Return to Vietnam: Vets take in culture; tears flow during mail call

HUE, Vietnam (WBAY) - The 52 veterans on the Old Glory Honor Flight Return to Nam trip began their second week in Hue, the ancient capitol city of Vietnam.

The journey has helped them heal as they take in Vietnam's culture. It was something they couldn't do while in combat.

Just outside Hue is the former Phu Bai airfield where countless Marines and soldiers arrived for their service. Tony Mielke of Fond du Lac served here--and in some ways never left.

"I left here 50 years ago but Vietnam never leaves you and it comes back to you every day," Mielke says. "Sights, sounds and sometimes in the middle of the night it scares the hell out of you, but it's good to be back."

Touring the scenic Perfume River, and key locations around the city, veterans recount the Battle of Hue. After 26 days of some of the war's most intense fighting during the Tet Offensive, U.S. forces claimed victory here.

The price, though, was steep--and 50 years later-- those who took part are still seeking closure.

"Being in transportation I saw a lot on the side of the road that's etched forever, but you see it today and everything is different, so that's what, that's good for me," says Ron Lingle of Appleton.

During their tour of Hue, the veterans explore the Citadel-- a massive fortress built by the Vietnamese in 1802 for their emperor.

Unlike during the war when they fought for their lives and country--the vets can finally appreciate Vietnam's history.

"Having been on the first Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight prior to this trip, I mentioned it would never be dislodged from the number one position, but it's definitely in danger of moving down to number two," said George Dexter of Suamico.

As is custom on all Old Glory Honor Flights, the veterans receive letters from loved ones back home.

Most are overcome by emotion.

"I just got over 50 cards and letters which is more than I got the whole two times here in Vietnam. And the first one I opened was from my Marine Corps son, who is still in the Marines, thanking me for adopting him and taking care of him," said Bob Smithers of De Pere.

Burt Parkman of Green Bay says, "Children, grandchildren, I'll save that for later, but I just wanted to do the one from my wife."

Jeff Alexander: "Her message to you?"

Burt: "How much she loved me."

Jim Umentum of Denmark says, "I know in the package there's probably even from my grandkids, so I hope I hit them last because it's only going to get better. I don't know what to say, at a loss for words."

The first hint of a welcome home they never received.

The tears are what this honor flight is all about.

"Marines aren't supposed to cry, but we're human," Smithers.