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Senior trip to Vietnam

Local graduates travel to see where their forefathers fought

Cody Anderson and friends chose Vietnam as a senior trip to go where their loved ones went before. Courtesy photo

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Local high school graduate Cody Anderson decided that the best place for a senior trip was Vietnam. He had been there twice before, and both his grandfathers fought in the Vietnam War. Several other seniors on the trip had military connections. Jake March had a grandfather and uncle who served in Vietnam. Griffin Meyer's step-grandfather served in the military, as did two of his cousins. Eight of Jake Carol's relatives served in World War II. Only Mark Simmons had no relatives in the military but he was excited to learn more about the country and the people.

Anderson thought an expert in rough conditions would be helpful and invited former Airborne Ranger Mark Rhoden to assist with the trip and Linh Nguyen My to help secure arrangements and act as interpreter and photographer.

Traveling to Vietnam is unlike traveling to Europe, where the buildings look similar to the U.S., the food is often the same, the people look alike, and they think much the same. Nothing is familiar in Vietnam: not the language, the food, the looks or the thinking.   

Their first stop in Hanoi was Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." Little remains of the prison and the history and artifacts are mostly devoted to the brutal French treatment of the Vietnamese during their colonial occupation. The Guillotine and large wicker basket that held severed heads are grim reminders of the many beheadings performed on Vietnamese patriots.

Two small rooms show a video of the American Christmas bombings in December 1972. During 11 days of bombing, the U.S. dropped 20,000 tons of bombs during 729 sorties. John McCain's flight suit is on display along with a bed and personal belongings issued to the prisoners. The other room shows a picture of Vietnamese surgeons operating to save McCain's life after he was shot down.

Although the boys were in the northern part of Vietnam, they experienced the oppressive heat and humidity faced by soldiers in the south who carried a pack of about 60 pounds - rifle, ammunition, grenades, steel helmet, and several canteens of water.

The boys were surprised and impressed by the friendliness of the Vietnamese. They showed no animosity toward Americans and appeared quite happy to meet them. Vietnam has a very young population. According to "World Map," the median age is 26.4 and most of them know nothing about the war with either the Americans or the French.

A highlight of the trip was taking donations to S.O.S. and patron House orphanages at Dien Bien Phu. Dien Bien Phu is the site where the Viet Minh defeated the French to gain their independence, so the boys got a history lesson and did some good work helping the kids.

The orphans get few chances for fun activities, so to give the orphans a morning of fun, they hired a bus and took them all swimming at a hot springs in the nearby hills. Linh supplied the ice cream. They later bought them enough school supplies, including books, pencils, crayons, rulers and notebooks to last the year.

The best part of the trip was making new friends. Everywhere they traveled, emails were exchanged with local residents, pictures taken, food and drinks shared. People constantly invited them home for lunch or dinner.

The trip was so satisfying that the boys are already making arrangements to return and are planning a future trip to the southern part of Vietnam to visit old American military sites.

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