Thursday, August 25, 2005
Tours of Peace
Tours make veterans, kin feel better
By Cheryl Hartz
Prescott Valley Tribune
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Navy senior chief hospitalman Tom Brooks
poses with some nuns in Vietnam.
By returning to the site of a controversial war that many of their countrymen denounced, some Vietnam veterans have found peace.
That's the point and purpose of Tours of Peace to provide heartfelt healing for those who served Tours of Duty, as well as for their loved ones who have watched them suffer for it.
Lorrie Brooks was a military wife whose late husband, Tom, volunteered for service in Vietnam as a senior chief hospitalman with the Navy at age 40. She said the two of them always had wanted to go after the war, but it never happened.
After Tom died, Lorrie heard about Tours of Peace, the organization that a former Marine founded after a return visit to Vietnam proved cathartic for him.
"I didn't realize how much preliminary paperwork I'd have to do to be accepted," Brooks said.
She was visiting Mexico at the time, and hurried to fax the initial papers, then sent another nine pages by email from home on a two-day deadline.
She also underwent a psychological interview, basically to ensure she was a safe candidate going for the right reasons.
After all that, she took a 19-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) for a group trip through the DMZ (demilitarized zone). Nine people with an accompanying TOP organizer, psychologist and Vietnamese guide, made the whirlwind tour.
"We put our luggage in our rooms and met in a half hour in the lobby to go straight to the school for the blind," Brooks said.
She said it was Women's Day they don't celebrate a Mother's Day, but honor all females and the boys in the kitchen making dinner.
She said everywhere they went, they gave gifts, but what the people wanted were toothbrushes and water bottles. A dentist had donated 100 toothbrushes and they took a large plastic bag full of empty bottles for water. And everybody wanted to talk to the Americans.
"The Vietnamese people love to try to speak English. They communicate with open arms," she said. "They would walk up and say, 'I was in the war and fought against you, but I love you now.' Then they'd give us a big hug. It made us feel good."
Evidence of new construction is everywhere, she said. They have paved roads, but very few cars. Rather, they travel by foot or moped.
"Sometimes you'd see six people on one moped," Brooks said.
Exercise combined with a staple diet of rice, leaves the Vietnamese people with no cholesterol problems, she added with a smile.
Although there is prosperity in the cities, around the countryside, people still live in thatched huts with no plumbing. Many huts do have television, oddly enough.
Every grain of rice is precious, and Brooks saw proof of this when some grains leaked from a hole in a bag and the children meticulously picked up each spilled grain from the dirt street.
People still carry things the old way, with baskets on their shoulders.
"We didn't do what a tourist would do," Brooks said, but observed real life in action.
They fed street children and went into a care center where the elderly and orphans co-habit.
They met survivors of the My Lai massacre, who were working in the fields when their fellow villagers died. Oddly enough, the survivors don't hate the Americans.
"They understand when you're given an order in the military, you follow orders," Brooks said.
They toured Marble Mountain, notorious hideout of the Viet Cong.
They saw houses on stilts, logs with hand-cut steps for ramps, and rice drying on blue tarps.
What they didn't see were the remnants of any American-built establishments, Brooks said. Of the huge Marine base where Tom treated the wounded, all that remains is a shell of a corrugated helicopter hangar. The Vietnamese now use it to hang up clothes.
Aside from the fact that the food was "wonderful" and the beaches were "gorgeous," Brooks said everyone in the group was glad of the experience in Vietnam.
"Yes, I would go back in a minute," Brooks said. "The group I was with said it meant a lot to them. They felt so much better about themselves.
"I would recommend any veteran going back and just facing that 'demon,' so to speak."
Said daughter Rebecca Brooks, "My dad did not come home with stories of war, but my mother did." Those who want to learn more about TOP may visit the Website at: www.topvietnamveterans.org
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