In 2006, forty years after Bruce served there as an Army officer during the war, we traveled the length of Vietnam in a modern, air-conditioned bus as part of a group of veterans returning to find reconciliation.
We found modern day Vietnam a study in contradictions; a Communist government and a capitalist economy; modern cities and dirt-poor villages; the prevalence of computers and cell phones juxtaposed against railroad crossing barriers still lifted by hand and water buffalo pulling single-bladed plows; and garbage-strewn streets in front of gilt-covered pagodas or high-end fashion shops.
As we journeyed south to north through cacophonous noise and frantic traffic in urban areas and along miles of peaceful ocean shoreline, the Vietnamese greeted us warmly, and some shared our sorrow and tears during solemn rituals at the sites of helicopter crashes and fierce battles.
As the miles disappeared in the dust behind our bus, the journey through the geography of Vietnam became a journey through the terrain of our hearts. The focus shifted from healing our own wounds to witnessing and embracing the suffering of those on all sides of the war.
At the end of this short, intense trip we knew that we would return to Vietnam to live and work with these people whose stoicism, endurance, acceptance, resilience and reverence for family and ancestors we had come to admire. We would go to serve, apply our skills and distribute generous donations from friends and relatives. We would reach beyond the boundaries of our cosseted North American lives.
By 2011 we had returned six times to Vietnam, living there and doing humanitarian work for three-month stints. We call our trips and our work there Journeys of the Heart.