The first time Ivan Van Laningham was in Vietnam, the mountain of Cu Chi was a combat zone. Thirty-two years after serving in the Vietnam War, Van Laningham returned and found...
The first time Ivan Van Laningham was in Vietnam, the mountain of Cu Chi was a combat zone.
Thirty-two years after serving in the Vietnam War, Van Laningham returned and found a resort area where rubber-tired trains cart tourists around and rabbit-shaped trash baskets dot paved trails.
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“It was incongruous to visit the mountain that had once been the target of so much firepower and see such cutesy trash containers,” said the 56-year-old Salt Lake City man.
Van Laningham went back to Vietnam as part of a “learning and reconciliation” tour aimed at helping Vietnam veterans come to terms with the war and its aftermath.
New York state residents, psychotherapist Edward Tick and history professor Steven Leibo, have led three such tours with some 70 veterans, historians, teachers and students from across the nation. Veterans pay for the trips.
“Part of the philosophy of healing is returning to the scene of the crime in safety,” said Tick, who has worked with survivors of severe trauma, especially war, since 1979. Many of the veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can include flashbacks, nightmares and agitation.
The trips bring veterans back to a living, peaceful country very different from the one they left.
Jim Doyle, a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans of America, has been back to Vietnam seven times. “It replaces all the negative memories and photographs in their minds with the positive memories and photographs of the way things are now,” he said.
Veterans meet former Vietnamese soldiers during the journeys. Many participants talk about “Mr. Tiger” a man in his 80s who runs a garden nursery and shares special “healing” wine.
“He explained how governments fought the war, but those involved on both sides were just doing as they were told,” said Beth Marie Murphy of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who was a 22-year-old Navy nurse during the war. “He said that time was past, and now we were his friends, and he was glad we were there visiting with him.”
Tour of Peace, a similar group based in Tucson, Ariz., brings family members with the veterans. Organized by Jess DeVaney in 1998, the tours go back to battlefields and villages where the veterans do service projects. When he first went back to Vietnam, DeVaney kept looking at the orphanages and homes for the disabled and wanted to keep going back.
“We heal by helping others,” he said.
He plans to bring two groups of veterans back this year.
“We don’t pretend to erase Vietnam,” he said. “We can’t do that. But we do try to get people to accept how they have been affected by the Vietnam experience in order to live in the present instead of the past all the time.”