Our partner in Vietnam, the Vietnam USA Society (VUS), and its
Secretary General Bui Van Nghi provided many of the background and materials featured in the "Diary of Peace" exhibition, whose opening
in July 2019 at the Hoa Lo Prison (the "Hanoi Hilton") welcomed former
prisoners and others from both sides of the war. The exhibition highlights examples of efforts to foster reconciliation, mutual understanding and friendship between the people of Vietnam and the United States, including the 2 Sides Project!
Peace to all from Kim Carlson Benner and Van Thi Kim Cuc, who lost fathers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War. Kim’s father, Captain John Carlson, was killed
when Kim was four years old. Cuc’s father was killed by a bombing when Cuc was
nearly two years old. Both women rarely talked about their fathers as they grew up,
or even as they grew older. Kim says, “As a child, I felt invisible at times. When
people did pay attention to me, it was because they felt pity for me, which made me embarrassed.” Cuc said she wanted to hide her background because she did not want
pity either. And as she worked hard to become a psychiatrist, Cuc did not want people
to think that “the success in my life wasn’t because of my own efforts but because the government had helped my family.” Cuc said she had two wishes after meeting Kim
and other Americans. “That we solve the issues related to Agent Orange, and that all wars stop.”
This man's nickname as a boy was "The Prisoner Without A Number." He is Le Van Trung. His father was killed in October 1967, and four years later his mother was exposed as an enemy. She escaped capture. Trung did not. The five year old was taken
by armed forces to a prison, where he stayed for two years. He was the only child in
the prison, and was so young he could not be issued proper documentation. From
that moment on he was known simply as “The Prisoner Without a Number.” Trung’s mother, who was serving in the army in the jungle, never stopped looking for her son. She wrote a letter to the district officials asking for help. They finally found Trung,
who had moved to the Ly Tu Trong School to be raised with other orphans. In 1975,
he walked hundreds of miles, and was finally reunited with his mother.
On the morning of October 10, 1967, students in the village of An Loc Thuong took their seats in physics class. They were 15 minutes into their studies when a bomb hit the school. In an instant, 33 students and one teacher were killed. Only 15 people survived. Today, we met with five of the survivors. One of them was Mr. Xiem. His father was killed in the war, and he is featured in The 2 Sides Project documentary. He introduced us to his classmate Pham Thi Ngu. Hours after the bombing, rescuers found her alive under a table. Her legs were broken, and her head and back injured. She was 17 years old at the time. Ngu never fully recovered or married, and today still lives in the village just a short distance from the tragedy. We visited the site and planted a tree to honor those who died. War may leave its scars, but new beginnings are ours to make.
Magic and miracles abound on this 2 Sides Project trip to Vietnam. This man approached our group in the Y Yen district and showed us an identity card that he said his father found scavenging a crash site during the war. It is an official Armed Forces of the United States ID card, and it's clearly marked with the name, picture and fingerprints of a US airman. We were stunned to hold the card in our hands. And we were grateful when, after hanging onto it for decades, the man decided to give us the card to return to the airman's family. We jumped online to find out more, and in less than 12 hours, were on the phone with the airman's daughter and one of his sons. They told us their father's remains were finally identified and returned to them in 1985, everything but this card that will soon be in their hands. Open hearts and open minds on both sides made this miracle happen.
Vo Hung Tien grew up with mixed feelings about the American GIs who made camp near his home. They had killed his father, and later one of their bombs injured Tien when it hit near his school and a window shattered, spraying his body with glass. His friends carried him away to get help, and when the GIs saw them, they brought Tien
to the barracks and cleaned his wounds and bandaged him up. From that day on they looked out for him, inviting him to play games, buying him brushes and polish so he could earn money cleaning their shoes, and sending him home with canned food for
his family. One day the Americans led him toward a helicopter. They wanted to give Tien an aerial view of his country. He thought he was being kidnapped. His friends
ran to his mother and told her Tien had been taken away. But Tien returned safely,
with a great story to tell.
During the Vietnam War, Tran Trong Duc and Nguyên Thi Dao were teachers
at a boarding school for “children of war martyrs.” They taught and cared for
hundreds of Vietnamese orphans, some as young as six years old. Over the years
they became so close to the children that they remained in touch with many
students well after the war ended. We met Duc and Dao, along with seven of
the students from the school, in the 2 Sides Project meeting in Saigon. They
have an unbreakable bond that has seen them through loss, and love. Duc and
Dao met at the school and later married, as did 90 couples who were students.
Thai Cong Nguyen’s story is filled with loss. Among the 20 people in his family killed
in war are his father, who fought and died during the French war, and five of his siblings, who all died fighting in the American war. Some are still missing. Nguyen fought in
and survived the American war, but walks to this day with a limp because of injuries
to his leg. He invited us to stay in his home. In the morning, he brought us to the
alter on the third floor, where he prays for his family. Today he said a prayer for the
dead on both sides, and as he did, music from the temple across the street floated over and around us. Our translator said it was a service for the dead, and specifically for
those who are still missing, the wandering souls who are searching for home. There
are 300,000 people still missing on the Vietnamese side and 1,600 on the US side.
Until they all, on both sides, come home.
In 2015, the 2 Sides Project went to Hanoi to connect sons and daughters who
lost fathers on both sides of the Vietnam/American War. Six Americans met seven Vietnamese in that first meeting. In 2018 we went back to Hanoi, and more than
double that — 15 Vietnamese sons and daughters— came to meet us. All had lost
a parent in the war. Some had never met an American. One, from the start, grasped
our hands, embraced us warmly, held us close to her side. Her name is Nguyen Thi Luong. We learned her mother was the one who died, She was a kindergarten teacher who was in school one day when a bomb raid began. She rushed the children to
the bomb shelter, and when she went to bring the last child to safety, a bomb hit.
She protected the child with her body and lost her life. In these moments, we are reminded of the power of connection, of shared experience, and of forgiveness, all
of which live in Luong.
2 Sides Project Profile: Bonnie Dean
Bonnie is the middle child and youngest daughter of Air Force Captain Robert N. Brumet, who was killed on April 9, 1964 when the wings on his overloaded plane fell off and he crashed into a home. The incident also claimed the lives of a Vietnamese woman and her children. Bonnie was five years old when her father died. Her memories of him are few, but reflect a resourceful and fun loving man, one who took great pride in his family.
Today Bonnie is a self-professed geek who analyzes data for Partners Healthcare in the Boston area. She’s also a sports fanatic. Bonnie followed her three sons’ high school and college hockey games and mountain bike races, and has even done some pretty competitive sports herself (that’s Bonnie pictured below competing in a canoe race.)
Bonnie is one of “seven sisters” going on the 2 Sides Project 2018 trip, which takes off on Saturday, November 24. One of the seven is her sister Barbara, who went to Vietnam in 2009 and jumped at a chance to return with Bonnie. Now Bonnie hopes to get to know the country and its people, and to go to that place she’s thought about for most of her life – the site where her father’s plane went down.
Do you have any memories of your dad?
I’m not sure how old I was, but Mom was making a cake and I wanted some of the batter, so I stuck my finger in the bowl with the egg beater on. My hand got all tangled up, and I remember my dad tried to get it out, but ended up having to cut the egg beater off. We went to the hospital and, thankfully, there weren’t any broken bones. That was a traumatic memory, but I have fun ones, too. We kids used to play a game where we’d stick our heads into the back of the sofa and flip our legs over the back and stand up on the other side. Dad thought that looked like fun so he tried it, but he was too big, and the couch went over with him and fell on top of him. We all laughed, and so did he.
He sounds like a fun guy.
There were always parties at our house, family picnics with lots of games and laughs. My mother often said that when you got with the squadron, it was expected that everyone would have fun, and have a little too much to drink. When my parents had people over we would come down in our pajamas and salute everyone. My dad was fun loving but he was also known for helping others out. His nephew was having some trouble at home and came to live with us for a while. My dad was really proud of his family.
What do you remember about the day your father died?
Only that we were sitting in the basement crying. I guess that’s when Mom told us. And I remember the funeral and the fly by. That was all pretty dramatic for a five year old.
Did things change for you from that moment on?
My sister and brother were closer to my parents than me, so it didn’t change my life as much as theirs. I always felt really independent. I don’t like to depend on others. Part of that comes from losing my father. I don’t know what will happen to people; they could just be gone like that, so I never got too attached to people or places. That was probably the most influential outcome. My father’s death changed my personality.
You had a chance to go to Vietnam when your sister Barbara did. Why didn’t you?
I had some lame excuse I can’t remember. I think if she would have pushed me I would have gone.
I was never brave enough to read a lot of books about the war, or watch movies about the battles. It’s all too gory for me. I can’t take it. But I want to see the country, I want to see what the battle was about. I know it was a power play and my Dad was a pawn in the whole thing. But I want to see the people. They suffered way more than we did. They are a very resilient people. They just don’t just let anyone roll over them, they fight for what they want. So I’m curious about the country and the people and how they rebounded. I think I’ll find that it’s a place worth fighting for.
Do you feel any trepidation about going?
I think a few things will be difficult. I mean how do you show or express how sorry you are to someone who lost their whole family, not just their father? How do you get them to understand? I don’t know how that will be, but I still want to meet them. On the positive side I’m expecting the geography to be spectacular. I’ve always heard it’s a beautiful country, that the beaches are beautiful, and I’m interested to see the jungles. I’ve heard about the jungles, about our use of Agent Orange, about how we didn’t know how to fight a battle in that kind of environment. It’s going to be very different.
What do you hope most happens?
I hope to close the loop. I hope I get closer to my father. I’m going back to my roots in a way. My dad is gone. It’s not his fault. He would be here if he could be. I’m expecting to be moved, I’m not sure how, good or bad, it will be such a different experience than anything I’ve done before. So I’m leaving myself wide open. I’m trying not to create expectations.
The 2 Sides Project Profile:
Susan is the daughter of James C. Mitchell Jr., an Electricians Mate in the Navy and a linguist who learned several languages at the California Linguistics School before he left for Vietnam. He was on assignment with Special Forces Operations on January 8, 1970 when his helicopter was shot down over the Mekong Delta near An Giang. A registered nurse from California, Susan often finds herself caring for Vietnam veterans. But it’s only been in the last few years that she has pushed herself to ask about their experience, and to share her own, fostering connections that have propelled a deeper interest in helping others heal from the war.
Outside of her work, Susan serves others in many ways. She is a volunteer at her local church, working most weekends on projects that help the community’s neediest. She is also a caring sister to many other sons and daughters who lost fathers in the war, someone who makes a point to collect and share rubbings of their father’s names when she visits the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. And Susan has been an active supporter of the 2 Sides Project from the start. She went on the 2015 trip, has attended film premieres in London and Florida, and regularly speaks to individuals and groups about her experiences. Susan’s passion and drive led to her recent appointment as a Senior Advisor to the 2 Sides Project. She will serve as an advisor to the trip’s participants, and continue to be an international Ambassador of Hope.
In this profile, Susan talks about what propels her to serve, the special moments she remembers from her first trip to Vietnam, and how her experience shows that sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways to connect with others.
First, happy early birthday. You share it with Veterans Day. Does that explain in part why you’re so active in veterans affairs and war-related service?
I think it’s part of my genetics. My grandparents came from a place of helping others. They taught us that in order to fulfill your purpose, you have to empty the cup. They passed that idea on to my mother and to us, so we’ve always been active in all kinds of community efforts.
I think over the last 10 years I’ve centered more on vets, connecting with them and their stories. Before that I would see vets and wouldn’t be comfortable even saying thank you. But I have forced myself out of my comfort zone and now it seems more of a mission to hear their stories, and to tell mine.
Well it’s good you’ve moved out of your comfort zone because you have these magic moments in your life where amazing things seem to happen. We started calling them “Susan Moments.”
I just seem to be in the right place at the right time. A couple of weeks ago I went to Chicago on a stopover on my way to Washington DC, and had a whirlwind couple of days visiting the National Veterans Art Museum and the local Vietnam Veterans memorial. I saw the dog tags exhibit, which displays tags from all who served in the Vietnam War. I met Vietnam vets and heard their stories. And I met the museum director, who gave me a private tour. He also introduced me to the woman who created all of the dog tags using an old machine they stored in the office, which they restarted to make me a replica of my father’s tag. My family jokes that I’m living the life. I’m just connecting with people. That’s my purpose now.
You were also recently in Washington, DC for the Marine Corps Marathon, right?
Yes. Amy Bushatz is a reporter I met ten years ago when she profiled me during Father’s Day for The Washington Post. We’ve kept in touch, and she contacted me recently to say she wanted to carry a flag in my father’s name through her road races this year. She finished the season doing the Marine Corps Marathon, carrying the flag the entire way. She gave it to me after the race, and I’m bringing it with me to Vietnam.
What do you remember most from the first 2 Sides Project trip?
I’ve been looking back at all the pictures, all the moments. I will always remember one of the Vietnamese sons, Mr. Xiem, pinning a flower on my dress. It’s a clear plastic flower made by children who are living with defects caused by Agent Orange. He had been very angry in our meeting, and his hands were shaking as he put it on me, but I saw how his anger had softened as we all talked. His action symbolized there was some understanding, not necessarily forgiveness, but an understanding that we are all on the same side, the side for treating others with humanity and kindness. I still have that pin. It’s on my dresser. It’s as valuable to me as any piece of jewelry I’ve been given.
Why are you going back?
I have to. I think there are more connections to be made and more opportunities to help others close that hole in the soul that anyone who lost a father, on either side, knows about. That hole is now filled for me. I’m not saying everyone has to go to Vietnam to fill it, but I’ve seen people go who said they would never go, and come back changed. The question is why wouldn’t people want to grow and change? I can’t imagine being stuck in that timeframe when my father died. I know that the stories we brought back from the first trip helped others. Some can’t go or don’t want to go, but I still think they want to hear the stories.
What do you want from this trip?
I hope this time around that we reach more people on both sides. And I hope it opens other opportunities for us to work with other generations. We’re all getting older, entering our 50s and 60s. We’re starting to lose sons and daughters. I wouldn’t want someone to miss an opportunity to change or to heal, if they wanted it. Whether being there physically or hearing through others’ stories, words change people. And hopefully the words we bring back bring healing and hope.
2 Sides Project Profile: Jill Hubbs
It has been more than 50 years since Commander Donald Richard Hubbs, a Navy pilot, launched his aircraft from the USS Yorktown in the Gulf of Tonkin and, one hour into flight, disappeared off the North Vietnam coast. His daughter Jill was 10 years old when her father became missing in action. Years later, in 1993, she traveled to Vietnam on a quest to find any information about her father. Since then her interest in the war and its aftermath has only grown.
As Director of Educational Services and Outreach at WSRE, one of the U.S.’s premiere PBS television stations, Jill was one of the first to see the Ken Burns documentary series about Vietnam. She’s a filmmaker herself, producing, among other films, “They Were Our Fathers,” which features interviews with sons and daughters who lost fathers on the U.S. side of the war. And Jill is an avid supporter and fundraiser for “The Wall South,” a permanent half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated in 1992 in her hometown of Pensacola, Florida.
In this profile of one of the “seven sisters” going on the 2018 2 Sides Project trip, Jill talks about her father’s disappearance, the evidence her family later uncovered that indicated he may have survived the crash, and the hope she’s bringing on this trip.
When was the last time you saw your dad?
When he was leaving for his second tour of duty in Vietnam in 1967, just a few days after Christmas. We waved to him as he stood on the deck of the USS Yorktown. Back in the car, I discovered the cake that my grandmother had baked for him – a lemon pound cake, his favorite. I begged my mother to let me run it back up to him, and she did. He took the cake, gave me a hug and told me to be good girl and take care of my mother. These words have became the marching orders that have echoed in my ears ever since.
What do you know about the circumstances of his death?
He went missing in action during a mission over the Gulf of Tonkin in North Vietnam. He and his three crewmates flew an S-2 reconnaissance aircraft off the deck of the USS Yorktown. One hour into their flight, the plane disappeared off the radar. Five hours after the last contact, radio signals were heard, and North Vietnamese fishing boats were spotted in the area the next day. My dad was declared missing, but I knew that other people in his squadron were searching for him, so I felt they would find him and everything would be ok. I was so young I don’t think I really understood the gravity of the situation or that my father was serving in a war zone and that America was fighting the North Vietnamese.
Your father’s disappearance ended up being a high profile case.
We waited for news for days, which turned into weeks, then months, then years. In 1969 my mother and I identified my father in a North Vietnamese film of American POWs, but he didn’t come home when other POWs were released. In 1987 we received a live sighting report from the Defense Intelligence Agency stating that their credible source had seen my father alive being held with 13 other Americans near the city of Da Lat. Three years later I sat with my mother in the Senate Select Committee hearings on POW/MIA affairs and heard President Nixon’s defense secretaries testify that the U.S. government believed some American servicemen had not been returned, but had been left behind.
That must have been absolute hell.
Never knowing what happened to my father, living in uncertainty, was so very hard to cope with. My mother’s heart was broken, but she was my hero, making sure that my sister and I were raised in a healthy and happy home and in a way that would please my father. She carried on despite the obstacles, the heartache, the limbo. She had a very strong faith in God. That sustained her.
You went to Vietnam before the United States had established any kind of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Weren’t you scared to go?
My mother was very worried for my safety, but I wasn’t scared. I felt compelled to go. By the time we had received the live sighting report, I was an adult and I wanted to go to Vietnam myself to see what I could find out about my father. I traveled to Hanoi with a very small group from Friendship Force on the first ever trip to extend the hand of friendship and understanding after the war. I was unsure how I would be received by the citizens of North Vietnam, especially when they learned that my father was an American pilot who had flown missions during the war.
Everyone I met was gracious and friendly, including a mother who had lost two sons, both of whom had served in the North Vietnamese Army. She took a picture of my father and placed it between photographs of her two sons and began praying for all of three of them in a loud and emotional prayer in Vietnamese. It was a pivotal moment for me, a moment of forgiveness, understanding and shared grief. I did not understand her words, but I felt her emotion, her grief and her loss. And she understood mine. Before that journey, whenever I heard the word “Vietnam,” I thought of the war. From then on, Vietnam became a country to me, a place with people who became friends.
Did you get any other clues about your dad while there?
In Hanoi, I was able to locate an old Vietnamese grave registration that listed my father’s name on it, indicating that he had been buried somewhere in the province of Quang Binh. I have come to accept that I may never really know what happened to my father or ever be able to bury his remains on American soil. My mother died in 1999, never knowing the truth. What I have left are memories and the awareness that I am the legacy for my parents. It is my duty to honor them, live my life as they would have wanted me to do and to accomplish whatever I can to make the world a better place.
What do you expect from this trip?
I am looking forward to going with other daughters whom I have come to know and love like sisters. We are about to embark on a trip that will be life-altering for all of us, something none of us will ever forget and a journey that none of our fathers could ever begin to imagine us taking. We will also meet sons and daughters from the “other side.” Perhaps this is the most important part of our journey, being ambassadors of hope and friendship. It is a journey of the heart, a journey to embrace and honor the legacies of our fathers and a journey of peace and understanding for the future of our world. Our fathers would be very proud of us.
The 2 Sides Project Profile: Kim Benner
Kim Carlson Benner’s father, Air Force Captain John W. Carlson, was shot down in Vietnam in December of 1966. His remains have never been found. Decades on, his legacy lives in Kim’s life and in the lives of the two boys she has raised with her husband, Rich. Their sons, John and James, are named in memory of Kim’s father and that of his cousin, James Donahue, who was also killed in Vietnam in 1970.
In this series of profiles introducing the “seven sisters” who are going on the next 2 Sides Project trip in November 2018, Kim talks about growing up without her dad, what changed her mind about meeting the other side and going to Vietnam, and how she’s preparing for this important trip.
What was it like growing up without your father?
It made me feel very vulnerable. I seem to remember being scared and afraid, always thinking that someone was going to physically hurt me. I am not sure how common it is for young girls to feel this way, but that's the way I felt all the time. I know I felt sad, like something was always missing.
Looking back, I think I really felt unmoored and adrift, floating alone in the world with no direction. Even though I was very young, I think in some way I knew I had to keep my sanity if I wanted to survive.
Did people talk to you about the war, given your family’s experience with it?
Not really. At times, I felt invisible, but when people did pay attention to me, it was because they felt pity for me ("that poor girl, her father died in the war") which made me embarrassed. I don't remember feeling particularly proud of my father and his service, or why anyone would even care. I don't even remember telling people about my father's death in Vietnam until much later. Friends of mine from high school recently found out about how my father died and said they had absolutely no idea of my circumstances.
What about in your family? Was it discussed?
I knew our grandparents loved us very much, but I also knew that Grandma would cry about our dad, and I didn't ask about him because I didn't want to make her sad. I wanted to make a connection to him so it would seem obvious that I was his daughter. That’s probably a big reason why I wanted to learn to sail. I knew it was such a passion of his, and was something we could share.
You didn’t go on the 2015 trip. What changed your mind?
I didn’t have any interest then in meeting the other side, and since we’ve never been sure where exactly my father’s crash site is, I didn’t want to go until I was certain I could stand in the right place. My feelings about the other side changed only recently. In 2017, I attended the film premiere in Washington, D.C., and several of the Vietnamese who participated in the first meetings in Vietnam came to see it. I remember Dang Thi Le Phi, a daughter from Danang, ran up to my son James. She’s tiny, and he is 6’4”. She stood next to him, marveling at his height. She is a mother like me, in awe of my child, I thought. Why am I angry at her? It was a pivotal moment. We still don’t know our father’s precise location, but I feel like it’s time for me to go anyway, and I want to go as part of the 2 Sides Project. I don't want to take a tourist trip there, and I don't want to go with any other group.
How are you feeling about it, now that it’s close?
I am honestly feeling so many emotions, ranging from curiosity to fear to anticipation. I am taking very small steps every day to prepare myself, which seem to be helping with the fear part. I am not sure what to expect and how to prepare, which feels kind of weird since I do like to be in control. I think if I overthink it though, that might not be good either. So I’m trying to keep my mind open and receptive and not judge my emotions. But I don’t know how I will respond when we get near the crash site. I know that my father died there, but I really do feel him with me, and know that he loves and is really proud of the family that Rich and I have created, nurtured, and loved with our whole hearts.
What are you most looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to seeing the Vietnamese friends I met in D.C. I think I am just really starting to appreciate how brave they were to come and visit the Wall. I only hope I can be as gracious, open, friendly and forgiving when I am a visitor to their country.
Knowing that we will all be together again soon is very comforting, and I am looking forward to meeting other Vietnamese sons, daughters and veterans.
I am praying that we can all continue to find peace and forgiveness, both individually and collectively.
The 2 Sides Project Profile: Nora Kubach
Nora Kubach is the writer and editor of The 2 Sides Project documentary, an award-winning film that has been airing on PBS’s World Channel all year long. A new version of the film, which includes unseen interviews with three Vietnamese sons and daughters who lost fathers on the opposite side of the war, will premiere in Vietnam in December.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment to work on a lauded documentary and to have it seen by tens of thousands of people around the world. It is an absolute feat to create a story about a trip you couldn’t go on for budget reasons, about a country that you have never seen. But Nora did. And now, she’s going to see Vietnam for herself as one of “seven sisters” traveling on the next 2 Sides Project trip in November.
In this series profiling the people who will make the journey, Nora talks about creating the film with Director Anthony Istrico and Director of Photography Jared Groneman, the connection she already feels to the country and to the people involved in the project, and how the recent passing of her own father has helped her focus not just on other’s stories, but on her own.
So, the first documentary you write and edit gets awards at film festivals and a nationwide run on PBS. That’s crazy.
I’ve been reflecting back on the last few years. It’s been exciting, and overwhelming! Working on this film has really been the highlight of my career thus far and I’m honored that Anthony trusted me with the narrative. I was able to attend a few private screenings and the West Coast premiere, where I got to see reactions and meet people who saw the film. It was just amazing to see how emotional it was for Gold Star children, for veterans, for everyone. I already knew it was a powerful story, but seeing the response live was so great. I’ll never forget it.
The power of art is, well, powerful.
Yes, it is! Art connects us all. It helps us express ourselves when we don’t have the words. It brings out our humanity. It can create real change in the world. I studied theatre in school, and we always talked about why we create, what we want from the audience. I was young and idealistic, but I had a noble idea of the theatre. I loved performing so that I could live as other characters and find empathy in them. I felt it was our job to entertain the audience but also to give them a different way of thinking, or an emotional release of some kind. I’ve always believed art, whether a film or a play, a novel or a painting, should strive for that. The 2 Sides Project film really brought me back to that time when I was creating something with a purpose that brought people together. I could see pieces of myself in everyone’s stories. And I saw the ripple effect of the film on others, and how it changed people’s way of thinking. I’m most proud of that.
What you are most excited for about the trip?
It’s strange to feel so close to a country I have never set foot in. I didn’t grow up with a personal connection to the war or to Vietnam, so I never had an emotional tie to it until the last few years. It feels like such an important part of my life now. I can’t wait to be with you all on your own personal journeys, to meet people on the other side, and to see the beauty of the country in person! As I was working on the film, I couldn’t help but think of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey;” you left this country feeling one thing, and through all of the trials came back with a new knowledge about yourself. That is so powerful to watch, and I know there are more emotional journeys to come. I feel so connected to all of you and am glad I will be there to support you and to help people make the connections as best I can.
You’ve had a challenging year, with the recent passing of your father. Does that change your feelings about going so soon after?
My dad died suddenly, and I’ve had a tough time. I did not expect to go on this trip and feel a sadness of my own. Working on the film was cathartic. Like many people, my own father/daughter relationship was complicated. From a creative standpoint, I wanted everyone to be able to relate to this story in some way: not only those who were affected by the Vietnam War, but really anyone who has lost a father and feels an emotional void. I wanted to explore in some small way what it means to be a son or a daughter, and to work through your feelings about that. I’m glad my dad was able to see the film and I know he was proud of me and everyone involved. I know you all didn’t have your dads for much of your lives due to the war. I can’t imagine, or compare with your experience. But I do need this trip now. It’s important to start moving forward and healing. The best way to really do that is to get out into the world and live your life, share your story, and realize you’re not alone. I’m grateful to my family and friends for supporting me on my own journey.
Does it change what you expect from the trip?
Travel, just like art, opens the mind and helps you form connections and think bigger about your life. When I travel, I’m reminded of how beautiful life is, how much the world has to offer. I’m not going with any goal or expectations. I’ll be bringing a camera, but I will strive to not hide behind it. I have my own story to write and my own healing to do. So I hope I will be able to be present for myself, and make some incredible memories.
The 2 Sides Project Profile: Barbara Brumet
Barbara Brumet is a physical therapist living in San Diego, and a specialist in treating people with disabilities. She’s also the daughter of Air Force Captain Robert N. Brumet, who was killed on April 9, 1964. Captain Brumet died in the very early days of the war under circumstances that, when she talks about it today, more than 50 years later, still make Barbara’s voice tighten with anger.
In this first of a series of profiles that will introduce the participants in the 2 Sides Project 2018 trip to Vietnam, Barbara talks to 2 Sides Project Founder Margot Carlson Delogne about her father’s incident, her previous trip to Vietnam to visit his crash site, and why she’s returning for what will be a very different experience, this time with her sister, Bonnie Dean.