Local News

Vets face memories, former enemies in Vietnam

Posted November 13, 2009 3:22 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2009 6:16 p.m. EST

— Vietnam War veterans from the Triangle dined with a former enemy, helped orphans and learned new lessons about war during a 12-day trip to the country where they fought and saw comrades die.

"We had a lot of apprehension about going back, all the things we were going to see," veteran Bill Dixon said. "I was a helicopter pilot, and we flew combat missions every day. We were shot at most every day."

The veterans also remembered the shots they took when they came home.

"We weren't exactly welcomed, coming back from a war that was unpopular," said Dixon, adding that the dangers are as real, even in an unpopular war. "The threat is there every day."

Slideshow: Vets' trip to Vietnam

Bob Matthews, who went to war in Vietnam at age 21, organized the trip as a healing experience for the veterans.

The veterans have been telling Wake County students about their war experiences for years. It was time, they decided, for them to face their memories. They dubbed the trip "The Bridge Back."

They visited a museum at the site of the former Hanoi Hilton, the infamous prison where American POWs where held and sometimes tortured. They saw Truc Bach Lake where future Sen. John McCain was shot down before being held at Hanoi Hilton for nearly six years.

The veterans also visited a former Viet Cong captain and his wife, who worked in the underground in Saigon. The one-time enemies dined at the couple's house on the Mekong River.

"We shared stories for hours and hours and hours," veteran Dave Samuels said.

The veterans also reached out to help children in the country where they once waged war.

The group donated bikes to 40 orphans who walk eight miles to school each day. They brought donated school and medical supplies to a Vietnamese high and a school for the blind.

Samuels said the visit with the Viet Cong captain and the outreach to children taught him a new lesson about the nature of war.

"It can be forgotten. It can be worked out," he said.

Hear more from the veterans about the trip on "On the Record," which airs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.