The last two days introduced and immersed the College of the Ozarks Patriotic Travel crew to the traditional Vietnamese lifestyle. Yesterday, we enjoyed a bike ride through the rice paddies to a vegetable village in Tra Que. We each participated in a cooking class of authentic cuisine. After lunch, we visited the shores of Da Nang where we experienced the area formerly known as China Beach, a well known R&R location near the Da Nang airbase. Now called Marble Beach, the bay is where the first American Marines landed in March of 1965. Today, we ventured to Chu Lai, the site of the former U.S. military base. From there, we traveled to the memorial site of My Lai. The somber exhibit consisted of pictures and memorabilia from the victims of the massacre that occurred in March of 1968. We were fortunate to meet a survivor of the massacre while there. Her name was Si, and she was fifteen to sixteen years old when the event took place. She willingly shared her story with us.
The days have been busy, but we all appreciate the opportunity to travel with the six wonderful veterans who have taught us so much.
Mr. Don Browning taught us the value of loyalty and friendship. He showed us the importance of remembering the stories of war and understanding that it still affects the ones around us. He encouraged us to be mindful of the veterans and families still affected today by the Vietnam War.
Col. John Clark taught us about the overwhelming power of faith in God’s perfect will. His story of perseverance taught us that even in the midst of brutal current life situations, God’s will shall prevail. His optimism about life was inspiring.
CSM Gary Littrell’s hugs, humor, and sincerity drew us all in. Not only did Gary offer a light-hearted outlook on life, but he reminded us to recognize that all veterans adjust differently to returning home from war. He charged our group to befriend and build trust with those who served our country faithfully.
Col. Tom Moe spoke easily about his time in the Hanoi Hilton and the horrors that he faced there. He exemplified extreme bravery in the face of evil. Even when he went back to visit the Hilton, he faced it head on and wasn’t afraid to tell us of all his experiences for the benefit of teaching the students. He taught us to live day by day and to not fear the future.
Mr. Robert “Bob” Smith taught us to enjoy life. With his keen eye and knack for photography he demonstrated appreciation for the small things, that nothing should be taken for granted, and to never miss an opportunity to take a picture and laugh.
Mr. Gary Wood taught us the importance of vulnerability. Willing to blindly follow God’s voice back to Vietnam, Gary shared his struggles and hesitations with us. His openness and honesty brought us to tears as we listened to the sincerity of his heart.
Collectively, our veterans were a walking example that continual prayer and faith in action would guide us one day to the next. They described their purpose in fighting as to fulfill their civic duty to their country. Although visually scaring, their purpose and hope in fulfilling this duty gave them endurance to survive each day. These men knew they were assisting the South Vietnamese, and although painful at times, they recognized they were endeavoring to pave a way towards freedom. This mindset gave them the daily strength required to continue the journey. Hearing the veterans talk about themselves with humility was a powerful experience. They called each other their heroes, admiring the actions of their fellow servicemen. Even though the veterans referred to each other as their heroes, the College of the Ozarks Patriotic Travel group concluded that these six men are our heroes. It has been an absolute honor traveling with them.