Viet Nam Tour

May 2006

Thanks to Julie Kink , our beloved
Lil'Sis for this narrative and pictures

Click pics to enlarge

From May 7-May 21 or thereabouts, I was on a Military Historical Tour with 9 others and two tour hosts, plus Vietnamese guides and drivers. As most of you know, I have been interested in Vietnam for more than a decade, since starting to search for friends who would have known my brother, David, a helicopter pilot who was killed after one month in country in 1969, when he was 19.

I had strange feelings before going on the tour, that I needed to get my affairs in order before going to Vietnam. When you are a KIA family member who lost somebody at a young age, and your only experience with having a loved one go to Vietnam is that they didn't come back, you naturally anticipate your own not coming back. Not on a conscious level, but rather, subconsciously and matter-of-factly, you feel as if you will be following the natural progression of things, and that is, that when somebody goes to Vietnam, they don't come back.

In talking with Jeannie, I found her preparations for the trip also were characterized by a feeling of getting things in order. She found herself wondering, if the trip prep was this monumental for us in 2006, what could it have been like for young men heading there in time of war, knowing there would be bullets flying?

Jeannie Anderson was my roommate on the trip. Jeannie is the birth daughter of the other pilot, 20-year-old John Anderson of Columbus, Georgia, who was killed in my brother David's crash. We've known each other for about 6 years. She joined the trip group only a few weeks before we left and I am so glad we were able to share the experience together.

Leading the tour were John Powell and Ed Garr of Military Historical Tours. John was the Cobra pilot who was flying "high bird" in C Troop 1st of the 9th Cav on David, John & (gunner) Mike's last mission. He called in the downed bird alarm. I have known John since December 1996 when he responded to a letter of mine that he saw in a Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association newsletter seeking those who knew David. Ed is a former Marine Corps captain who has been leading tours since 1997.

Also on the tour were:

Terry Funk, an attorney from Oklahoma, USMC 66-67;

Tony Holmes from Florida, a USMC Lance Cpl 68-69 who had been on this tour with his wife just last year and come back for a second trip;

David & Renee Keel of Texas. David was a helicopter pilot in David & John's unit. He was operations officer at the time they were killed;

John Mackel and his 24-year-old son Luke of Texas. John was in C Troop 1/9th Cav from April 69-April 70, flying lift helicopter during David & John's time there;

Mike Sprayberry, a farmer from Alabama and a Medal of Honor recipient. Mike was in Vietnam in 67-68;

Dick Walker, USMC 62-67, from Oklahoma, who was in Vietnam in 1966;

Bob Weekley of Virginia, in an Arty Bty in 66-67 and again in 71-72 with the 101st Abn. when our troops were leaving the country.

We all met in Los Angeles at the Four Points Sheraton on the afternoon of May 6. We had the good fortune to be able to meet Jeanette Chervony, daughter of Eddie Chervony, 1/77th KIA 5-5-1968 who lives in the LA area, for lunch at the Falcon Inn, with her son Eddie Jr. Jeanette is the web mistress and very active in Sons and Daughter In Touch. She gave me a wonderful dog tag made by the SDIT group that went to Vietnam in 2003. It was a great send-off. 

We left LAX a few minutes after midnight on Korean Airlines, on a 13-hour flight that included 2 hot meals, one with red wine (!) and hot towels and lots of drinks. There was darkness outside the plane windows on most of this flight, and I found it hard to sleep. At one point in the inkly blackness outside the window there was rain falling, which I found sort of beautiful. We spent 5 hours in the Seoul airport before boarding Vietnam Airlines for Saigon which is now Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). At the Saigon airport we met Thanh, our Vietnamese guide, and Ed who arrived earlier. 

We went to the Caravelle Hotel where I met my Minnesota Vietnamese friends' brother, Phuoc and his wife, Dan. I had carried a suitcase containing sewing supplies to Vietnam for my Minnesota big brother Bich Chu and his wife Oanh Phan, to her family in Saigon. Phuoc and Dan brought to the hotel bags of lucious ripe fruit including Jackfruit, Mangosteen, Milk Fruit, Mangoes, and Custard Apples for us to share. On the return trip, I also hauled a suitcase from Vietnam to Minnesota, so had little room for gifts to bring back since I only had one suitcase to use for myself.

The next day we visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon, a huge Catholic church (6.7% of the country is Catholic according to our guide). Saigon has 8 million people (according to Saigon Times Magazine) and 3 million motorbikes. Everywhere, all day and all night, people are riding their motorbikes around town. At intersections and roundabouts, all converge and somehow find their way out. They beep-beep their horns a lot to let somebody know they are approaching from behind. Three-fourths of them wear face masks to protect from the pollution, and hats, jackets or long "prom" gloves up past their elbows, and hats. We commonly saw 2, 3, or 4 people on a motorbike including a baby riding up front. There are no helmet laws so we saw few helmets, and few cars. Just mostly motorbikes and big trucks.

In Saigon we visited the War Remnants Museum which has static displays of some American aircraft, plus some graphic horrific photos of atrocities of war. There was a propaganda-slant to the displays. There also were some prison cells displayed. We saw the Presidential Palace where the TV crews in 1975 filmed the 2 tanks crashing through the gate at the end of the war. It's now used as a tourist place and for trade shows. We didn't go in but took photos out front.

Our guide told us that there are a lot of Vietnamese "wannabees" who claimed to be members of the 5-man crew who crashed through that gate in 1975, so the government finally issued the real guys ID cards to prove their involvement. 

Ed Garr explained that at Tet in Jan. 1968, the VC/NVA had 35 btns. here and we had 50 btns. He said that was the only large action that occurred in Saigon. 

We always traveled by air conditioned tour bus. The next day we went to Lai Khe airfield which is just a strip of pavement flanked by a drainage ditch with rubber trees on the other side. The 173rd Abn was apparently here. A Vietnamese guy rode up on his motorbike to check us out. He said he was a Cav shoe shine boy during the war. This was along Hwy. 13. 

We followed the two-lane highway to the Iron Triangle and Cu Chi where we went through some of the Cu Chi Tunnels - very interesting. They have a sort of guided tour like a national park which was built in 1990 commemorating the brave villagers that resorted to digging underground. We received a video presentation depicting the "ruthless imperialistic Americans" that drove the people underground, the bravery of the Vietnamese villagers there including women who, it seemed, would live their lives digging tunnels out of rock with one hand and a rifle in the other fighting off the enemy. Thanh, our guide, at one point asked the tour girl to stop the television video because it was just getting too anti-American for our group. 

They have displays of American ordnance, places where you can go through the tunnels (take your flashlight!) which were shorter than me in some spots, mainly hallways and small open clear areas used for meeting rooms, surgical rooms, individual Viet Cong families' areas. Lots of tunnels. Renee was the brave one from our group to go in first, much of the time. They supposedly had 4 levels of tunnels in which several hundred people lived and 17 babies were born. The first tunnels at Cu Chi were 40 km long built in 1948 by the Viet Minh to hide their arms and then themselves. The Viet Cong enlarged the network to 250 km to link pockets of resistance and provide backup for attacks on Saigon. Small trapdoors led into the tunnels which have been widened to accommodate western tourists. 

At the tunnel area is also a temple and war cemetery where 10,000 victims are buried. There are lots of temples honoring the local dead from that area. 

On the road to Tay Ninh, it suddenly hit me that at the end of the trip, I would have been in Vietnam for half the time that my brother, David, spent there. It shouldn't be, but it's a fact, he was only there twice as long as I was. Seemed very strange to me at the time. 

We stopped briefly at an elementary school where there were a couple dozen kids who came outside the gate to talk to us. The elementary schools all look alike, gated with a blue overhead sign and usually some patriotic billboard depicting a happy patriotic family nearby. The children were all in bright white shirts with red neck scarves and dark pants. They happily told me and Jeannie some of their names when I asked, Ong ten gi? "What is your name?"

We ate at a roadside cafe that tested our faith in our Vietnamese guide as far as food safety. We stayed away from several big jars of marinating stuff along one wall, and were served some sort of soup, always with an individual loaf of great French bread, which usually accompanied every breakfast and lunch, and for dessert was what came to be the standard, fresh cut pineapple and watermelon. No pie or chocolate cake in Vietnam!

In restaurants and other places, we saw the best and worst as far as toilet facilities. We three ladies got used to always checking out the "W.C." (water closet) and learned that if we found one that actually had a seat, that was a good sign! It was usually bring your own toilet paper and hand disinfectant. Many toilets were of the stand-up variety. There was usually a pipe running down from the ceiling which you could turn on for some running water to wash your hands, using the dilapitated bar of soap sitting there, or otherwise you could rinse your hands in a huge basin of standing water. Then, drip dry. Many of the toilets had what looked like a kitchen sprayer clipped to the wall somehow. I used this to spray my feet and sandles which was pretty refreshing. I believe it was intended for another anatomical use but I never did try that method.

We drove to Nui Ba Den, "Black Lady Mountain," which according to the guidebook "seems to rise up out of nowhere." It's the highest mountain in the south, 986 meters, and was the scene of fierce fighting during the war. We rode cablecars similar to the skiing gondolas up the heavily forested mountain, seeing a beautiful panoramic view of the valley below which was divided up in square fields and looked just like Wisconsin to me. Near the top was Ba Pagoda and a huge reclining Buddha statue. Everything at the bottom of the mountain, where we got on the cable cars, needed paint - bunny figures that seemed rather grim and menacing, and the worst "stand up" WC I used on the whole trip. At the top we saw the only monkeys we saw on the trip, climbing on the wires. We rode down in individual bumper car type things, down a twisting metal chute. I got some grief for riding my brakes too much for the daredevils behind me. But it was fun and nobody was injured. 

The next day we went to LZs Dot and Carolyn and stayed at a hotel in Tay Ninh which was "interesting" as far as inhabitants, the non-paying kind. We went onto the Cao Dai compound which contains an absolutely gorgeous temple which has been the headquarters of this religion since 1927. The entire park area was spic and span. We took our shoes off on the steps of the temple, where a little old lady in white garb was sweeping non-existent dust off the steps. There were a few women and men monks inside; one of the men very kindly, and with excellent English, explained to us that their religion combines Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. They pray four times a day. When we had exited the temple, a procession was coming down the road which was some sort of celebration or funeral, with colorful costumes and some sort of square structure they were carrying. They believe in seven steps to heaven, and they also have female priests. Ha! They will get to heaven sooner.

Crops in Vietnam, that we saw while on the bus, were rice of course, with many workers wearing straw hats manually planting or tilling the fields; manioc, a potato like food; sugar cane; and in some places, coffee beans. We also saw water buffalo in the fields, and a cow or two tied up in front of many of the country homes.

We went to the LZ Carolyn area, and saw some places where our Marine group members had served. It was Terry's birthday, so out of nowhere, our Vietnamese guide Thanh procured a beautifully frosted birthday cake. We stopped at a roadside stand to have some Cokes and share the cake amongst ourselves, and attracted the attention of a little girl about 8 years old and her younger brother and sister. She was given the cake to hold for a photo, and you could tell she was really proud to hold it and have her picture taken. Then before anybody knew what was happening, she was gone, making fast tracks off into the distance with her brother and sister, cake and all. This was a big laugh for all of us. We figured she was really popular with all her little friends that day!

We went to Quan Loi and saw miles and miles of rubber plantations, and I gathered some soil and rocks. The bus got stuck in the red clay! Visited Kontum (?) airfield, LZ Dot - David Keel told some stories about flying first light missions and last light missions over the special forces camp that was there. There was no village, only low lying brush. We saw LZ Rita also.

We stayed at another hotel in Dong Xoai, called Binh Phuoc's Provincial Guest-House in Binh Phuoc Province. Another place that silently spoke of "past glory" with a grand entrance but mold on the walls and a fountain outside with the Communist flag flying from a pole in the middle, but stagnant water with green slime. It's as if these places were built with glorious expectations and then left to themselves with no upkeep. Very interesting.

About 4 pm, a group of seven schoolgirls came by on their bikes and Bob entertained them with songs and dances. They were so excited to speak to us in English. One spoke mostly for the group. John Mackel was trying to teach them funny songs. They told Jeannie she was beautiful. Then they sang songs for us. They were 13 & 14 years old. They gave Jeannie and Bob each a small coin, then they came back after we had given them some American coins, and gave us a 200 dong note. A Vietnamese gentleman who had watched from the hotel steps translated for us: it was the lowest denomination, so despite our hesitance to take money from them, it was OK to accept it, as they wanted us to take it home as a memory of their country. They were beautiful and so excited when they rode off on their bikes saying "Bye bye!" 

The next day on the bus, Dave and John Mackel told great stories of certain missions, such as when the CS grenade exploded on board the AC and other great recollections. Mackel told of the flight of Dean & Soma & Hogeboom, and also a funny story involving Steve Karas who was my brother's best friend. 

Jeannie and I noticed that our Vietnamese assistant, Yan, would meticulously wash the bus every night and every morning. He was a young kid with a shy smile, maybe in his early 20s, and was very respectful to us, but seemed not to speak much English. 

We set out for Song Be, Phuoc Vinh where C Troop had flown out of. Tony had his GPS to try to pinpoint the coordinates for the crash site of my brother & Jeannie's birth father. We also spread maps on the ground in front of the hotel. It was exciting, anticipating seeing where they had actually been, but I didn't feel personally like I needed to see it, or the crash site. Just being in Vietnam was enough. The airfield/staging area at Phuoc Vinh took a while to become familiar to those C Troopers who had been there. We spent an hour or so walking around, seeing mostly flat broken up surface with trees on the perimeter and a few meager shed-type homes. Took some photos, and then along came a police officer who questioned Thanh on what we were doing there.

The bus stopped near what would have been the other end of the airfield area and the C Troopers who got off and explored that area said it looked a lot more familiar and they could tell exactly where they were from that particular point. Phuoc Vinh is still a small town by the same name. The closest we got to the crash site was standing on a bridge near another non-useable bridge the center of which was blown out in 1975. John Powell, Jeannie and I posed for a photo on the bridge, which was about 1 or 2 miles from where the crash occurred on July 21, 1969. The bridge seemed to shake under our feet when a big truck would pass over.

The next day we flew to DaNang. While the guys visited the silk worm factory, we ladies took a short cyclo ride to Hoi An, a nearby picturesque town on the banks of the River Thu Bon. We went to a sewing shop frequented by tour director Ed Garr, who came with us ladies. The tiny girls running the shop were so excited to see Ed again and to learn he was bringing his wife to Vietnam later this summer. The shop was long and narrow, with headless, 1970's style manequins in front wearing pants or wool suits or dresses, and inside floor-to-ceiling shelves of every kind of fabric, including many silks. On the small table in the center were catalog books including JC Penney and others, from which a customer would choose ANYTHING to be made to fit. There were about 4-5 plastic lawn chairs sitting there, on which we sat to flip through the catalogs choosing our items. The girls immediately brought each of us a cold bottle of water and sat us right down. I practiced my Vietnamese with one of the girls.

It was the dad who measured us, taking measurements across shoulders, arm length, waist length, every other measurement you can imagine. We ordered our clothes, including shoes for Renee & Jeannie (!) which all took a couple hours, and then rejoined the group. They were going to make our clothes and deliver them to our hotel in nearby DaNang in 3 days!

The next day we went to China Beach where a brand new highway is flanked by a nice walkway, and on the non-beach side, a few resorts(!). We went to Marble Mountain, climbing up a steep winding path that wove in and out of cavernous tunnels and caves, finding more temples at the top, along with a spectacular view. In some of the caves were impossibly huge stone statues of Buddha, looking very eery in the dim cave light, with incense burning below his immense figure. The guidebook tells us we also saw statues of the Goddess of Mercy, Goddess of Wisdom and Intelligence, and Goddess of Generosity and Forgiveness. A huge cave, 30 meters high, looked magical in its dim light with some candles burning and heavy air inside. It was used as a Viet Cong hospital and is now, guidebook says, a major Buddhist pilgrimage site.

Tour director Ed said most vestiges of the American's presence have been obliterated. One of the few remaining is an old bunker tucked underneath a bridge next to a railroad that you never know was there. Inside, a GI wrote something like "When I die, the only thing I'll feel will be the recoil of my rifle." We saw Hill 55, and learned some of the stories of the places we were visiting from Ed's excellent accounts.

Renee, Jeannie and I had a $7 massage at the hotel ($3 tip expected and downright asked-for!). We weren't sure, however, whether the girls giving us the massage were laughing with us or at us! We had an evening more or less to ourselves, but we all loved each other so much by then that most of us chose to eat as a group at a little restaurant where we received yet another several-course meal. Your cyclo driver, who had gotten to know you by then, would peddle you to the restaurant, wait outside as long as it took you, then peddle you along the river for a bit of sightseeing and back to your hotel, for $5. Terry tried to boost the economy by upping the price, which did not win him any points with the rest of us! At any rate, very cheap labor and very reliable transportation through streets that you would NOT have wanted to walk or drive a car on, in the interest of personal safety. 

We left DaNang the next day and saw Red Beach where the Marines landed in 1965, went over Hai Van Pass where the scenery was beautiful and breathtaking except for the ravenous vendors wanting to sell you maps, postcards or bracelets (I didn't even get off the bus), and Bob shared some recollections about his experience in the area as the last combat troops were leaving the area, 3d Bde 101 Abn, in 1971. Terry also had been in the area and shared a story about a girl he had known platonically in that time period, whose acquaintances had ironically remembered her when he asked somebody outside our tour bus. We saw the tiny fishing village of Lang Co.

Then we went to Hue and had an extensive lesson on the major actions that occurred there, from Ed. We went to the Citadel and learned from our new guide, Chuong, about the Emperor and the Kings and Mandarins who lived there in the Forbidden City. It was a very beautiful place, a city within a city, with lots of picturesque ruins and also some workers restoring some of the buildings and architecture, which was good to see. One emperor founded a dynasty, and there were 13 kings, according to Chuong; the youngest was 9 years old. Inside the Citadel, we visited a Buddhist pagoda where there are monks studying, and children too. The car that the Buddhist monk drove into Saigon in 1963, and then set himself on fire to protect President Diem's intolerance of religious freedom, is on display there.

The next day, off on Highway 1 to sites Woods, Camp Evans, and other sites. At Camp Evans, we learned that in 1966, the 4th Marine Rgt was here. Then later, the Cav came and took over the area. Dave Keel, who arrived for his first tour in September 1968, was here with C/1/9 for a month or two till the Cav moved south to III Corps in October 1968. He remembered how A Troop was given 24 hours notice to pack up and move; 2 wks later, B Troop moved and then C Troop covered the area till the last bde left - about another 4 weeks.

Luke, the youngest member of our group, had had a date the night before with a young lady he met at the Citadel, an economics student at the university. He told us how the evening had gone, with them going somewhere to eat and then having tea with her parents in their modest home. It was very interesting.

We stopped by a bombed out Catholic church that was an interesting photo op. Ed said it has been left standing as a testament to the destructiveness of the Americans.

Chuong told us that in 1986, the government divided up the land among individuals based on the number of family members. While people don't own their property, it is still taxed, and he said every 10 years, the government redistributes the land according to family size. That is why the homes are built so strangly, always one room wide and very tall, right up next to each other, with one, two, three or even four stories.

We went to Dong Ha, Cam Lo "Leatherneck Square," the DMZ, a river that divided north and south, and Vin Loc Tunnels, a bit larger than the Cu Chi Tunnels and just as interesting. A Vietnamese man came up to our group who was apparently a VC soldier. He exchanged some chit chat with our veterans, shook hands and left.

The next day, we went over the Dong Ha bridge with full narration by Ed - site of the April 1972 occurrence depicted in the movie Bat 21. We went to the second largest cemetery in Vietnam, Truong Son Cemetery, "their Arlington" where there are 9,900 tombs, many NVA soldiers with pictures of them on their gravestones. Our guide, Chuong, explained that 3 days before his father was to be drafted into the North Vietnamese Army, he broke his leg when a bamboo bridge went out. The people of the village all thought he did it on purpose (he didn't) so the family was somewhat shunned. Chuong's oldest brother served in the Army in Cambodia, during which time his mother pretty much just lay on her bed and wept. The brother was the only one to survive an accident with a truck going over a mine, was wounded and still has nightmares. His brother said it was worse than the movie "The Killing Fields." Chuong, who is 36, has 2 other brothers who served in the (short) China war in 1979.

Chuong said the government takes good care of wives and mothers who lost family members in the war. They receive some sort of pension.

We went to Camp Carroll, the site of a bloody battle where the ARVN surrendered. There is a rather avant garde style monument there which has been left to the elements with surrounding walls that depict battle scenes just pushed over and left upside down with weeds growing all around. It's at the top of a huge hill with a spectacular view, nothing else around but a pathway, some coffee bean fields, and this big angular stone monument.

We saw the Rockpile, Razorback, saw some poor, poor places where barefoot children with dirty faces and outstretched hands would meet the bus the minute it stopped. Some of us would give them a granola bar or some other snack to share. Then, you leave. It was truly heartbreaking. As much as I wanted to capture the moment, I just couldn't take pictures of them. I didn't want to be an American tourist on an air conditioned bus taking a photo of a begging child.

We went to Khe Sahn and Ed told of its significance. There's a visitor center with small museum of artifacts, some American and ARVN medals displayed haphazardly on a part of a flag, some static displays including a Chinook and Huey and a badly mangled fuselage. Ed said it's bogus equipment. Luke found a beetle the size of a tank and was smart enough NOT to put it on anybody's back. We played with it for a while and took photos.

Then we started a bus ride that was maybe 3 hours (?) down a part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that was extremely scenic. We went down a very winding, two lane road through heavily forested mountains except for a clearing here and there. Saw shacks with thatched roofs with twig fences and laundry hanging on a string on an outcropping of land beside the road with the most spectacular views in the world. And I am thinking, what do these people think when they awake? Do they pray their thanks to the mountains or their gods for putting them here? What are their dreams?

I had brought to Vietnam a list of the names of more than 350 men who were killed in the Vietnam War, whose family or friends I have come to know. I knew that when the time was right, I would say the names quietly to myself, remembering their loved ones left behind, who could not go where I was going.

Sitting on the tour bus watching the indescribable beauty of that high winding mountain road, part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with the most breathtaking views in the world, I went down my list, and read each name silently.

In my mind, I told them: It was the best I could do for each of you, give you this beautiful place through my eyes. You were here when it was a painful place, an ugly Vietnam. It was our war, but it’s over. I will tell your families that today, 35+ years later, the thoughts of your lives and your names echoed off these hills again in a time of peace. I’ll tell them how I brought you back here and gave you a beautiful Vietnam by saying your names in these mountains.

I felt good that I had brought all my "guys" and their families along with me.

That evening, Jeannie and I sat in our sixth floor hotel room in DaNang at the Bamboo Green, where we had returned, looking out at all the juxtaposed homes, nothing but rooftops as far as the eye could see. We could see a TV set with family around it here, a family spreading sheets out to sleep there . . . lots of little red Buddha shrine candles burning in the little homes so far below. They all just co exist. It occurred to me that co existence is the name of the game here. Danang is much quieter than Saigon at night - I noticed one or two motorbikes whose lights could be seen turning down an alley to disappear from view - and we talked about freedom, culture, and whether we are less free with all of our zoning and cultural norms than they are. I wondered, who is in all these homes, and where will they be in 5 years?

That would be my last night's sleep till I got home!

The next day we left Danang in the morning and flew to Hanoi. All day we toured Hanoi. John and Luke Mackel had pre-arranged a golf outing; after they rejoined the group, John explained how they had encountered some well dressed gentlemen when entering the course who said they were members and would get them in at a lower price . . . they were subsequently told by the American course owner that they were "Party" members . . . well dressed and affluent, while outside the clubhouse, the poor sold golf balls. And: they had female caddies!

The rest of us visited the Hoa Lo Prison, "Hanoi Hilton" which was built by the French who used it to torture Vietnamese political prisoners in unspeakable ways in the early 20th century; the section of it that was used for American POWs during the Vietnam War has since turned into a condominium building, but there are several displays inside, including the flight suit & parachute of John McCain. Also a park area inside the prison commemorating the brave Vietnamese who were brutalized by the French, complete with a guillotine.

We went past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but didn't go inside. If we had, we would have been prohibited from talking, putting hands in our pockets, or holding up the line while walking past Ho lying in state like Stalin. John Powell said he is taken offsite every so often to be "retouched." Because the previous day was Ho's birthday, there were huge banners on either side of the building indicating how he is in the hearts of the people.

Then we stopped at JPAC, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Detachment Two in Hanoi and received a very interesting briefing from Lt. Col. Lentfort Mitchell on the status of our recovery efforts. JPAC was formed by the October 1, 2003 merger of JTFFA and CILHI, the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting and Central Identification Lab Hawaii. They employ 425 civilians and military combined. Vietnam has about 1379 MIAs - the number always changes due to remains in process of being identified in Hawaii.

Their presentation went over the steps involved, site investigation team members' qualifications, and processes of recovery. I found it very interesting that after remains are recovered, a ceremony is held in Hawaii with color guards and family if available, plus local active duty personnel. However, even before being identified, the remains are given a "repatriation" ceremony - a full ceremony before the remains are flown to Hawaii.

They do 4 joint field activities a year, each of which can involve 700-800 people. "Presence, persistence and patience" are their mottos. They now have 66 cases on the approved list for excavation in Vietnam. This number only represents recovery efforts, not research which is ongoing. They are trying to take advantage of witnesses who are still alive, so need to maximize efforts in Vietnam. There are over 300 Vietnam cases that are "over water" cases. They are currently working a lot in the western Highlands.

They extend an open invitation to the public to participate in field site visits and repatriation ceremonies. The next one is June 19 - these are usually done at the airport, they shut down the airport and then they fly out.

Each joint field activity costs the US Government about $1.2 million.

I have lots more notes from the briefing but only put the highlights here.

We regrouped and flew out of Hanoi about midnight. Had about 4 hours in Seoul, 1 hour in Tokyo, and on to Los Angeles where we tearfully parted ways! I had about 12 very interesting hours sitting next to John Mackel on the flight, still couldn't straighten him out, but I tried! I still miss the group. We all grew close to one another and appreciated each other's differences and similarities.

In one day, "my" day anyway, between bedtimes, I was in Danang, Hanoi, Seoul, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Denver and Minneapolis! No wonder I was dragging for about the next 5 days.

For all who got this far, congratulations, you get a one way ticket to Hanoi!! My dog, Asia, was with friends who took great care of her and she was happy to see mom get home and now doing well!

My photos for those who haven't seen them yet, are at the following URL.

Scroll down to position it so you can see the caption below the photo - then hit "play" to run the slideshow. These are only the best of my 600 photos which I plan to take to VHPA but promise NOT to hold anyone hostage to view the entire book - only those interested.

I'm very glad I went . . . general impression was very good and people were very friendly . . . Military Historical Tours did a great job. It was said, if any veterans are thinking about going back to Vietnam, go now. In another 5 years the landscape and the country will be so totally changed that you won't know a thing there. 

I truly appreciate the interest of anybody who has read this far. And I appreciate all the wonderful support before I went. I could not have done this trip without many many emotional supporters. You know who you are.

Little sister,

Julie Kink
Sister of WO David Kink
C Trp 1/9th CAV KIA 8-3-1969