Return to Vietnam: Brothers recount emotional time served in war

Published: Mar. 3, 2019 at 6:31 PM CST
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When Old Glory Honor Flight launched the idea to become the first honor flight hub in the country to return to Vietnam. The inspiration was simple to give veterans an opportunity to heal and find closure.

“This is where we were almost 50 years,” said Dale Van Lanen.

On a desolate road, west of Da Nang, decades of bottled up feelings are finally ready for release.

“Coming here, I knew it was gonna be hard, but soon as I touched the ground, as soon as I stepped off the bus, it call came out,” said Dale Van Lanen.

With his rosary in hand, his brother Tom by his side and his 51 Vietnam brothers surrounding him, the tears flow as Dale Van Lanen weeps, uncontrollably.

“When I was here back then I hated these people, I hate to say that, it hurts,” said Dale Van Lanen. “At the time you train to do your job and years down the road you're a different person. You grow up, you mature more and I did not like the way I was back then. The way I was toward these people and these people are just as nice as can be."

Bitterness over the Vietnam War is some both Van Lanen brothers kept secretly inside for years.

“Oh I was angry. I was angry that they pulled out, they could not win the war. I almost threw all my medals away and I kept all the memories of Vietnam deep inside my brain,” said Tom Van Lanen.

Both marines, older brother tom served first.

“I’m lucky I came back in one piece,” said Tom Van Lanen

Dale, essentially replaced him.

“I served here 13 months. I got back to California, I met my brother for one day and then he went over,” said Tom Van Lanen.

“First day we got here from Da Nang, we had a makeshift classroom outside made out of empty ammo boxes and probably 50 yards away we had incoming,” said Dale Van Lanen. “It's like you're thinking what the heck is going on here."

Along with guilt over the way he treated the Vietnamese people, Dale suffers nightmares from the chaos of warand the unknown fate of many friends.

“You have your fellow GI's get injured and hurt, you carry them on the helicopter and you have no clue how bad they are, or if they're dead or what, you have no clue. You don't have time for your emotions, you don't have time to cry,” said Dale Van Lanen.

Sunday though, on this journey back to Vietnam, Dale finally has all the time he needs to cry in the arms of men who understand.

“I've cried a few times, oh yes, you gotta get it out,” said Tom Van Lanen. “It's just great to be with him on this trip."

“This trip has been just—unbelievable,” said Dale Van Lanen.