Alex Weathermon, Alli Steuck, & Annie Boyd
After departing the Hotel Saigon Morin in Hue, we travelled about two hours north to the Demilitarized Zone to begin our day’s adventures. It was another cloudy, overcast day in South Vietnam, but the weather did not dampen our spirits. The Demilitarized Zone, also known as the ‘DMZ’, was the area that distinguished North Vietnam from South Vietnam at the 17th parallel as determined by the 1954 Geneva Accords. We crossed over the Cua Viet River via the Dong Ha Bridge and were able to physically see the line of division between north and south. While we were there, we focused our attention on our assigned veteran, Gary Wood. He was a medic stationed in South Vietnam near the DMZ and Laotian border from 1969-1971.
As we talked with Gary throughout the day, he began to share some of his memories in the jungles of Vietnam. Gary distinctly remembered being under the cover of a triple canopy. While working to treat injuries and keep his men healthy, he recalled looking up to see the sky and finding pitch-black darkness. Not only was the darkness above, but he realized it surrounded him and his unit. They were unable to see more than three feet in front of them and instead, relied on their other senses to guide them. Gary also recalled his superior telling him, “You can only get so wet.” This would be important advice, because as a medic he would be working in the rain and water while trying to save the men serving with him.
As we traveled along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, our tour guide, Quan, paused to honor the life of an American soldier, Richard Norton, who was killed 50 years ago today just off the trail. Norton was the friend of Sgt. Maj. Eddie Neas, USMC, a member of the 2016 Patriotic Travel Trip who fought in the battle of Hue City. He and Quan maintained their friendship since that trip. Quan chose to honor Norton in a traditional Vietnamese manner by burning incense at the location of his death while burning a piece of paper that read: “On behalf of Eddie, pray for Richard Norton (KIA), 1st Platoon, USMC, at rest at Con Thien Firebase.” Following this prayer, many of our veterans saluted before returning to the bus, demonstrating their respect for Richard Norton and his service.
Khe Sanh was the next stop for the day. During the Vietnam War, Khe Sanh served as a small arms combat base located to the east of the Laotian border. A small museum displayed bunkers and helicopters used by the U.S. Army for visitors to see. As we walked about the base, we could sense the calm and quiet surrounding the highlands. Gary toured Khe Sanh and paid special attention to the helicopters used by the U.S. Army. While serving in Vietnam, Gary would fly on these helicopters on his way to missions. He hated the feeling of not having anything to hold onto and would try to avoid flying in helicopters during the rest of his time in Vietnam. As Gary walked around Khe Sanh, he held on to a cross necklace that he received from a chaplain during his time in the war. He did not share the significance of this cross with us, but we recognized that it held great value to him.
Although Gary arrived in Vietnam a few days later than the rest of us, he has greatly contributed to our group through his humor and companionship. When Gary arrived, he immediately found a friend in fellow veteran, Don Browning, someone to share experiences with and build comradery. He has not shared many of his memories from his time in Vietnam, but we hope that Gary begins to feel more comfortable with our team. We appreciate his willingness to follow God’s calling to return to Vietnam, and we pray these next few days will bring him healing.