There are many layers to our Journeys of the Heart. For me, one of the most meaningful is the eight-year personal journey I have been on from warrior to soldier of peace. The monthly check I receive from the Department of Defense for my 25 years of service is not called a pension. It is retirement pay – pay because it is considered compensation for ongoing post-retirement service. I serve by working with Elaine, through our unregistered charity, to help marginalized persons in Vietnam become independent and productive. Many of their difficulties are part of the legacy of the war in which I fought as an infantryman those forty-some years ago.
But the service from which I derive the most satisfaction is helping American veterans of the Vietnam War find the sites that are significant to them. These could be fire-bases, battlefields, helicopter crash sites or base camps. When I see these old soldiers' eyes flood with tears as emotion washes over them, my heart becomes full. I've just returned from my second trip to Vietnam in 2014. This was a two-week tour with TOP (Tours of Peace) Vietnam Veterans. We traveled the length of the former South Vietnam to deliver food, medicine, toys and compassion to orphanages, elder care centres and a Leprosy village. As well we visited the veterans' important and memorable sites.
In this picture we were at the former Khe Sanh combat base. The location where 6,000 Marines were besieged by 20,000 North Vietnamese for over ninety days in 1968. One of the members of this group was gravely wounded here, and very lucky to have survived.
A group-hug at the Khe Sanh combat base site. The C-130 Hercules in the background is a war relic that the Vietnamese have restored to be part of a museum display of US military equipment at the battle site.
Above (2 pictures). Working at a Leprosy village. Note the ravaged digits on the victim's hands, He was the village spokesman -- effusive in his gratitude.
Above: Handing out tooth brushes, tooth paste, shampoo, soap, razors etc. in a Hill tribe village enroute to Khe Sanh. TOP's motto is "By helping others we help ourselves." These humanitarian activities are very healing for the veterans, some of whom have had struggles with PTSD.
At the Duc Son orphanage near Hue. The kids loved our visit and I wished I could have taken several of them home.
I cannot close this post without a tremendous thank you to the founder and organizer of TOP Vietnam Veterans, who was a Marine Corps rifleman during the Vietnam War. He has been returning to Vietnam every year for the past two decades to do humanitarian work and take veterans back for closure and healing. He, along with our intrepid Vietnamese Guide, Anh, are the heart and soul of TOP. Elaine and I are grateful to both these men for launching us on our new path in life and our retirement "career" with Journey's of the Heart and mine as the Deputy Duck or Chief Research & Reconnaissance Officer (CRRO) (aka Map Reader).