More than 40 years after the war ended, memories of what they had done and what they had witnessed still torment the hearts and minds of veterans, with many of them turning to psychological treatment to try and escape some of the emotions it stirs. But everything changes when veterans return to Vietnam, the place where they still survive. The image of a peaceful and beautiful Vietnam at present somehow helps ease their minds.
Eventually, he found that only a journey to the place where the trauma originated, can help the patients recover from their current state. “Every year, we have a different program because the veterans always need to go to where they served, the places they fought. We will continue to come every year and each program will be somewhat different. In addition to that, we have some things we do every time”.
|Soldier's Heart Initiative Organization (Photo: VOV)
As co-founder and Executive Director of Soldier's Heart, a non-profit veteran healing initiative, Dr. Tick has worked internationally on the psycho spiritual and cross-cultural healing of military and war trauma.
Over the past 16 years, Dr. Tick has led American war veterans on journeys to Vietnam where the veterans survived after the war. The journey aims to help them feel relieved and ease worries haunting their mind.
“I believe that making peace with the Vietnamese people, exchanging friendship, exchanging forgiveness, helping Vietnam recover from the war, do good after doing harm, makes good karma after bad karma. That these qualities in Vietnam will help our veterans heal very much. So I have come for 16 years, once every year, so I’ve brought about 300 Americans to Vietnam, about half of them are veterans and they all heal very much in 2 or 3 weeks in Vietnam even though they cannot heal in 40 years since the war in America”, said Dr. Tick.
Steve Gunn arrived in Vietnam in 1970. He was a doctor. He served at an infantry battalion near Evans station, a US military base, which was 35 kilometers from Hue. Gunn was responsible for providing first-aid, healthcare, and treatment to injured soldiers. Before going to Vietnam, he realized that the war in Vietnam was unjustified. He also joined the protests against the war by not bringing any weapons and not killing anyone during war time in Vietnam.
However, Gunn still felt hurt with what he had witnessed after 2 years in the country. “When I got back home, I experienced depression, and problems with drugs and alcohol, anxiety, interpersonal problems, lots of anger. I was still able to continue working but it interfered with my work and my relationships with other people. I would feel bad and I would get some treatment, and then they gave me pills. They didn’t do any good, then I’d stop and forget it for a while but then it would build up again. Every few years, there were some emotional difficulties that I encountered”, said Steve Gunn.
Ronald Clemmer and Edward Tick were trained in infantry and arrived in Vietnam in 1969. Both served at an infantry unit stationed in Trang Bang, Tay Ninh, using armored vehicles for seeking and destroying targets. For two years, their unit destroyed areas along the Sai Gon River. Both then realized that they had misunderstood the reasoning for war.
“At first I thought, we’re going to war to free people, to help them be free. The trouble in war is that you get mixed up with civilian people, in the rice paddies and villages, we seem to be doing battle with everyone there. It ended up not feeling too good about being there some of things that we did went against my morality”.
American war veterans like Steve Gunn, Edward Tick, and Ronald Clemmer had returned to the US safely while many of their comrades were laid to rest in Vietnam. Despite coming back safely, the veterans were hurt and fell into depression and psychological trauma. Memories of Vietnam keep pressuring them. Then, they met Edward Tick and got to know about the Soldier's Heart Initiative which gives them an opportunity to return to Vietnam.
“Since I’ve come to Vietnam, I get a lot of feelings. And I meet a lot of the people who welcome me, appreciate and want to be friends. They respect and appreciate me. I found out that even though when I came to Vietnam, I didn’t care what happened, nevertheless, my soul was burdened because I supported something that was so wrong. That stayed hidden inside me and pushed down, that’s why I had a lot of problems. That’s why I feel such positive emotions, since I’ve come here because I feel love and accepted and I can see how my soul felt like, even though I didn’t care what happened, I still contributed to the war effort which is wrong and I felt ashamed, I felt tainted and impure. That’s how I felt when I return to Vietnam”, said Edward Tick.
Steve Gunn changed his mind after one week in Vietnam. He met with a lot of Vietnamese people and thought that despite the mistakes, everything seemed to be resolved when he returned to Vietnam. He said that in fact the country can heal his wounds of war. Now he has found peace of mind 40 years after the war ended.
For Ronald Clemmer, his impression on this first trip to Vietnam since he left in 1970 is the welcome of Vietnamese people.
“I feel a lot better in my heart, more peaceful after my experience at this time, being invited into houses, experiencing the veteran’s welcoming to me. They gave me big hugs. The people seem to have happiness and they talk about getting over things and putting it behind them. They feel bad that American veterans are still suffering from something long ago, they want you to put it behind you and be happy", said Ronald Clemmer.