It’s been a year to the day since we took off for Vietnam and the inaugural 2 Sides Project trip. What an adventure it was, and what an adventure it’s been since we returned!
Patty Young Loew came back from Vietnam determined to find someone who had served with her father, Jack Young. She found a Facebook page for war medics and posted a message. Days later, she got a response from “Doc.” Not only did he know Jack, he’d served under him, and was able to tell Patty new details about who her father was and how he died. Patty and Doc plan to meet in person soon.
Mike Burkett brought a picture of his dad’s 1967 Camaro with him to Vietnam to lay at the site where his father died. That car was Curtis Earl Burkett’s pride and joy. Thanks to a gift from his grandparents, it's now Mike’s. He recently drove the Camaro to his house and started a restoration to make it look like it did in his dad’s time. It'll be back on the road again by early 2017.
Susan Mitchell Mattera was one of a select few Gold Star family members invited to the White House to meet President Obama and attend a Memorial Day brunch. If that wasn’t enough of a standout moment, there was another one in store. In September, Susan, a nurse, was assigned to do a patient survey, and randomly chose one patient from a list of 300 to visit. As they talked, Susan realized that the woman was originally from her home town. When she asked if she knew her father, the woman said they’d been in the same class, and pulled out the 1963 Banning High School Yearbook to show Susan something she’d never seen before—her dad’s senior picture.
Margaret Von Lienen works long hours for the IRS, but in 2016 she took another break to travel to Italy with her daughter. She also went to Austin, Texas to get an update on her father’s site. Margaret’s father, Robert Saavedra, is still listed as MIA. He was shot down over the province of Ha Tinh on April 28, 1968. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recently excavated the site she visited and ran various reports to see if they could find any evidence. This year the DPAA told her they found nothing conclusive. Margaret may have found new strength from the Vietnam trip: she got through the whole DPAA meeting without crying, a first.
Ron Reyes has met a lot of new people this year. He attended a Gold Star Family event in his home state of California, and didn’t know that several members of his father’s side of the family whom he’d never met would be there, too. And at an LA Rams game, Ron met a son whose father was killed in Iraq when he was four weeks old. Ron told the boy he was the same age when his father was killed in Vietnam. The two talked, and gave each other a big hug. It was a moment they’ll both remember for a long time.
I spent the year learning more about how people make and market films. But the most important lesson I learned is that going to the place you fear the most makes you the strongest. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of my father’s death. I used to look on the day with dread. This year I’ll mark it with a different attitude. I have walked into the crater where my father’s plane may have gone down, and walked out with a new purpose and direction. Loss has been transformed to good. I know my father is proud. I know all of our fathers are.
What about those on the Vietnamese side? We’ve featured their stories throughout the year on this blog, including those of Nguyen Liem, Nguyen Thi Hong Diem, Pham Thi Thuy, Dang Thi Le Phi and Vu Ngoc Xiem. Meeting the other side changed them, too. The pain is still there, but the anger is not. The divide is closed. We have all started anew, together.
And what about the documentary? Director Anthony Istrico and Cameraman Jared Groneman returned with 150 hours of footage covering all sides of the experience. Somehow, Editor Nora Kubach sifted through all that film and, supported by boxes of Kleenex, created a beautiful documentary about the 2 Sides Project. These wonderful and talented people are now in the process of applying to film festivals and finding a potential broadcast outlet to share the film with a bigger audience, so that its message about bridging differences and spreading healing reaches as many people as possible. Stay tuned for more about the film and a 2017 trip to Vietnam, the 2nd 2 Sides Project trip!
Margot Carlson Delogne
Founder, 2 Sides Project