Sierra Vista man's trips help make peace

By Bill Hess
Sierra Vista Herald

Friday, September 16, 2005
Last modified Saturday, October 2, 2004 11:59 PM MDT

SIERRA VISTA - It was 1999, but for Daniel Martin it was 1969.

Three decades had passed since the former Marine left what was then South Vietnam, a country in the midst of a war.

Returning to what he remembered as war-torn nation was, as he described it, "a white knuckle experience."

"I was scared," he said.

His wife, Pamela, said the flight attendant on the Vietnamese airline saw Daniel cringe and saw fear in her husband's eyes.

The flight attendant poured Daniel a glass of champagne. As she handed it to him, the look in her eyes and the smile on her face told Daniel there was nothing to fear. The war was over, and the people of a united Vietnam were moving forward, not dwelling on the past.

Even after the plane landed in Hanoi, it took time for Pamela and others to convince Daniel that what happened three decades before "was a war, it wasn't a place."

The Martins first trip to Vietnam was as tourists. Since then, they have been back to Vietnam three times - once in 2001 and twice in 2002.

Each time, their love for the Vietnamese people grew.

Going back again

Daniel is preparing for his fifth trip in November, this one, like the one in 2001, under the auspices of a group called Tours of Peace.

The organization takes former American veterans of the Vietnam War back to "visit old haunts," Daniel said.

Old haunts is a good way to describe the Tours of Peace trips, especially for a first-time returnee. Daniel said Vietnam is a haunting place for many, full of bad memories and ghosts of years past.

But the non-profit, non-political group is designed to be part of the healing process for American GIs and the Vietnamese people.

While Americans know their nation lost more than 58,000 people during the conflict, few know that almost 3 million Vietnamese died. The Vietnamese were those who supported the United States and those who fought for the Viet Cong and the then North Vietnamese, Daniel said.

Vietnamese deaths included children, women and old people who were not enemy combatants, which still bothers Daniel.

Stationed at Danang

Daniel was assigned to a Marine fighter-bomber squadron at Danang, where he worked in air operations from September 1968 to October 1969. The planes of the 1st Marine Air Wing dropped ordnance of enemy forces, some hitting civilians.

"My shame boils down to the killing of innocent women and children," he said.

During his tour, there were days and nights of patrolling the perimeter of the base and times of running for protection as mortars and other firepower hit the installation. There were no true front lines, so all the forces had to be on guard for infiltrations, ambushes and other hit-and-run attacks.

Daniel said he was luckier than fellow Marines who pushed their ways through the jungles and other terrain. Regardless of where a GI served in that country, he said, fear was something they lived with every day.

After spending more than three years in the Corps, he was discharged as a sergeant.

He went to college and earned degrees in psychology and sociology. His wife has a degree in physical therapy.

Daniel was employed in the social work arena for 16 years, mostly with emotionally disturbed children.

Today, he works as a special massage therapist, using the philosophy of Dr. Ida P. Rolf. Called structural integration, the process involves the re-education of the body through movement and touch by dealing with the connective tissue, not bones.

This special massage process and his wife's physical therapy abilities are used on their trips to Vietnam.

Something different

After returning from a tourist trip, Daniel said he and Pamela wanted to return. But they wanted to seek something different.

Seeing how the people of Vietnam greeted them in 1999, being friendly and in a sense "forgiving me," was a reason Daniel said he knew there was more he could receive from Vietnam, while returning the goodwill.

"I wanted to go back to start the process of healing," he said. The healing was personal, as it is to each GI.

Daniel learned about Tours of Peace and contacted it.

In 2001, the Martins returned to Vietnam, this time without Daniel being as afraid as he was in 1999.

He found almost unconditional forgiveness from the people of Vietnam.

During the trip, he went to the site of the My Lai Massacre, a place the Vietnamese still use as propaganda to showcase the atrocity.

That event on March 16, 1968, saw soldiers of an Army company sweep through a hamlet, named My Lai, systematically killing almost all the inhabitants, according to an Army report. There were also several rape killings and at least one gang rape.

Led of 1st Lt. William Calley, he and at least 30 other soldiers were accused in the murderous incident. Only one, Calley, was ever convicted, in his case of three counts of premeditated murder of 22 Vietnamese. He was initially sentenced to life in prison in 1971, which was later reduced to 10 years. He was paroled in 1974 after serving about three years of the sentence.

Daniel said that when he went to My Lai, a 79-year-old woman who had survived the massacre was a groundskeeper at the memorial. Even she was forgiving of American veterans, he said.

While at My Lai, Daniel, who is a practicing Buddhist, as is his wife, prayed for the comfort, understanding and forgiveness from the Vietnamese and Americans.

Forgiveness hard in U.S.

The same forgiveness the Vietnamese exude does not exist in the United States among the people who were against the war. To this day, Daniel said, those people refuse to understand that the GIs who were fighting did not necessary support the war.

"I did not believe the war was right, but I was a Marine and was ordered to Vietnam and I went," he said.

The Tours of Peace trips are designed to allow the veterans the ability to exorcise the bad memories and reach out to the Vietnamese people by doing humanitarian work.

During the 2001 trip, the group worked at six orphanages, including one in Danang - Daniel's old haunt.

On this trip, the childless Martins decided they wanted to adopt a Vietnamese child.

After returning to the United States, they started the bureaucratic paperwork with the help of an international adoption agency in Oregon.

The organization provided a prospect. The Martins wrote to a Vietnamese woman who was willing to put her baby up for adoption.

The woman was unmarried. The man who got her pregnant married another woman, Daniel said. In Vietnamese society, an unmarried woman with a child is not favorably looked at.

The woman put the child in an orphanage, hoping she would be adopted.

The Martins made two trips to Vietnam in 2002.

A special Father's Day

On Father's Day of 2002, Daniel held a 5-month-old girl named An in his arms. An was the name the child's birth mother gave her. She would soon be called Jessie.

It took a couple of months before the Martins were able to take the child out of Vietnam. When Daniel and Pamela returned two months later in 2002, they were accompanied by her parents, Geri and Russ Farnsworth.

The child's new family and her Vietnamese family participated in a formal giving and receiving ceremony. The Vietnamese family waited as the Americans entered a courtyard at the orphanage.

There was crying, hugging and smiles.

"Here I was at 55 about to become a father for the first time," he said.

Pamela said, "The orphanage had a big party. It was a joyous celebration."

She and Daniel knew it was hard on the Vietnamese birth mother, her mother and other family members and friends.

Pamela's mother and the girl's birth mother made a connection at the ceremony, a particularly poignant moment. To Pamela, it meant the Vietnamese mother knew her daughter would have family beyond a father and mother, which is important in Vietnamese culture.

Daniel said the birth mother is being kept informed of the girl's progress.

At the Martins' home in Sierra Vista today, Jessie An Jolie Martin nearly has the run of the house.

Ready for another trip

On Nov. 7, this time without Pamela or Jessie, Daniel will return to Vietnam with other former veterans and some of their wives.

As part of the humanitarian missions during the two-week trip, the group will visit orphanages and a leprosy village to bring aid and provide hands-on assistance.

"For some reason, we (veterans) like to work with children. They are Vietnam's future," Daniel said.


SENIOR REPORTER Bill Hess can be reached at 515-4615 or by e-mail at bill.hess@svherald.com.

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