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Local veterans returning to Vietnam

Posted September 21, 2009

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— As the United States continues to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a group of local veterans is remembering America's last long war – the Vietnam War.

Part of their remembrance is to return to the place where they struggled and fought.

"I think to prove that the war is over to me," said Lee Wilson.

Forty years ago, Wilson was a 21-year-old engineer in the U.S. Army who spent her days in helicopters over Vietnam.

Dave Samuels was a 20-year-old helicopter gunship pilot. Three times, his chopper was shot down from the sky.

"Everything I saw was from the air," Samuels said. "We certainly didn't feel like we were college students when we came home."

Bob Matthews was 21 years old when he went to war. He is now preparing for his second trip back and knows what's in store for his fellow veterans.

"It will be staggering," he said. "They have been back in their minds every day."

Because there was little taught about the war in high schools 15 years ago, Matthews created a course called "Lessons of Vietnam," which is now taught in 700 schools nationwide.

The group of veterans making their way back to Vietnam have spent time in classrooms teaching their lessons and now want to do more.

"Now, we're setting up distance learning with two schools in Vietnam and four schools in Wake County, where all the kids are going to e-mail each other lesson plans, movie reviews, personal letters. It's going to open a whole new avenue."

They'll also work at an orphanage and a school for the blind.

For each veteran, their mission is also a little different.

"Every place we stop, I'm going to get a handful of dirt and bring it back and put it back on our statue at the state capitol to have it for the blood of the brothers who died over there," Wilson said.

"Vietnam never goes away," Matthews said. "It's like a river. It runs through you."


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