We began our day in Hue with a church service where Col. John Clark shared an impactful story and a message of hope. We then traveled by boat down the Perfume River and were dropped off on the bank to tour a Buddhist Pagoda built in 1601.
After lunch we explored the ancient portion of Hue known as the Citadel. This is where the Nguyen Dynasty resided until 1945. It held significant meaning to the Vietnamese people because it was the ancient capital. This historical site was later severely damaged in the Vietnam War.
Hue is a particularly significant place for our veteran, Donald Browning, as he fought in the Battle of Hue when he first arrived in Vietnam in 1968. Browning was assigned to the 1st Battalion 7th Marine Regiment and was trained on the M-60 machine gun. Upon arrival in Da Nang, Browning was sent on a temporary duty assignment to help the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment in Hue during the late days of the Tet Offensive. After serving in Hue, Browning returned to his original unit and served in the Quang Nam Province where he spent most of his time in Vietnam where he performed search and destroy missions and reconnaissance work.
Upon arriving in Vietnam, Browning distinctly remembered the pungent odors of the countryside including decomposition, gunpowder, and human waste. He also recalled an initial intense sense of fear, not knowing if he would ever be able to sleep again. Browning prayed that he would not embarrass himself or the Marine Corps so he tried to hide his fear; however, after being involved in some heavy contact in Hue, Browning remembered hearing wounded men crying out, “God help me,” and he knew he was not alone because everyone else was filled with the same fear.
When we arrived yesterday Browning commented that he did not even recognize the city of Hue. He was surprised at how well the city had been rebuilt, because in 1968 the buildings were torn up and the city was destroyed from the bombing. However, Browning also remarked that the Vietnamese are a very resilient group of people, and he understood how they recovered.
This was Browning’s first time returning to Vietnam and he was filled with anticipation for the trip. He explained a year ago he would not have volunteered to go on this trip because of past experiences. Through sharing stories with his support system he was able to work through a lot of his memories and return to Vietnam. We were able to walk alongside Browning and provide support during our time in Hue. This allowed Browning to share some of his experiences with the group.
After the war, Browning served in the Oklahoma City Police Department motorcycle patrol and K-9 unit. He and his dog Gunney received national recognition for helping in the recovery efforts following the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. He also travelled to New York City to assist in the aftermath of 9/11.
Over the past week we have been blessed to learn from Browning’s stories and experiences. He has taught us how important it is to help those in need and fight for what is right. Browning also showed us that the effects of the Vietnam War can still be felt today in the lives of the men who served. We will always remember Browning for his compassion and his ability to stand for what he believes is right, and hope that we will be able to show the same character throughout our own lives.
Jason Good, Christina Malzner, & Cody Neal