Category Archives: Uncategorized

9 Sep 2015

Profile of Purpose: Flag Day

Dr Brian DeToy Flag DayWritten by Dr Brian DeToy, June 14, 2021

The American Flag

She’s been through the fire before,And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

~ Johnny Cash         “Ragged Old Flag”

At 5:00 p.m. on September 11th, 2001, three New York City firefighters raised the Stars and Stripes above the wreckage of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. In a photo that went ‘round the world in moments, the American people had recaptured their spirit and their grit and determination. The flag was whisked away later that night and replaced with an even larger one. However, the image, much like the iconic one of the Marines at Iwo Jima, had served its greater purpose. Today, the original flag is on display at the National September 11th Memorial in NYC. “I can hear you! I can hear you!

The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” said President George Bush at the WTC site on September 14, just days afterwards, as American flags waved in resilience.

Flags mean something. Something different, perhaps, to each of us. For me, nothing quite captures the emotions I feel when looking upon our flag as the first stanza of our national anthem is sung. Among many other surging images and thoughts, I always think of that September 14th morning in 1814, when Francis Scott Key saw the American flag still waving above the ramparts of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor. Combined with the defeat of the invading army the previous day, the defense of the harbor wrecked British plans and they withdrew from the capital region. Flying from the Fort McHenry battlements that morning was a special pennant. The garrison commander, Major George Armistead commissioned it, saying “I wish for a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a great distance.” Measuring 30 feet by 42 feet, it was the largest battle flag the US has ever flown. Today, it resides on display in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Key’s poem became our national anthem in 1931.

Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, two years to the day after creating the US Army. Betsy Ross of Philadelphia, and others, crafted the early flags for use with George Washington’s Continental Army. It has led our Soldiers into battle ever since and does so today. Congress did not state the full particulars of the flag design, but “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” The colors are important – Red representing hardiness and valor, White signifying purity and innocence, while Blue maintained vigilance, perseverance and justice. And reflect a moment on those final words – “a new constellation.” The experiment that was the United States was something new, original, filled with hope and promise. There were many old and famous countries, led by kings. Their flags, filled with lions and eagles and stags, were of the old constellation. America represented a young vigorous opportunity. The Declaration of Independence, of which our flag is a tangible reminder, is an aspirational document. We have not yet achieved all it set out. But we can strive to perfect it –to make it real. It is a dream and a challenge to live up to the ideals we say we stand for. And, for us today, it is an obligation to be met, and met willingly.

In 1916, during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed an annual national Flag Day. Thirty-three years later, after World War II, President Harry Truman signed a resolution making the holiday June 14th, the same day as the original congressional resolution. Images of the American flag are indelibly linked to our history. From Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders and Buffalo Soldiers atop San Juan and Kettle Hills to the Marine flag-raising atop Mount Suribachi in the midst of the early bitter fighting on Iwo Jima. The latter is memorialized today in the monument in Arlington, Virginia.

In Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton prison camp, a pilot, Mike Christian of Selma, Alabama, was held for six years. The prison uniform was blue, and Mike crafted a bamboo needle, collected some red and white cloth, and sewed an American Flag inside his shirt. Each afternoon, the POWs would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

For some, repeating the Pledge may not be the most important part (or even any part) of our day. However, for those American prisoners it was incredibly meaningful. One day, the Vietnamese searched Mike’s cell, found his flag and took it, and then beat him mercilessly for hours for “the benefit of the other Americans.” Mike was thrown back inside his stark cell and was badly hurt. Late that night, when all had fallen asleep, Mike woke and sat under a dim bulb with pieces of white, red and blue cloth. With his bamboo needle, and with his eyes nearly swollen shut from the beating, he fashioned another flag. Mike Christian knew how important it was for his fellow prisoners to be able to pledge allegiance to our flag and to our country. In times of incredible stress, something to hold on to can be the thing that saves your life.

On this Flag Day, let us remember Old Glory as the symbol of a people and a country that does not accept defeat, that struggles ever forward toward achieving that more perfect union. We owe this much. To our forebears, especially those who gave their lives that our nation might live. Let the American Flag be our companion on this journey, inspiring the collective us to efforts greater than our individual selves.


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9 Sep 2015

Nazis Invade Holland, Belgium Luxembourg

“Hitler has chosen a moment when, perhaps, it seemed to him that this country was entangled in the throes of a political crisis and he might find it divided against itself. If he has counted upon our internal divisions to help him, he has miscalculated the mind of this people.”

~ Neville Chamberlain, UK Prime Minister 10 May 1940

Later in the day, on this date eight decades ago, Chamberlain resigned and King George VI asked Winston Churchill to form a government. Churchill had been serving as head of the Navy in Chamberlain’s administration. Churchill reached out to Clement Attlee, head of the Labour Party and, together, they formed a unified war government for the duration of the conflict.

80 years ago yesterday, Nazi Germany invaded the Low Countries, neutral countries all, and the west front war with France and Britain was on. The Germans had faced the impregnable Maginot Line on the frontier with France. Knowing they could not breach it, they, instead, invaded the neutrals to go around it.

The British Expeditionary Force was soon cut-off and driven to the Channel ports in less than two weeks.

The conflict would now go on, unabated, for five years.

9 Sep 2015

Brian DeToy Iraq Blog from 2010: Flight to Taji

So yesterday morning I decided I wanted to go up-country a bit and talk with some commanders and staff about certain aspects of leadership and leadership development. So, I got on our handy-dandy air portal and signed up for a helicopter (CH47 Chinook) flight out of a nearby airbase for 1930. At about 1830 SGM drove me over to the base and I found I had not been manifested. Didn’t matter, because weather had socked in all rotary flights since 1500; they went ahead and added me to the list of passengers. I also went over to the Air Force folks and signed up for a fixed-wing flight scheduled to go to the same place at 0200. SGM then left me and returned to Victory. I read a book, made a couple of calls on the free phones provided by the USO (but only got a hold of Mom and surprised her with my voice!) At 2300 the call came through that all rotary (helo) flights were cancelled across central Iraq for the night due to the weather situation. Lots of groans from all the folks on the flight line. I went back over to the Air Force and their flight was still a ‘go.’ At 2330 we manifested (about 40 of us) and we finally made our way to the plane about 0100 this morning. Besides my body armor, helmet and weapon, I only had one small rucksack so not much trouble. It was a C-130 Hercules (4 props), the old workhorse of Army-Air Force cooperation for decades. I have flown more in this aircraft than any other. Same old rigged jump seats, too. I sat down, strapped in and promptly fell asleep; the stiffness and height of the body armor makes a nice headrest. Sometime in there the engines started and revved and they raised the ramp. Suddenly, about the time we should have been taxiiing, I heard the crew chief yell – ‘We’re shutting down and everybody has to get off. Sorry about that.’ Really more groans now! Then, he turned to me and said, ‘Sir ,can you step up front for a minute?’ At the ladder to the cockpit, he whispered, over the engines, “Sir, we’re still taking you with us. Could you jump up into the cockpit so the others don’t see you are staying? I did as bid. Ten minutes later the other passengers had debarked and their gear had been off-loaded from the ramp. The crew all gathered in the cockpit – there were three young captains (two pilots and a navigator, all under 30), the crew chief and the airman. They informed me that the weather situation was such that they were not allowed to make the flight with passengers but, they figured, as a lieutenant colonel, I must be important enough to get to my destination. No argument from me. After some more talk about weather impacts (“The rules here say we can’t fly.” “But the regs say we can.” “And the charts and reports are at least 4 hours old.” “And I don’t want to spend the night here.”, etc, etc), with me as bemused bystander, the two pilots decided to return to the weather room and get the latest guidance. I remained with the other three and we talked college and sports; the airman is from Madison Wisconsin and is a rabid Badger! And the navigator is a Texas A&M Aggie all the way. He, by the way, was in favor of flying regardless of what anyone said – “I can get us there,” he kept repeating. Eventually, 0245, the pilots returned and told me “Sir, our higher in the UAE, has given us permission to make this night flight, under night-vision goggles, in this weather, and into a very short airstrip none of us has ever seen before, even in daylight. If I decide at the last moment, that I can’t make it, I am to abort and take this bird to Kuwait and not back here. Do you still want to go with us?” Now, I thought, who can pass up an offer of adventure like that?! So, I said “I need to chew some ass down in Ali al Salem anyway (in Kuwait), so if that happens I can make something out of it, as long as I get a flight back up here tomorrow.” No problem, the pilot told me. So, we were off. Again, these were all young guys and they were excited to be doing something new and a bit dangerous and, at least, interesting in this boring old war of theirs. The crew went through their checklists in their painstaking manner (thankfully) and at 0300 we revved and throttled those big engines and taxiied out onto the runway. I have never flown in a large plane cockpit before (several Cessnas but nothing like this). It was awesome! What a view; the nose of a C-130 has a ton of window and I had the cat’s perch. Watching these young men work, rumbling down the runway, goggled eyes scanning left, right and front, was pretty cool. True professionals. The navigator would stand and peer out from time to time. We took off quickly (a C-130 does not need much runway, and that is why it is so useful to us Army guys), and we banked off into the black. We reached our cruising altitude pretty fast and I had a perfect view of the giant city spread out before me. The liveliness of it, even at that hour, makes me think this whole endeavor will succeed. As we approached our destination camp, I kept a sharp eye back and forth between navigator and pilot. We did overfly the objective the first time. I don’t know if this was intentional or not. It was their first time to this strip and there was the weather. However, it is not usual to do this with enemy about. You don’t want to loiter around or do a slow lazy circle back in. But we did. I was OK with it. Not that I had any choice. We banked incredibly sharply, lots of Gs, and came into the airstrip. 500 the computer voice intoned, 450, meantime the navigator is calling it out too, 250, 200, the pavement is coming up real fast now, 100, 50, 30, 10, touchdown. Immediately, the engines kicked into reverse and the plane stopped almost on a dime. Great bird! We spun around in front of the Iraqi Air Force bays and I saw two pickups waiting. The crew chief gave me the thumbs up and I was released. I scampered down the cockpit ladder and out the ramp on the tail of the plane. I was met by a senior NCO on the tarmac who pointed me to the trucks. I walked over and found my good friend Major Scott Shaw. Ten years ago this very month, he and I had flown into the Sinai peninsula with our battalion (I was XO and he was my S-3 Air) for a six-month peacekeeping deployment on the Egyptian-Israeli border. He took me back to his office, filed some reports and then hit the sack at about 0430. Got up today (its all one long day now) and met with some officers in the late morning and afternoon. Met up with an old cadet of mine, Captain Megan (Noble) Andros, for lunch and then caught the late afternoon UH-60 Blackhawk flight back to my home base. Again, there was a screw up with the manifest, but my rank allowed them to put me on the list. In both cases, I did not say or do anything to ‘use rank’ or ‘push it.’ It was simply that I was the highest ranking person around both times and the folks ‘made it happen.’ Its funny – here in the Palace, there are a couple billion lieutenant colonels running around, while out in the sticks there are fewer and fewer; so it felt good to be one again. On the flight back, we came in over farmland between the fertile Tigris and Euphrates; at times my mind wandered as I was watching the pastoral scene and it was as if I was looking at an American farming landscape. Only a dirty brown home or stretch of poor irrigation canal would give it away. All in all, a very good day and quite productive. And I very much enjoyed my flight last night; glad to have been with those young guys as they did some new things.

9 Sep 2015

Opinion: The Embargo on Cuba Failed. Let’s Move On.

Interesting piece on Cuba from Nick Kristof this morning in the NYT. His take is pretty much the one we (Brian, Sheryl, EHE) have taken since our first visit nearly four years ago. We have found the people to be just about the most friendly and open we have met anywhere in our travels, and the country to be the safest and one of the most beautiful we have visited.

HAVANA — It has been 60 years since Fidel Castro marched into Havana, so it’s time for both Cuba and the United States to grow up. Let’s let Cuba be a normal country again.

Cuba is neither the demonic tyranny conjured by some conservatives nor the heroic worker paradise romanticized by some on the left. It’s simply a tired little country, no threat to anyone, with impressive health care and education but a repressive police state and a dysfunctional economy.

Driving in from the airport, I saw billboards denouncing the American economic embargo as the “longest genocide in history.” That’s ridiculous. But the embargo itself is also absurd and counterproductive, accomplishing nothing but hurting the Cuban people — whom we supposedly aim to help.

After six decades, can’t we move on? Let’s drop the embargo but continue to push Havana on improving human rights, and on dropping support for other oppressive regimes, like those in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Let’s make room for nuance: Cuba impoverishes its citizens and denies them political rights, but it does a good job providing basic education and keeping people healthy. As I noted in my last column, on Cuba’s health care system, Cuba’s official infant mortality rate is lower than America’s (its real rate may or may not be).

I’m not a Cuba expert, and I don’t know how this country will evolve. But Cuba has a new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who is associated with experiments in opening up the economy. Fidel is gone and his brother Raúl is fading from the scene.

In the 1960s, we were scared of Cuba. We feared that neighboring countries would tumble like dominoes into the Communist bloc, and the Soviet Union attempted to place on Cuba nuclear missiles that could have threatened America. But today even as those fears have dissipated, our policy has ossified.

President Barack Obama took the necessary step of re-establishing diplomatic relations and easing the embargo, but President Trump reversed course and tightened things up again out of knee-jerk hostility to anything Cuban and anything Obaman.

Cuba is changing, albeit too slowly. About one-third of its labor force is now in the private sector, and this is just about the only part of the economy that is thriving. I stayed in one of the growing number of Airbnbs in Havana, and people were friendly, even if governments are not: When I said I was from the United States, I inevitably got a big grin and a reference to a cousin in Miami or New York or Cleveland.

Plus, extra credit goes to a country that so lovingly preserves old American cars. I rode in from the airport in a pink 1954 Cadillac.

In another sign of flexibility, Cuba recently hammered out a deal with Major League Baseball that will allow Cuban players to travel legally to the U.S. and play on American teams.

Yet, sadly, the Trump administration is threatening the deal.

Consider the persistence of North Korea and Cuba, and there’s an argument that sanctions and isolation preserve regimes rather than topple them. China teaches us not to be naïve about economic engagement toppling dictators, but on balance tourists and investors would be more of a force for change than a seventh decade of embargo.

Moreover, trade, tourism, travel and investment empower a business community and an independent middle class. These are tools to destabilize a police state and help ordinary Cubans, but we curtail them. America blames the Castros for impoverishing the Cuban people, but we’ve participated in that impoverishment as well.

Cuba’s government is not benign. It’s a dictatorship whose economic mismanagement has hurt its people, and Human Rights Watch says it “routinely relies on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics.” But it doesn’t normally execute them (or dismember them in consulates abroad like our pal Saudi Arabia), and it tolerates some criticism from brave bloggers like Yoani Sánchez.

It is revising its Constitution, and my hope is that over time — despite ideologues in both Havana and the United States — relations will continue to develop. Some American seniors who now winter in Florida could become snowbirds in Cuba instead, relying on its health care, low prices, great beaches and cheap labor. You can hire a home health care aide for a month in Havana for the cost of one for a day in Florida.

China’s economic boom began in the early 1980s partly with factories financed by Chinese overseas, and after the American embargo ends, Cuba will have similar opportunities to forge mutually beneficial business partnerships with Cubans overseas.

That would benefit both sides. For 60 years we’ve been feuding, like the Hatfields and the McCoys, in a conflict whose origins most Americans don’t even remember clearly.

So come on. We should all be bored by a lifetime of mutual recriminations and antagonisms. Let’s put aside the ideology, end the embargo, tone down the propaganda and raise a mojito together.

I propose a toast to a new beginning.

9 Sep 2015

Vietnam & the Free World Military Forces

On December 12, 1969, a 1,350-man Civic Action Group from the Army of the Philippines, departs South Vietnam. They were part of the Free World Military Forces, an effort by President Johnson to enlist allies for the war. By securing support, Johnson hoped to build an international consensus behind his Vietnam policies.

The Philippine unit entered Vietnam in September 1966, operating in the Tay Ninh Province northwest of Saigon. The force included engineers, medical and rural community development teams, field artillery, and a logistics and headquarters element.

Ultimately, Johnson’s FWMF program failed as only 5 nations responded. South Korea sent over 300,000 men (50,000 in country at one time), while the Philippines sent 11,000, Australia 7,500, New Zealand 550 and Spain 30.

Join us this coming April 16-29, 2018 as we explore the incredible country of Vietnam, from its history and culture to its beaches and cities and mountains!

9 Sep 2015

World War I Era Family

9 Sep 2015

The Importance of Remembering

Here is a very interesting article on the importance of the US in the Great War, and the importance of remembering.…/has-the-us-forgotten-abou…/ar-BBFYGdz…

We will be leading a phenomenal expedition to France next July 1-7 to do just that — remember America in World war One. The beautiful French countryside adds to the trip!

Check-out the link below for more information on this amazing adventure!

9 Sep 2015

Vietnam Hero

50 years ago last week Father Angelo Litecky, priest of 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, earned the Medal of Honor for his heroism in bringing 20 wounded men to safety in a very tough battle in Bien Hoa. The article in the link below tells the incredible story.

Join us next April 16-29, 2018 as we explore America and Vietnam at 50. This is an amazing country with great natural beauty and a vibrant culture filled with friendly people.

This would make a truly wonderful Christmas present for your self or those you love.

Check-out the link below for more information on the trip!

Here is the link on Father Litecky’s story of the patrol with Alpha Company:…/the-bloodiest-day-december-6-1967/


9 Sep 2015

Pearl Harbor Commemoration

A year ago yesterday, Sheryl and I had the privilege, with our EHE guests and friends, to attend the national Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremonies on the 75th commemoration of that dark day. Our great additional privilege was to escort one of our guests, Stan Van Hoose, who had been assigned as a navigator’s assistant on the bridge of the USS Maryland that Sunday morning, just behind the Arizona and tied next to the Oklahoma. Stan was amazing throughout the trip, sharing his experiences with the hundreds who stopped to talk with him. On just one occasion did his great shoulders heave and sob — as we first came aboard the Arizona memorial and I wheeled him over to the water’s edge and we looked down upon the ship and her men below. Then, we went forward and talked about the men as we examined the wall of those who died that morning. It is something I will always cherish and never forget. In total, there were some 250+ veterans of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War in attendance.

In June 2019, we will lead an EHE expedition to attend the 75th commemoration activities for D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. We attended the 70th and it was amazing. I am certain the 75th will be even better and, frankly, probably the last time we will have such numbers of veterans in attendance. The link to the trip is below. I hope you can join us.…/normandy-d-day-75th-anniversary/

9 Sep 2015

Passing of Judge Finney, a Civil Rights Icon

“We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history.”
~ Judge John C. Hayes III of Rock Hill, SC in 2015

On Jan. 31, 1961, 10 black students sat at a whites-only lunch counter at a local Rock Hill store and asked to be served.

Dragged by police from their stools, the protesters, from nearby Friendship Junior College, were charged with breach of peace and trespassing. Judge Billy D. Hays gave them a choice: pay a $100 fine or spend 30 days on a chain gang.

The choice was clear. They would not pay fines and thereby subsidize a segregationist government. They took the jail time (knowing it would cost the county money for room & board), and thus galvanized the fledgling civil rights movement.

They had embraced a new strategy of resistance: “jail, not bail.” Their idea was to embarrass segregated Southern towns by compounding arrest with the spectacle of being imprisoned merely for ordering lunch or sitting in the wrong part of a bus or theater, or attending an all-white church.

Their lawyer was Ernest A. Finney Jr., who began practicing full time only in 1960 after doubling as a teacher and working part time in a restaurant to make ends meet. He would later represent thousands of other civil rights defendants. Most lost their cases in South Carolina’s local courts. All but two, however, were later absolved on appeal.

54 years after the arrests, Finney returned to Rock Hill to reargue the case. Most of the defendants joined him. Judge Finney, 83, hobbled into the courtroom and rose slowly to address Circuit Court Judge John C. Hayes III.

Wearing a tie emblazoned with the state’s palmetto and crescent moon logo, Finney appealed to the court to exonerate the men, who had been sentenced in 1961 by Judge Hayes’ uncle. “Justice and equity demand that this motion be granted,” Finney declared.

It was. In a bittersweet rebuke to the past, the convictions were overturned. The sentences were vacated. The prosecutor apologized.

Justice Finney graduated from law school in 1954, the same year the United States Supreme Court delivered its Brown v. Board of Education decision. At the time, only a handful of black lawyers were practicing in South Carolina, and blacks were excluded from juries. In 1976, he was elected the state’s first black Circuit Court judge. In 1985, the Legislature named him to the State Supreme Court — the first black since Reconstruction in 1877. In 1994, the General Assembly elected him Chief Justice of South Carolina.

“I would like to be thought of as the man who did the best he could with what he had for as long as I could. All people have a responsibility to be the very best that we can be in whatever we do, and by and large, if you do that, the color of your skin becomes less and less important.”

“For some reason, I have always felt that if America was to live up to its promises to all people, I thought the law would be the basis for change. We knew the law at the time was against us, but we never lost faith that what we perceived to be justice would prevail. When I look at how far we have come today, I have to say, ‘If there’s a man who ought to be impressed with the fact that the law works, I’m that man.’”

Finney died on Sunday in Columbia, SC. He was 86.

God bless Justice Finney and the Civil Rights movement he represented so well.

9 Sep 2015

“Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II”

“In the fall of 1941, mysterious letters appeared in the mailboxes of a select group of young women attending the Seven Sisters colleges. Chosen for their aptitude in such subjects as math, English, history, foreign languages and astronomy, the women were invited to meet one-on-one with senior professors. At Wellesley, the students were asked unusual questions: Did they like doing crossword puzzles, and did they have imminent wedding plans? Those women who gave the right answers — yes, and no — were asked to sign confidentiality agreements and join a hush-hush government project.”

This is the opening to a review of “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.” Looking forward to reading this book, about codebreakers working in conjunction with those at Bletchley Park in England — helping to destroy the Nazis. From Rosie the Riveter to the women flying the planes to Europe to the codebreakers and many, many more — American women were doing their part to rid the world of Nazis and fascism.

9 Sep 2015

WWII American Hero Dies at 96

“These young Gestapo guys don’t even check papers well anymore.”

~ Irv Refkin

A young Jewish-American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) spy during WWII, Refkin spent a lot of time behind enemy lines, usually disguised as a German corporal (“No one has ever noticed a corporal,” he said).

On this occasion he was having drinks with a Wehrmacht colonel in a Paris hotel when a Gestapo officer asked for their identification. The colonel expressed such indignation that the frazzled Gestapo officer stalked off and Refkin sardonically said the above to the colonel as they continued to quaff drinks.

Refkin said the OSS encouraged its field agents improvise as needed. “They told you what they wanted to get done, but they didn’t tell you how to do it.”

During the war, among other exploits, Refkin, aged 20-23, smuggled explosives to the French Resistance, infiltrated Nazi Germany and killed specific targets integral to the war machine, and sabotaged rail tracks that slowed down the German armored response to the Normandy/D-Day landings.

Refkin passed this week at 96. God speed, American hero.

9 Sep 2015

Vietnam: Ghosts of Our Fathers

By Lt. Col.(ret) Brian M. DeToy, PhD & Sheryl Rankin Shafer

Photo Credit: Sheryl Rankin Shafer

Vietnam. The word itself conjured up so many images, so many memories for my wife and me. It was associated so deeply with our youth. I was born in 1962 on an Army camp on Okinawa and Sheryl a few years later on an air base in New Jersey. We came of age, of awareness, with the conflict in Vietnam on our televisions and in discussions in our homes, schools and communities.

Each of our fathers was career military. My father, Master Sgt. Robert DeToy, had joined as a seventeen-year old in 1951 and had served as an infantryman in the Korean War. Later, he transferred to the Signal Corps. Sheryl’s father, Lt. Col. James L. Rankin, had graduated from Texas A&M in 1958 and became both a pilot and weather officer. Eventually, they would each serve two tours of duty in Vietnam, both in 1962 and my father in 1968-69 and Sheryl’s father in 1969-70.

In the past few years, we have traveled extensively across the United States, Europe, the Caribbean basin and elsewhere. One place high on our list to visit was southeast Asia. The history, culture, natural beauty and ties to our fathers’ service were more than intriguing. They were a calling. And this past May we made them a reality.

As a retired Army officer and professor and an expert historian, I had extensive knowledge on the actions in Vietnam. Sheryl possessed probably an average knowledge of the Vietnam War for someone of our generation with a father who had served. We were both deeply moved by our time in Vietnam – moved not only by the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people but also by the privilege of better understanding our fathers’ experiences, of tracing our fathers’ footsteps.

We landed in Ho Chi Minh City, arriving at the vast Tan Son Nhut International Airport, which still maintains its SGN designator. In fact, most everyone still calls the city Saigon, except for official state business.

After checking in to our hotel, just two blocks away from Rue Catinat, we excitedly began our exploration. Over the next two nights and a day we walked the city’s central district and saw so many famous sites from the war – from the Presidential Palace (now a museum known as Reunification Palace), to the old CIA headquarters (where the well-known 1975 helicopter evacuation photo was taken), to journalists’ hotels like the Caravelle, the Continental (where Graham Greene wrote and set The Quiet American) and the Rex where the ‘Five O’Clock Follies’ press briefings were held.

We also saw gorgeous colonial architecture including the City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office with its ornate maps. The Ben Thanh Market and War Remnants Museum were also on the docket. While walking the streets, quaint and busy, I imagined my father on his second tour as much of it was spent in Saigon. Sheryl’s father also served on the 7th Air Force staff out at Tan Son Nhut as the gunship tactics officer. It is truly wondrous to feel oneself in the same places, far across the ocean, as our fathers some fifty years previous.

While I toured the city and visited the tunnel system in the Iron Triangle’s Cu Chi district, Sheryl traveled out into the Mekong Delta and visited the Ap Bac battle site and took canoes and other small boats down the rivers and canals to exotic markets and riverside cafes. Sheryl returned from her day feeling the Mekong to be a very special and idiosyncratic part of the country.

Departing Saigon and heading north, we stopped for a quick visit at the gates of Bien Hoa airbase, which is now a Vietnamese military base. Sheryl’s father had also flown out of here. Next, we passed the sprawling American naval and air base at Camranh Bay, just south of Nha Trang, and observed a tremendous amount of building going on as many brand-name hotel conglomerates were taking up residence on this Vietnam Riviera.

We spent a wonderful night in Nha Trang, a large, lively city with miles of perfect beach and ocean water. We woke early to catch the morning light for pictures of fishing sampans and found, to our delight, thousands of locals out at 5 AM doing morning calisthenics, individually and in groups large and small. Throughout Vietnam we found the government provides plentiful exercise equipment in city parks, beach fronts, etc and the people make extensive use of them.

Driving further along the coast, we stopped in at Tuy Hoa. Sheryl’s father had flown AC-119s out of the American air base here in the autumn of 1969, providing close air support of ground operations along the central coast. A brand-new Vietnamese airport is there now, but the old American control tower still stands, near to the larger, modern one.

It took us several hours to drive up from the coast and into the Highlands. Along the way we went through many ethnic villages, Vietnam having over 80 official minorities. Each day we had lunch at ethnic cafes. Interestingly, while racism is rare, there is a certain amount of superiority felt by the majority Han Vietnamese for the minorities who are seen as less-educated, country or mountain-folk. In actuality, all the minorities can speak at least two languages, both their own and the national Vietnamese.

Over the next three days we explored much of the Central Highlands, near the Cambodian border. The experience of those days set the tone for the entire trip – we were so . . . enchanted is the word.

We were taken in with the surreal beauty of the changing landscapes as we traversed the country, from mountains to forests to river valleys to deltas to beaches. The people we met were warm, welcoming, inviting and ever so friendly. The food was rich and delicious and we were pleased to find that each region has its number of specialties. We took photos, hundreds and hundreds of photos. Of people, landscapes, modes of transportation, animals. And of battlefields and American bases (some abandoned and some now in use as Vietnamese civilian air and seaports).

In 1962, our fathers were in the Highlands, supporting the initial operations of the Special Forces and their montagnard and other highland allies. My dad helped put in much of the communications systems that would be expanded as the US presence grew in the out-years. Sheryl’s father operated out of Pleiku in that first tour. The modern airport at Pleiku sits directly atop the old American base and many buildings of the era survive, on the fringes and across the base on the high-ground that was the main compound throughout the 1960s.

From our base in Pleiku we visited the site of the first American battle of the war – LZ X-Ray out in the Ia Drang valley at the base of the Chu Pong Massif, a mountain astride the Vietnam-Cambodian border. I am a retired infantryman and this place, this fight always held a special interest for me. The stories of Hal Moore’s brave 7th Cavalry troopers in their challenging fight were later captured so well in Moore’s own book We Were Soldiers Once, And Young and the Mel Gibson movie of a similar name. It is a far, out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-path place, a destination unto itself to reach. But so well worth the effort. It is beautiful and calm today, with little to remark that such a desperate battle took place there 52 years ago.

In the Highlands, we also visited Kontum and Dak To, sites of numerous fights throughout the war, but especially so, for the latter place, in the autumn of 1967 as the North Vietnamese drew our forces into the countryside and away from the cities so they could conduct their Tet Offensive in January. Today, all that remains of the American war is the airfield at Dak To which the local villagers, when we were there, were using to dry acres of rice on its hot pavement.

A number of monuments to the battles in 1972 and 1975, that resulted in the fall of South Vietnam, mark Dak To, Kontum, Pleiku and, further south, Buon Ma Thuot. In the latter city, we also visited the charming quasi-theme park Trung Nguyen coffee plantation and shops. Nguyen is the Starbucks of Vietnam and we always found its drinks superb, wherever we traveled in the country, especially the new Legende with its condensed milk adding a velvety, cocoa-like smoothness.

From Pleiku we took a flight to Danang and were amazed at the dynamism of this growing city, third largest in the country. The gleaming airport sits atop the old American Phu Cat base and many buildings survive from that era. We drove south about 20 kilometers, past China Beach, to the beautiful town of Hoi An.

If you imagine this — women in the traditional ao dai dresses, incense burning in quaint buddhist temples, streets so small they are really just pedestrian alleyways, lanterns lit at dusk that light both the town and its river, and a majestic white-sand beach – then you are imagining Hoi An. It is the Vietnam we picture. We shopped, visited ancient temples and wooden Chinese bridges, relaxed on the pristine beach, ate extremely well, and investigated every winding street and local pagoda. Magical.

After two nights in Hoi An we drove north along the coast, back past Danang and on to Hue. It is a stupendous drive with incredible vistas; as is, by the way, most of the coastal route Highway 1 in the south. There are tremendous views around almost every corner.

We spent two nights in Hue and on the first day visited The Citadel. Home to Vietnam’s monarchy in the 19th and early 20th centuries, this was also the scene of some of the toughest fighting in the war – the urban combat of Tet 1968. One really gets a feel for the desperate combat as many parts of The Citadel remain shattered. The contrast between the majesty and power of the untouched portions of The Citadel to the destruction of the jagged walls, with stones still strewn nearby, was sobering.

The next day we headed up the coast toward the old Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 30-mile wide border area that stretched from the sea to the Laotian border and ostensibly was a no-contact area. In fact, it was hotly contested throughout the war. We drove up to Dong Ha, scene of the famed Marine Captain John Ripley’s exploits in the Easter Offensive of 1972, and then headed west passed the Marine outpost known as The Rockpile to the mountaintop of Khe Sanh, where surrounded US Marines held out against weeks of intense North Vietnamese attacks. As a memorial to the relentless struggle during Tet at Khe Sanh, the Vietnamese have established a rather single-perspective museum and artifacts (US helicopters, vehicles, weapons). While reminded of the struggle of the past, the views on the hilltop today are simply magnificent. While in the DMZ region, we also visited the nearly 2,000-meter long tunnel system at Vinh Moc. Much more extensive than those at Cu Chi (and more accessible to walk through and examine), these bear testament to the determination of the Vietnamese to survive and win against great odds.

We explored a Vietnamese military cemetery enroute back to Hue. It was surprising, although it should not have been, to find that all the burials were of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers. The defeated South Vietnamese are buried in family plots or local cemeteries but are not commemorated in the national cemeteries. Ever thus is a civil war, I reflected.

In the morning, we flew from Hue’s airport, formerly the American Phu Bai base and soon landed in Hanoi and drove east to Halong Bay.

It is difficult to do justice to the ethereal beauty that is Halong Bay. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and rightly so. Its dramatic, jagged karst islands, by the thousands, rise out of the emerald water like so many twists of the dragon’s back. We took a chartered boat out onto the water and sailed past hundreds of the little islands, eventually halting at one and touring through a beautiful limestone cave. Back on the boat we continued our sail and eventually returned to dock. Some boats stay out for a night or two on the waters. Next time we will do that, as well. The word serene fits Halong perfectly.

Back in Hanoi the next day we checked into our hotel just a few short blocks south of the French and Old Quarters. This was a perfect location from which to explore the city on foot, and we did just that over the next two days. We visited art and literary museums, governmental buildings from French colonial days, the site where Lieutenant Commander John McCain was captured and the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison complex where he and so many other Americans were held. We were somewhat surprised to find it was located right in the very heart of the city. We also walked the beautiful boulevards of the French Quarter with its imposing St Joseph’s cathedral, and the tight, energetic streets of the Old Quarter and its famed market. Hanoi is a beautiful city of parks and markets and tree-lined streets, and stands in contrast to the brash young consumerism of Saigon. Both cities have amazing energy and a focus on the future while preserving the past.

Finally, our Vietnam expedition had come to an end and we made our way back home with comfortable flights to Taipei and Los Angeles and on to Denver. It had been an amazing two-week journey, filled with emotions and excitement. It is not every time that a place meets or exceeds the very high hopes one has for it. Vietnam most certainly exceeded our fondest hopes and expectations. The natural beauty of the land and sea, the incredibly warm and gracious people, and the historical sites of the centuries – all of these made our trip so very worthwhile.

Traveling this land, this place that so filled our lives and those of our families, was an incredible privilege. Vietnam had been wracked by near constant warfare from 1945-75, with millions of lives lost and a landscape transformed. Yet, the Vietnamese today are focused on the future and do not dwell upon the past. They are genuinely happy to see and share their country with Americans. To see with our eyes this amazing land, this spirit of reconciliation, accompanied throughout by the ghosts of our fathers, is what made this a trip of a lifetime.

We encourage veterans like our fathers and children of veterans, like us, to travel this beautiful country, to witness firsthand the reconciliation of the past, and to glimpse that past – and our fathers’ footsteps – through the lens of peace.

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