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Veterans travel to the past

Posted: August 23, 2009 9:01 p.m.
Updated: August 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Meyers' souvenirs from his tour of duty in Vietnam range from Zippo lighters to his original uniform.

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Vietnam. An exotic land where many American soldiers lost their lives, and those who survived often lost their spirit.

Almost 25 years after the end of the Vietnam War, some Santa Clarita Valley veterans are hoping to return to the battlefields in order to replace bad memories with positive images of present-day Vietnam.

Veterans Back to War Zone was created by Herb Hightower of Valencia, a former member of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command in Vietnam.

"Many of our combat veterans have not had the opportunity to reconcile with the trauma experienced during battle or to rid themselves of the demons they struggle with on a daily basis," Hightower said on the VetsBacktoWarZone.org Web site.

The nonprofit organization is gearing up to take their first trip to Vietnam in March 2010, according to volunteer Dale Meyers of Valencia, an Army veteran who served prior to the conflict. Meyers, who has been married to a Vietnamese woman for 30 years and owns land in the country, will lead the inaugural tour.

Afterwards, Veterans Back to War Zone expects to take up to three groups of 12 per year through Vietnam at the estimated cost of $3,500 per person. The group is currently seeking volunteers as well as corporate and private donors to fund the trips.

"We're starting this thing from scratch and welcome the community to participate," said Morris Deason, Valencia resident and World War II veteran.

Veterans participating in the Veterans Back to War Zone trips to Vietnam will be post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers referred by the Veteran Administration's Sepulveda Hospital Veteran's Center.

"Our purpose is to take these veterans back to the battle zone to see how it is today, to show them the friendly faces and peaceful countryside it has become, with the hope that it will bring closure to them," Meyers said.

Eventually, they hope to add trips specifically for female veterans, with the aid of a female medical assistant.

"Women soldiers had unique issues, such as sexual harassment, and they often internalized their problems," Meyers said.

According Deason, studies have shown that there have been therapeutic benefits for up to 70 percent of PTSD veterans who have returned to their war zone during peace time.

"PTSD is not a new thing. It's been recorded through Samurai times to modern times. In World War I, it was called battle fatigue. In World War II and Vietnam, it was called Section 8," Deason said.

Deason acknowledged that his homecoming from World War II was quite different than the one experienced by his deceased son, who served in Vietnam.

"When I came back to America, the country was peaceful, there was no animosity towards the soldiers," he said. "We were heroes. It was the last war America really won."

Veterans Back to War Zone supporter and Valencia resident Bob Ventrice recalled his return to America from Vietnam in December 1968.

"We didn't come back as returning heroes. At best, we were ignored," Ventrice said. "We could only talk to other vets about our experiences. America was burnt out on the Vietnam War."

While Ventrice doesn't desire a return to Vietnam, Meyers felt rejuvenated when speaking with a former North Vietnamese soldier through an interpreter during a recent impromptu meeting on a bus ride through the Vietnamese countryside.

"I felt this tap on my shoulder. He asked me, ‘Soldier?' I said yes," Meyers said. "He pointed to a tattoo of a tank on his arm and said ‘Tanker.' When he got off the bus, he waved goodbye to me."

The Veterans Back to War Zone will try to group veterans who served in the same or similar battalions so that they can visit their specific battle zones, base camps and outlying areas, after a welcome dinner and overnight stay in Saigon. The tour will most likely wrap up in Hanoi.

"These veterans are going to see a new country. It's just beautiful now," Meyers said. "People that live in Southern Vietnam love Americans. Many have relatives here and have visited here themselves. The war is in the past, as far as they are concerned."

For more information on Veterans Back to War Zone, call (661) 299-1487, e-mail wbtwz@earthlink.net or visit www.vetsbacktowarzone.org.

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