Return to Vietnam: Veterans reach the DMZ

Vietnam veterans walk through rubber trees (WBAY photo)
Vietnam veterans walk through rubber trees (WBAY photo)(WBAY)
Published: Mar. 5, 2019 at 9:42 PM CST
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As the 52 local veterans journey north in their return to Vietnam, the toll of the war intensifies.

Tuesday, their historic Old Glory Honor Flight made its way near the DMZ, the demilitarized zone during the war.

In our Return to Vietnam coverage, Jeff Alexander captures the veterans' emotional day.

It's here in the Quang Tri Province that America suffered its greatest casualties during the Vietnam War. Of the 58,000 troops killed in action, more than one-third died in areas near the North Vietnam border.

A good friend of Dan Huber's was close to being one of those casualties in this exact location.

"Just to let him know that there's nothing left here," Dan, from Cleveland in Manitowoc County, said. "His helicopter got shot down. He was the only survivor and they had to get him out,. Another helicopter came and dropped the rope down. He tied it around himself and they evacuated him that way, and by taking off, he got dragged through the trees a little, the tree tops."

All that's left of Camp Evans, built by the Marines and used by the Army, is a thin strip of crumbling blacktop covered in dirt and vegetation.

After snapping some photos, Dan receives and unexpected surprise, a call from home.

While most of these 52 veterans carried the war with them for decades, they made it home. That wasn't the case for the 50,000 North Vietnamese soldiers buried at this cemetery.

"They suffered a lot also, and to see a lot of these graves here that have no names, unknown, that's really surprising," Henry Van Oss from Kimberly said.

One of the most famous and bloodiest battle locations during the Vietnam War was Khe Sanh. Abandoned tactical equipment and machinery left behind from the war evoke memories.

"This is an M48 tank," Jim Van Den Heuvel from Seymour said. "I drove them. I was the gunner and I was also tank commander."

With the enemy nearby, Jim remembers saving his tank and likely himself.

"This tract, somehow we were running over trees, small trees about that size and kind of on the side of a hill, but this track was almost all the way off, and I was able to jump that track back on a half hour later. If we would've busted this track, guaranteed it would've took three hours," he describes. "Not a good spot."

It's another day of reflection and reconciliation in Vietnam for this group of men who had wondered if absolution would ever come.

"I'm about five weeks short of being here 50 years ago," Henry says.

"All the vets back home, hopefully I can share, tell my stories to a lot of them," Dan adds.

"The 52 veterans being together, there was a lot of laughter, but there was a lot of tears, too, and I think it creates a brotherhood. I think we've developed... we were talking, we got to get together again," Jim says with a laugh.