Vietnam trip lifts burden for vets PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID M. RIDENOUR, Special to the Sentinel   
Monday, 30 September 2013 09:29
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David Ridenour shakes hands with a former Viet Cong guerrilla, Col. Ngoc Tuyet. Tuyet was host to the Vietnam veterans at her restaurant in Tay Ninh. She dressed in her uniform at the request of our tour group. Ridenour called it a “kind of a reconciliation between former enemies.” (Photo provided)
(Editor's note: Vietnam veterans David Ridenour and Steve Benner, from Wood County, have returned to the country for a two-week visit. About to return home, here are some of Ridenour's thoughts).


Week two found us in I Corps, the northern most military zone of the former South Vietnam.
We found this region to have more battlefields and historical sites untouched by development, with many of these sites in the process of restoration. This portion of our return tour to Vietnam in Da Nang started with an exploration of Marble Mountain. The mountain is full of caverns and caves with Buddhist sanctuaries inside featuring intricate carvings dating to the 15th century. The largest cave was the home of Viet Cong troops and included a hospital facility. The mountain, now home to stone sculptors and cutters, was a strategic location for American and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) forces as well as Viet Cong and the NVA (North Vietnam Army) forces. Da Nang is a center for foreign development of resorts on the South China Sea and home of the newly-opened Dragon Bridge, which on Friday and Saturday evening breathes fire. Red Beach here was the first amphibious landing site for the Marine Corps in 1965.
From here we traveled over the Hai Van Pass and on to Hue, the old Imperial Capital of Vietnam. The fiercest and most iconic battle of Tet in 1968 took place here in the Citadel and the old Imperial City. Much of the old Forbidden City had been destroyed by the French after World War II in their attempt to regain control of French Indochina. Much work remains in the restoration of this important historical site.
From Hue, we traveled farther north through Quang Tri Province and across the DMZ. Traveling along the DMZ we returned to the former South Vietnam via the Peace Bridge over the Song Ben Hai River, which was the true physical demarcation between the North and the South. The museum and memorial here is dedicated to the reunification of Vietnam. Like the other museums we visited, it is full of propaganda on the defeat of the enemy.
Our visit to Khe Sanh Combat Base revealed what was probably the best preserved battlefield of the war. Its remote location near the Laotian border does not lend itself to development along with other combat locations in the area such as the Rockpile, Razorback, Camp Carroll and Leatherneck Square. One of our fellow veterans on the tour served with a medical facility at the Quang Tri Airbase. Only a small portion of the airbase tarmac remains. Cattle graze the area now, and a Chevrolet dealership occupies the entrance way. A street is being constructed through the area and within just a few years the old airfield site will be no more.
During our travels in this region we stopped at a market in Quang Tri. Here we purchased two piglets. With the piglets we traveled to a remote Montagnard village where we made our way to the village chief's house. Along with the piglets, we presented him with children's clothing and school supplies to distribute to the children of his village. The Montagnards are an impoverished minority living much the same way as they have for centuries.
One item, though, presented an interesting contrast. Every shack in the village had a satellite antennae attached. The government provides everyone free satellite TV access in the rural areas. We can only speculate on the programming content available.
Some encounters along the way did give us additional insight into the condition of the people of Vietnam. Steve Benner and I met a 67-year-old farmer in Hue who had served with the ARVN forces during the war. His family's rice farm was now owned by the Vietnamese government, and he was allowed to farm the land as if it were his own. At times before he spoke, he would look around and make sure no one was listening in on our conversation. Spies are everywhere, he said. After our conversation over a beer, he had one request: he often taught the children in his village English and asked if we would buy a book for him. Steve agreed, and off they sped on his motorbike to a bookstore to obtain what was essentially a children's English-Vietnamese dictionary.
There is so much more I could relate about this trip. It was well worth the time in re-examining our role in the war.
For many in our tour group, with the ability to honor and remember our fellow Americans who made the supreme sacrifice for our country, a burden has finally been lifted. For the Gold Star widow in our group, discovery of the crash site has given her hope that her missing husband's remains will be discovered and repatriated.
As a nation, Vietnam is progressing. In the words of one of our Vietnamese tour guides, "The government has discovered one of the fallacies of Marxism, you cannot progress by eliminating one economic class from your society."
Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2013 11:23
 

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