying in Vietnam working as a civilian correspondent throughout the rest of the war. After a long career as a correspondent for other publications and being able to travel the world, Wilkinson found himself back in Vietnam.
From Weilding Rifles To Pieces Of Chalk
“Fifty years ago, I was carrying a rifle here in Dong Ha; today I’m carrying a piece of chalk,” Wilkinson told AARP in 2017. When the Global Community Service Foundation set him up with a teaching job in Dong Ha, Wilkinson knew it was meant to be. He is now a full-time volunteer English teacher at the Le Quy Don high school for gifted students. “They’ve been able to put the war behind them, especially the young people, and what they’re looking forward to is what anyone is looking forward to now — better job, better health, better family,” he said.
This Woman Expected To Be Faced With Hatred In Vietnam
Londia Granger Wright joined the Navy in the 1970s. She was a chaplain’s assistant during the war and helped Vietnamese refugees flee after Southern Vietnam fell to communism. At first, Wright returned to Vietnam in 2005 on behalf of her late husband, George, who as a Marine sergeant major did not have the same experiences she had during the Vietnam War. “I was baffled that the Vietnamese treated me, an American, so warmly. It was strange and humbling not to experience the resentment for which I had braced myself,” Wright told AARP.
Keep reading to see what a group of veterans have done since deciding to live in Vietnam for good!
She Now Does What She Can To Help Vietnamese Orphans
Steve Raymer/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
While in Vietnam, Wright visited the Village of Hope orphanage, where it was the children who left the most profound impression on her. “They were honored that American visitors came to see them, but I was honored to get a chance to meet them… George and I believed that the only way to heal broken relationships is to work for reconciliation,” she told AARP. As a result, Wright has sponsored an orphan consecutively for the last 11 years, even helping a young woman’s education by offering financial assistance for her high school expenses and college entrance fees.
David Clark’s PTSD Had Him Awake In The Middle Of The Night
Charles Fox/BBC News
“I used to think the Vietnamese were the dirtiest, lowest scumbags in the world,” veteran David Clark tells BBC News. Clark was in Vietnam in the late 1960s and was camped out behind Da Nang’s Marble Mountains, where he made the Vietnamese fear him with his M16. After the war, Clark was afflicted with PTSD, which led him down a path of alcoholism. “I often woke up, bathing in sweat. I saw people when they weren’t there. Once I got up in the middle of the night, planning to place ambushed around my house, because I thought the Vietcong were coming to get me.”
His Unresolved Feelings Had To Be Faced On The Mountain He Once Camped At
Charles Fox/BBC News
It wasn’t until 2007 that Clark sought healing. He returned to Da Nang’s Marble Mountains. With no more Vietcongs to worry about, he was finally able to climb to the top for the first time. “On the top I had a feeling of peace I never had before. There were no more bombs, there was no more fighting, there were no more jets flying over. Then I [realized] the war is over.” Clark ended up staying in Vietnam and marrying a Vietnamese woman in 2014. “I feel blessed for living here. I know this is where I have to be. The war is over, and I will die here.” Clark is not the only veteran who plans to stay in Vietnam forever…
Veterans Want To Change Their Perspective Of Vietnam
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
“I thought if I could see it under, in a different time frame it would just help me feel better about the whole thing. I see a very prosperous country. At the end of the day that is what you would hope to see,” Larry Thon told CBS News. Like many other Vietnam war veterans, Thon went to Vietnam with a tour group to visit battle sites where they once fought. “You know we had a job to do… we did our job but I think the toll that it took on the people of this country was pretty severe.”
Veterans Find Closure And Community When They Go On Vietnam War Tours
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Dave Wall, a retired Marine Colonel and Vietnam veteran, often leads tours of Vietnam for veterans. Wall told CBS News that many veterans who go on tours of the land have very emotional experiences. “Many of them are not psychiatrist type issues, many are just a desire to share something with somebody that you can’t share with back home. Just get it out, absolutely get it out.” It isn’t until they return to the places where they once fought after the war is over that many veterans are able to find closure or relieve some of their post-traumatic stress.
Veterans Who Reside In Vietnam Do What They Can To Give Back To The Community
Like Wall, there are many American Vietnam war veterans who have now taken up Vietnam as their residence. A group of them who’ve been living there for over 20 years now started the Veterans for Peace organization. Veterans for Peace also offers 14-day tours that visit sites across Vietnam from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. The tour requires a $1,000 contribution, much of which is used to contribute to orphanages and people who suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. Suel Jones lives in Da Nang and is credited with conceiving the tour that Veterans for Peace offers.
The Legacy Of The War Is To Make Up For The Damages That Were Done
“We decided that starting a chapter of Veterans for Peace here was a good opportunity for two things,” Jones told Stars and Stripes. “One is to use Veterans for Peace to educate people in the USA about the legacy of war. When we leave, a war’s not over; it’s just started for some people. Secondly, it’s doing something humanitarian… giving people the opportunity to give something back.” Although the Veterans for Peace tour has primarily humanitarian objectives, people on the tour are able to get a little sightseeing done. Veterans who return to Vietnam often see a version of the country that was invisible to them through the lens of war.
“I Carried A Lot Of Baggage From My War Time Here”
Former Marine Paul Cox is behind the Veterans for Peace’s Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign and has been returning to Vietnam consistently. “I carried a lot of baggage from my war time here. I was very upset about the way we’d treated Vietnam. But the time I left the war zone, I’d become very much against the war… People want to know how veterans think. It’s amazing — and it’s an important opportunity to talk about the cost of war,” Cox told Stars and Stripes, explaining that many Vietnam veterans agree the U.S. has done little to repair the damage it has caused in the beautiful country.