“Homeward Bound”

After four flights and thousands of miles, we are back in the good ol’ USA!

Thank you Veterans and WELCOME HOME!

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“An Ode to Heroes”

 

It is a surreal feeling that our trip has come to an end. The opportunity to spend the last two weeks with our Vietnam Veterans has been indescribable. George Haley perhaps said it best, “A lot of the times you hear the word heroes passed around…these [men] are some genuine heroes.” As students, we have had a once in a lifetime experience to walk side by side with our new heroes, and we will never forget their dedication and sacrifice. Our Veterans have invested in us more than we thought possible and for that, we will be forever thankful.

Learning about Vietnam in class was interesting, but being able to see the war zones, roads, tunnels, mountains, and monuments first hand brings learning to a whole new level. And best of all, we were able to see these places with warriors who were here over 40 years ago. Our Veterans imparted to us their knowledge and personal experiences that a student could never receive in the classroom.

We had many adventures that significantly impacted our hearts and minds. One such event was our trip to the Hanoi Hilton. Students and Veterans alike could not help but admire Dan Glenn’s courage and composure as he shared his experience. Dan gave each of us a coin that  states, “Freedom from the caves, cages, and cells of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China….” Dan went through many challenges, but overcame all of them to receive his freedom back. His perseverance in the mist of evil reflects the true hero lurking inside all of Veterans.

Another truly emotional event lifted the weight of 50 years off a Veteran’s shoulders. Joe Tiscia got the privilege to lead our group to the cemetery where he and many of his brothers in arms fought and died. Joe has not been able to let go of the guilt of losing them.  Students, staff, and Veterans gathered in a circle surrounding Joe with love as he sprinkled Holy water, blessing those present and past, enabling him to let go of the crippling guilt. To see such a burden lifted from Joe’s shoulders reminded us of what an impact war can have on a person. Joe, along with all the other Veterans, have shown us that heroes are real people just like us.

We have gained more than just war stories and good natured jokes from our Veterans. Over the past two weeks, we have learned each of the Veterans’ personalities, lives, and struggles. They have become more than just soldiers to us; each Veteran has become like a grandfather. We have seen walls broken down, demons destroyed, and healing fill our Veterans. Any early apprehension was quickly replaced by a level of comfort that true families share. And as we leave for home, we are confident in knowing our Veterans are returning with happiness and healing, which is all we could ask for, because they deserve nothing less.

Isaiah 6:8 states, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here I am! Send me.” Jim Rougeau’s Special Forces unit adopted this verse. It shows how our Veterans served selflessly. Our Veterans have taught us that God should always come first, then others, before yourself.  Only true heroes abide by such a code. The brotherhood these Veterans share is inspiring. No matter the branch of service or time served or medals earned, these men listened intently to each other’s stories, laughing and crying. Through it all, we were constantly reminded that these men were our age, or even younger, when they answered their country’s call.

Richard Hokenson remarked, “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” War is not conceivable without God, and this trip has not been possible without God’s guidance, protection, and healing touch. As students, we thank each and every one of you for the thoughts and prayers for our trip. We thank the college for giving us a trip of a lifetime; President Jerry C. Davis, Vice President Marci Linson, Director of Patriotic Activities Bryan Cizek, LTC Jim Schreffler, our “Angel of Mercy” Nurse Lori Vanderpool, Professor David Dalton, and our amazing photographer, Shann Swift. More than anything, we thank our Veterans because without them this trip would have not been possible. We thank them for the past two weeks of investing their time, energy, and sharing their lives with us. We will never forget each one of you and the impact you made in our lives. This trip cannot be put into words and as students, we think that perhaps says it best.

We hope you have enjoyed some our favorite photos from our 2017 Vietnam Tour.

Courtney Bressler, Crenna Firestine, Michael Galioto, Hannah Gray, Chelsea Johnson, Grayson Ketron, Caden Peterson, Sarah Pogue,  Billy Rea, Samuel Scaggs, Canyon Smith, Shaundra Sprinkle

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“Finally Free”

We began today with a presentation by my veteran, Dan Glenn, who was a POW for six and a half years in the North Vietnamese prison camp system. During his talk, Dan was open and honest about his captivity. We then toured the Hoa Lo Prison, otherwise infamously known as “The Hanoi Hilton,” where Dan spent more than half of his time as a POW.

Dan was commissioned as a Naval Ensign from the University of Oklahoma’s ROTC program. He left for his first tour in Vietnam aboard the USS Ticonderoga in March, 1965. Dan piloted the A-4 “Skyhawk” plane on 122 missions, bombing targets in both North and South Vietnam.  Dan was assigned to the the USS Kitty Hawk for his fateful second tour.

On December 21, 1966, Dan was shot down and forced to eject over a rice field just north of the DMZ along the coast. As soon as his parachute touched the ground, North Vietnamese from a nearby village surrounded him, stripped him, and marched him to their village. Dan’s first night in captivity was spent strapped to a metal bed frame in a small thatched hut. Villagers paraded past, peering at the American POW. The next day, Dan and an entourage of North Vietnamese military began their slow trek north to Hanoi. They travelled at night, with Dan constantly blindfolded and handcuffed.

After an exhausting six day journey, the group reached Hanoi, and Dan began his imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton.  Although today the Vietnamese claim they treated American POWs well, conditions in the prison were far from perfect. For the first three months of his captivity, Dan was “solo,” that is, he had no roommate. At any time, guards would take him out for what the POWs called a “quiz,” or an interrogation and torture session. During these “quizzes,” the interrogators wanted to know everything, and they did whatever they could to break the POWs, trying to elicit “confessions” from them.  The torture Dan and other POWs experienced by their hands was absolutely horrific and inhumane.

When Dan and the other POWs weren’t in these “quizzes,” they tried to keep their minds focused on something other than their situation. They devised a tap code by which they communicated to each other through the Hilton’s thick walls. The code consisted of different taps, pauses, and thumps to communicate letters, words, and to warn if a guard was nearby. On Dan’s first day in the interrogation room, he began to learn the code.

After three months of being alone in a cell, Dan received his first roommate, Jim Stockdale, the senior Naval POW officer. Over the next six years, Dan was moved not only from cell to cell within the Hilton, changing roommates, but also from camp to camp. In fact, Dan spent time at the “Zoo,” Son Tay, Camp Faith, and the “Dog Patch.”

During Dan’s last three years of imprisonment, conditions began to improve slightly due to the dedicated and persistent actions of POW wives on the home front, who kept their husband’s plight in the news. Dan was finally able to send and receive an occasional six-line letter to his wife and parents.

Dan was in a group of POWs that had just been moved from the Hanoi Hilton prior to the 1970 Son Tay raid.  In his presentation today, Dan, with tears in his eyes, said that the men who volunteered for this mission, knowing the staggering odds of successfully completing it, were the POWs “true heroes.” Although the raid was ultimately unsuccessful in its mission to free the Americans, Dan said that morale was raised because the POWs knew that they were not forgotten, and that the US was going to do whatever it took to bring them home.

On March 4th, 1973, Dan was finally released after six and a half years in captivity. He and other POWs travelled south to Hanoi from the “Dog Patch,” a camp just south of the Chinese border. They were then flown to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Once Dan arrived, he eagerly called his wife, only to hear that she was planning on divorcing him once he returned home, which she did. After a brief hospital stay at Clark, Dan was flown home to Jacksonville, Florida, ready to began the rest of his new life.

When I asked Dan if any good had come from his time as a POW, he promptly replied, “Most everything.” Dan said that if he hadn’t been shot down, he wouldn’t be married to his wonderful wife, and he wouldn’t have the children and grandchildren he dearly loves.

Prior to this trip, Dan had travelled back to Vietnam three times, so he had already faced the ghosts of his past. Today, as I followed Dan through the narrow hallways of the Hanoi Hilton, he remained remarkably composed. When we visited the exact location of Dan’s first cell, I had chills, thinking about the horrible, indescribable pain he suffered there, and yet Dan remained calm and relaxed.  He is truly the strongest man I know, and I am infinitely privileged to have been his student these past two weeks.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to accompany Dan Glenn on this amazing odyssey. We have formed a bond that will not be easily broken.  He has taught me countless life lessons, the most important of which is to always make the best of any situation I am in. Dan certainly did.

Hannah Gray

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“A Job Well Done”

Today we started the last leg of our journey by flying from Hue to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.  After the hour long flight, we visited the History of War Museum which had displays  and pictures from both the French Indo-China War and the Vietnam War. Although full of Vietnamese propaganda, such as exaggerating the number of U.S. aircraft shot down, the museum reinforced some of the history we have learned as well as stories told to us by our Veterans. There were also a number of aircraft on display including the MIG-21, AD-6, B-52, and F-5E. Commander George Haley flew some of these planes.

After graduating with an engineering degree and earning a commission as an Ensign through the Naval ROTC program from the University of Texas, George went immediately to Flight School and later Naval Justice School. Upon completion, he was assigned to the Sky Raider Squadron as the primary legal officer. After six years with multiple squadrons, George was sent on his first combat tour as an attack pilot aboard the USS Lexington at the end of the French Indo-China War. He eventually served three combat tours on the USS Lexington, USS Bon Homme Richard, and the USS Ticonderoga. He also served three intermittent tours aboard the USS Constellation as an Air Operations and Carrier Air Traffic Officer.

From September of 1965 to July of 1967, he primarily flew his favorite plane, the A-4, or in his words, the “lovely Skyhawk.” George and his copilots flew two kinds of missions: close air support (CAS), and specific/moving targets (SMT) missions.  He told a story of a successful CAS mission in South Vietnam when a group of MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) radioed for air support since they were heavily engaged by a 100-man VC platoon. Just as the VC rushed into a clearing, George and the other fighter pilots dropped their bombs, killing 79 of the 100 and saving the MAAG group. In his words, “Missions like this were wonderful because we could see the damage and know that we had provided sufficient support.”

George also flew SMT missions primarily along the DMZ and in Laos, often amidst heavy Surface-to-Air Missiles and anti-aircraft flack. Last week, while we were in Military Museum in Saigon, we even found a photo of a bridge George bombed on one of these missions. He compares flying in enemy fire to “trying to dodge all the fireworks of a Fourth of July display.”  George completed 159 missions and was never hit by the enemy.  When asked if he feared being hit, George responded, “Even after losing many comrades, including my very best friend, I never feared getting shot down. I had that much faith in God. I only feared I wasn’t completing a job well done.”

I admire George Haley’s skill and tenacity in flying. What really strikes me, however, is his servant heart. The military was just an avenue for it. I have been honored to serve him on this trip, but in turn he has served me even more. Through his stories of service in the Vietnam War, he has taught me courage, respect, faith, and joy, all with an ever-present smile and infectious personality. These are stories and virtues I will forever remember.  Thank you, George.

Billy Rea

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Healing Long Overdue

Today we toured the ancient capital of Vietnam, Hue.  We started out by taking a leisurely cruise down the Perfume River, which separates the northern and southern parts of the city. Afterwards, we visited The Citadel, a massive walled structure which was home to the Nguyen Dynasty, who ruled the country from 1802-1945.  The Citadel was also the site of one of the most fierce battles of the Tet Offensive. Even though U.S. forces were vastly outnumbered by the North Vietnamese Army, the battle for Hue is known as one of the Marine Corps’ finest hours. My veteran, Corporal Joseph Tiscia, Jr., fought here.

Joe was drafted in 1967 at the age of 24; he was also newly married. Although Joe was placed into the Army, he preferred to serve as a Marine. He requested a transfer and soon found himself in Okinawa, serving as a fiscal Marine allocating funds for the Vietnam War. Joe felt that since he was drafted, it was his destiny to fight. Every three months, when the commanding officer visited the base, he asked for reassignment to Vietnam. After 10 months, he finally got his wish.

Joe was sent to the 2nd BN, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Phu Bai. He arrived early in January of 1968. A few weeks later, the NVA launched the Tet offensive, and Hue was a primary target. Since Joe was a Corporal and had a wife back home, his commanding officer kept him at Phu Bai, 10miles away, to supply the newly arriving Marines. Joe could not stand equipping soldiers and sending them into Hue only to have them come back a few days later in body bags, so on Feb. 7, 1968, he joined a convoy that he thought was going into Hue. Instead, the convoy of 50 Marines was going to resupply an artillery base south of Hue. But as they were passing by a graveyard, two battalions of NVA ambushed them; Joe was suddenly in the fight of his life.

The Marines were heavily outnumbered.  Both sides used ditches on opposite sides of a small road for cover, but hand to hand fighting was commonplace.  Joe took out a heavy machine gun that had been firing on the convoy and rescued two of his wounded brothers. Soon afterwards, a grenade exploded nearby, sending him flying through the air.  Even after he was injured, Joe tried to offer cover fire as he came in and out of consciousness.  He told me that as the NVA were waiting for nightfall to finish them off, he prayed to God, “If it is your will, take me. I just want to go home. I miss my wife; I miss my family.” He still feels a lot of pain and regret from that day. As he finished his story, he said, “I wanted to do more; I could’ve done more, but I didn’t.” He blames himself for the loss of his friends, but for his heroic actions, Joe was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star.

This snapshot of history has haunted Joe for over 50 years. He still remembers the young men who fought desperately and died alongside him, and he continues to stay in touch with those who survived the fight for Hue. He also devotes time to an organization that holds proper military burial services for Veterans. Joe is very passionate about ensuring that Veterans receive the benefits they deserve for answering their country’s call.

Joe came on this trip with one mission in mind—he wanted to return to the same cemetery. Yesterday, March 27, 2017, we found the site. The cemetery has changed since the last time Joe had seen it, but it still offered the same painful memories. He needed to free himself from the burden he had been carrying. Joe brought with him a bottle of Holy water that he had received as a gift from his mother, who was told it held healing powers. As we departed the bus, Joe walked with a newfound energy. He was determined to accomplish his mission that had been on hold for far too long. As he sprinkled the Holy water, it was as if his chains were lifted. He held with him pride for every man he had fought alongside. As he prayed, our group couldn’t help but be filled with joy for the miracle of healing that we had just witnessed. Afterwards, Joe said, “I feel like a new man.” As with any true soldier, Joe accomplished his mission. If his fellow Marines could have witnessed this, I know they would have been proud. I know I am.

Sam Scaggs

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The Hard Truths

Our day began with a bus ride to Khe Sanh, a former United States military launch site located south of the DMZ on a remote hilltop near the border of Laos and Vietnam. It was also the site of a major NVA assault as part of the Tet Offensive.  Standing on the former runway, we had a clear view of the surrounding ridges and rugged terrain which enabled us to visualize the enemy’s advantageous location.  MACV-SOG Veteran Jim Rougeau referred to Khe Sanh as his “home away from home,” while fellow MACV-SOG Bill Werther recalled his 77 day fight against the NVA.

Our Veterans were members of an elite fighting force, MACV-SOG (Military Advising Group Vietnam—Special Operations Group). This group of men conducted clandestine operations throughout Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the only military entity granted permission to do so during the war. This strategic task force infiltrated enemy territory to gather intelligence, such as the number of NVA moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They also attempted to liberate prisoners of war, set up various reconnaissance technology, or simply harass the enemy. It has been estimated that as many as 20,000 – 40,000 NVA were assigned to police the Ho Chi Minh Trail due to the efforts of MACV-SOG. The United States government only declassified MACV-SOG operations in 2003.

Jim was assigned to FOB (Forward Operating Base) 1 in 1966, while Bill was assigned to FOB 4 in 1968.  Each of our Veterans worked in groups of three American soldiers coupled with nine indigenous men of that region, often Montagnards, a docile people that the Special Forces partnered with to accomplish its missions.

Looking at the bunkers that remain in place, Jim told a story of a close friend who had been wounded on the landing strip.  He remarked, “I never imagined I would come back here.” We are continually reminded by Jim, Bill, and the other Veterans who have shared their stories that this land still harbors painful memories, but they have been able to bring a sense of humanity to history. Our Veterans have given us the unvarnished truth; not everyone was a hero, and death was commonplace.  In a culture saturated with the seemingly attractiveness and glamour of war, we so easily forget these facts.

As students of history, we are humbled and grateful to be able to walk side by side with Jim Rougeau and Bill Werther who have relayed the hard truths to us; Both sides committed wrongs, but they are finding peace and healing in a land where their history still lives.

Canyon Smith and Crenna Firestine

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Sometimes Ugly Becomes Beautiful 

We started our Sunday morning with songs of worship and a message from Dr. Marci Linson, who spoke on Nehemiah 4. We learned that Nehemiah and the builders “answered the call.” The 12 veterans we have the honor of traveling with also “answered the call.” My veteran, Michael Bruce, will be the first to tell you, those who served were all brothers, no matter the branch, working hard towards the same goal. Mike said, “The goal was to keep everyone alive and get them out.”  He has taught me war is an ugly thing, but sometimes you can take something ugly and make it beautiful.

Mike volunteered at the age of 18 and became a medical evacuation pilot in the 101st Airborne Division, flying the UH-1. He made left seat the following year and achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer (CW2) during his year tour that began on Dec. 10, 1969. Although he flew an unarmed helicopter, Mike saw numerous tragedies, severe injuries, and many deaths. He told a story of a dustoff helicopter that crashed. When Mike and his team arrived, they found that there were no survivors. This accident was an ugly part of war. But Mike also remembered a small village north of Hue where they picked up a Vietnamese woman who was ready to give birth. They were able to get her to the Citadel before the child was born, providing Mike with the opportunity to help save lives. This was a beautiful part of war.

This morning, we traveled at the DMZ (17th parallel), which was the dividing line between North and South Vietnam. I asked Mike if he was ready to cross. He told me it “was the last thing he expected to do,” since he had never been in North Vietnam during his tour. We locked arms and crossed over. The feeling was indescribable. Words cannot do justice to the sense of appreciation I have for the 12 Veterans who were standing around me and many more back home who have served and are currently serving our country.

We also visited the Vinh Moc Tunnels, which were used by the local South Vietnamese to escape the bombardment of war. The tunnel is 1.3 miles long, only a few feet wide, and around 5 feet tall. There were lots of steep stairs, rooms used for sleeping, eating, and simply surviving the war.

Overall, we have had a rainy, but wonderful day. This trip has truly been a once in a lifetime experience. Each one of the Veterans have poured their stories into all of the students lives, giving us a whole new perspective that I am now able to share with others. On the way back to our hotel, I realized Mike Bruce has taught me much more than just about the war. He has taught me about the importance of keeping God first, how important relationships with others truly are, and how you can consider a tragic war to one day become something beautiful. Because without the war and the veterans who served, this beautiful opportunity for us students would never have occurred.

Sarah Pogue

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