Returning to Vietnam after 45 years, American veteran Howerd Harrison, who used to be a paratrooper medic, wants to visit the place where he was stationed, and the site where his friends died in Binh Dinh province. He went back with his wife, Barbara: “When I came on this trip, one of my goals with my wife Barbara is to get to the place where Chris died and make some sort of memorial. We couldn’t find it exactly, so we stopped for direction. After we arrived there, a gentleman gave us direction and he accompanied us to make sure that we found it. And he identified himself as a sapper”.
All the feelings of torment and worry in Howerd’s heart seemed to go away when he met the Vietnamese people’s army soldiers: “We braced, we felt very sincere. He showed no sign of hostility. Later on, I thought as a sapper, he knew many skills, could lay mines and he may have been the person who laid mines to kill my friends. But I felt that was OK because I know he was defending his country”.
Barbara felt a sense of relief. For dozens of years, she has witnessed how her husband has been worried and remorseful after taking part in the war in Vietnam: “I have shared a lot with my husband’s pain of war. My family have always worked for peace and we campaigned against the war in Vietnam. We are still working for peace. This trip is important for him and I have witnessed what my husband has done. He met, talked and sang with Vietnamese people. It is so wonderful and it helps heal the wounds of war in his soul”.
For William, an American veteran, that shame has haunted his mind for the past four and a half decades: “The innocent eyes of Vietnamese children, the rockets that blew up 15 meters from me and made me deaf for a while, these were very disturbing me and made me sleepless at night. Those were two biggest things disturbing my memory”.
During this trip to Vietnam, William visited Pleiku city, Gia Lai province where he was stationed: “Returning on this trip, I and my friends of the Soldier’s Heart Initiative took part in building compassion houses, schools , presented animals and helped Agent Orange victims. We are all brothers and sisters on the planet. It is a good return to me”.
Howard and William are among hundreds of American war veterans. Return trips have helped those American veterans as they continue to heal from the trauma of war. Edward Bryan Tick, who was an anti-war activist, is president of Soldier’s Heart Initiative. In 1970 when he met with American combat vets who returned from in Vietnam, Edward Tick realized that many of them suffered from the pain and haunting of war: “I realized a long time ago that psychological counseling and therapies are not enough to heal the terrible wounds of war. And certainly, the heavy use of medication by psychiatric doctors cannot heal the wounds. I think the best possible thing we could do is to help Americans meet Vietnamese people and find out who they really are and learn to turn their former enemies into friends”.
For over the past 10 years, SHI has organized many trips for veterans and their relatives to visit Vietnam. The group has also promoted healing and reconciliation between the two countries. Activities such as medical support and cultural exchanges have helped relieve the pain and sense of remorse of US war veterans: “This is the truth. It helps better to heal for within 2 or 3 weeks than 40 years since the war using medicine. You help us heal psychological spiritual wounds and we help you heal physical wounds. Together we make one people to heal everybody’s war wounds”.
Tick said many Americans still know little about Vietnam. SHI will do more to join relieve the pain of war and help Americans learn more about Vietnam.