Viet Nam Veterans: Warriors of Peace 42 years later.
former enemies; Tam Tien, of the Mekong Delta, and Joe Caley of Tallmadge, Ohio
â€œFor evermore, the Americans and the Vietnamese must be the lips and tongue of the same mouth; telling the world the same storyâ€? -former Viet Cong soldier (l) Tam Tien
Peace. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. The words echoed in my ears time and time again as I sat on planes, trains, buses, in conference rooms, and even when I stood at sites where great battles were fought and much blood was shed. Peace, reconciliation and forgiveness after war is possible. On this trip I discovered that I am more than just a witness. I, too, am a warrior -- a warrior with my finger on the button and an open heart, ready to receive and share this beautiful story of the community of Tallmadge, Ohio; First Congregational Church and Warriors Journey Home. On October 3rd I boarded a plane at Akron-Canton Airport. This was the first of five flights to Viet Nam with U.S. Marine Corps veteran Tom Saal. Meeting Tom in 2006 is how this story began. I stuck with him and, over my time here at Kent, became fascinated by the truth of war and the harm it causes. I learned how it touched so many, including those who love veterans, those people of strong heart. I learned about the effects of war here on the KSU campus. First, by covering the annual May 4th candlelight vigil as a correspondent for the Daily Kent Stater, and later joining in the vigil with JMC alumna Paula Slimak as a grateful scholarship recipient of her scholarship 4 years in a row. Paula is determined to keep alive the moment in time on our campus where four students gave all to speak their truth against the war in Viet Nam. As I continued to interview and photograph veterans, I found myself a witness to the power of what a small community can do by sticking together and supporting one another. The love and support of a healing circle, members of the Church and the citizens of Tallmadge are an example of how any community can support their veterans. Without community, the storytelling and necessary healing cannot take place. We send these soldiers to war, therefore, each one of us is responsible to bring them home and help them be civilians again. Picture yourself in the home of a former Viet Cong soldier. You are eating the fruit and drinking the tea made by his weathered, aged hands. You are sharing a meal, hearing the stories of loss, heartbreak, injury and guilt, as well as love, family, survival and patriotism. I heard stories of difficult choices that Vietnamese people had to make in a country divided in half, and how they didn’t want the war either.
I witnessed men who left Ohio as warriors defined by their military service. They returned home from Viet Nam still warriors; warriors of peace. Peace despite 3Million Vietnamese dead (1/8 of their total population), and 58,479 Americans dead. Peace despite the effects of Agent Orange still appearing as disabilities in children three generations later. Peace though the toll on the country of Viet Nam our warfare took is still not entirely known. And peace, because it is how they live, and it was how they lived before 1965 when the war in Viet Nam Everyone we met in Viet Nam knew about the tragedy that took place on our campus May 4,1970. “It was the first time I realized that there were many Americans who were against what was happening in our country,” Said Van Ngoc Huynh , Director of the War Remnants Museum in Sai Gon (also known as Ho Chi Min City). I was treated as a representative of Kent State University who came in peace; an ambassador to their country. And I thought I was just joining the Warrior’s Journey Home on their tour of peace. “Know what you’re going there for, but keep yourself open to the story that will unfold when you get there,” advised Bruce Winges, Editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. The Beacon Journal staff’s belief in me and my dedication to telling the story about a small community in Tallmadge truly validated my future as a storyteller. The support of reporter Kim McMahan, photo editor Kim Barth and my mentor, photographer Ed Suba Jr. is part of my story. My story includes being a journalism student published. My images ran above the fold on A1 twice, and we have just begun to tell the story. A larger story will run in the Beacon in December with more details of the trip and how all of our lives have been changed by this journey. Van Ngoc Huynh has offered Kent State a permanent May 4th exhibit at the War Remnants Museum, and in exchange a Vietnam War exhibit for our campus. Hanh, Journalism Professor Ming Thai (UVN Hanoi), former Viet Cong soldier Tam Tien, and translator and peace-maker Tran Dinh Song visited Kent State just two weeks ago; they were the first Vietnamese people ever hosted by our campus.
“I’m left with this one question,” said Reverend John Schluep of the Warriors Journey Home, “If they didn’t want the war, and we didn’t want the war, how the heck did this war happen?”
These vets are brave and courageous for returning to face their past in Viet Nam and also to share their stories with the community and the world. It’s an honor to listen, speak and heal with these Warriors. May they inspire all suffering veterans to let go of the past and let their healing begin.
It’s easy to be told these kinds of things, but to witness it firsthand left me speechless many times, tears of gratitude flowing behind my camera. The hugs, the smiles, the forgiveness, the brotherhood of former enemy soldiers was now a common bond of peace.
The Warriors Journey Home meets in Kent every Wednesday at the First Church of Christ, 335 West Main Street, Kent, at 7p.m., and The original circle continues to meet at the First Congregational Church, 85 Heritage Drive, Tallmage, every other Sunday night at 6 p.m.
“The only universal language is pain,” said Joe Caley, U.S. Army veteran who went to Viet Nam in search of forgiveness and peace. Click; Peace. Click; Reconciliation. Click; exhale and wipe away the tears. What an amazing experience to have while still a student, an experience of a lifetime; not to mention a freelance contract with the Akron Beacon Journal and a D300s on loan from Nikon.
Kent State Visual Journalism Major Laura Fong Torchia In Hoi An, Viet Nam, October, 2010. Photo by Charlie Forsyth
Bringing solidiers home was a promise we made while protesting the Viet Nam war, and we are making every effort to bring the hearts, minds and souls home from the war.” -Doctor Edward Tick, author of War and the Soul
Words and photos By Laura Fong Torchia “An enemy is someone whose story we have not yet heard.” -Peace activist Gene Knudsen Hoffman
Vietnam veteran Tom Saal, with students at the MAC Dinh Chi school his officer class funded and built ten years ago.
read the blog i kept on our journey at www.ohio.com/vietnamjourney
“if not for the war, we would never have known eachother.” -from Euripides’ anti-war play, The Women of Troy
onks at the Citadel in Hue, Viet Nam.
Iraq Veteran Michael Blake and Dr. Edward Tick, both of New York State.
“all ceremony is sacred, regardless of how it is done.”
-Seneca Holy Woman, Shianne Eagleheart
An American tank decorates the lawn at the Reunification Hall in Sai Gon.
“the VA is doing everything they can. We have to fill in the gaps at a grassroots level, there is no way they could keep up with the demand.”
-reverend John Schluep, First Congregational Church of Tallmadge, Ohio
Vet Nam Veteran Ralph Knerem and members of the Warriors Journey Hom Ministry