Vets find a changed Vietnam PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID M. RIDENOUR, Special to the Sentinel   
Friday, 20 September 2013 10:18
David Ridenour has taken 2,100 pictures so far during his return trip to Vietnam. This one is with Vietnam veteran Dean Graham, Connoquenessing, Pa., (back center) and Steve Benner, Portage (back right), interacting with Vietnamese children. The children were on morning break from school. (Photo by David Ridenour)
(Editor's note: Vietnam veterans David Ridenour and Steve Benner, from Wood County, have returned to the country for a two-week visit. After the first week, here are some of Ridenour's thoughts).
Steve Benner and I left home Sept. 8 with much anxiety and anticipation of what we might find or experience on our return to Vietnam.
We are part of a group of 18 including our four tour guides. One in our group is a Gold Star wife seeking recovery and repatriation of the remains of her Marine Corps husband, a jet fighter pilot who crashed in South Vietnam and has remained an MIA to this day.
We have now been in Vietnam for a week touring the Mekong Delta (IV Corps) and the region around Saigon (III Corps). Many of the things that were so ubiquitous then are rarely to be found today. Although much has remained static, so much more has changed radically. We have learned so much more about the history and culture than we ever knew during our days of deployment.
The reception here by the Vietnamese has been amazing. At the time we served, the combined population of North and South Vietnam was around 32 million. It has nearly tripled to over 90 million people, so the vast majority of the population was not around during the time of the war. The people have enjoyed talking with us and the children love to have their picture taken with us. Being around Americans and practicing their English has been delightful for both them and us.
The primary purpose of this tour was to visit the sites where we had served. A majority of the locations were no longer recognizable or had been repurposed.
The location of the brigade headquarters that Steve served under in Tan An in the Mekong Delta is now a soccer stadium. Long Binh post where I served is now a major industrial park as well as a Republic of Vietnam Military base, which of course was not accessible by us.
We have conducted several brief memorial services along the way where individuals known to members of our tour group had died. These locations are now rubber plantations, rice fields or construction sites. One location is even being prepped for construction of a memorial to former North Vietnamese soldiers killed there.
We were able to remember SGT Steve Shaner of Bowling Green at one of these services.
We move on this week to I Corps, the region south of the DMZ where some of the fiercest battles with the North Vietnamese Army took place. We will be visiting Da Nang, Hue, Quang Tri and Khe Sanh amongst other areas. I really look forward to our return home after that to share all that has been discovered.

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