First, we lost our fathers. Then we lost even more: for some, connections with extended family, for others, memories of what our fathers looked and sounded like.
We’ve lived for decades in the shadow of the Vietnam War. Now we’re taking a big step, honoring our fathers by visiting the sites where they fell, and finding new understanding by meeting with sons and daughters on the other side.
Six sons and daughters from the U.S. will make the inaugural 2 Sides Project trip in December 2015. Their stories are unfolding as they prepare. We’ll feature them on the blog in the coming weeks, and in a documentary short in 2016. In the meantime here’s a snapshot of who they are:
Mike Burkett: Mike's father, SP4 Curtis Earl Burkett (Army), was killed on February 19, 1971 in Quang Ngai Province. "I was four years old when my Dad died. His funeral is my first memory. There was a big black car, and we sat under a tent. What I know about my Dad’s death is that he was at the edge of a river and leading a platoon. They were getting ready to cross the river because there were some VC on the other side. My Dad stepped in and was caught in a swift undertow. They found him 30 minutes later. He had drowned. I never really thought about sons and daughters on the other side, but I think it would be amazing to meet them."
Patty Young Loew: HM1 Jack Young, Navy, first served in the Korean War on the USS Missouri. Years later, after re-upping rather than retiring, he started a tour in Vietnam. He was killed near Da Nang on March 11, 1969. "My brothers and sisters were in their teens when my father was killed. I was the baby, just two years old. I have no memories of him like my siblings do. But I remember that whenever Vietnam came on the TV, Mom would bristle. We just didn’t want to talk much about it. I didn’t get curious until I got older and became a mom myself. I found out as much as I could and made peace with myself about it. It was only later that I felt the profound effect of the reality of the loss. I never harbored ill feelings toward the Vietnamese. All of us kids are innocents. Our fathers made decisions and took sides and all the kids suffered losses like we did. But I wonder if they’ll harbor any animosity towards us?"
Susan Mitchell-Mattera: Susan’s father, James C. Mitchell Jr., was in the Navy and was killed near Cao Lanh City on January 8, 1970. "My dad was killed two days after his birthday, and two days before he was scheduled to come home forever. What I knew about his death was that he was translating in an orphanage village and the helicopter was shot down and he was killed. He didn’t know how to swim. I only just found out the details of his death preparing for this trip. I’m ok with the idea of meeting sons and daughters on the other side. I don’t harbor any hard feelings. I can’t say that was the case when I was 5 or 15 years old."
Ron Reyes: Ron’s father was PFC Ronald Reyes (USMC 1st battalion / 9th Marines), who was killed on a hill overlooking Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968. "I was born on February 28, 1968, in the middle of the Tet Offensive. My dad found out that I was born two weeks before he was killed. I know that he at least saw a picture of me. There were periods in school where I researched the war after it ended. I did the same in college. Just before I had my first child, my mother had a dream about my father. He appeared as he would have been at 18 or 19. He told her “Ronnie’s ok. He will have a daughter.” That was the last dream she ever had about him, and soon after that, my daughter was born. I wasn’t sure how I was going to afford this trip, but I knew I had to go."
Margaret Von Lienen: Margaret’s father, Robert Saavedra, was a Navy pilot. He was shot down over the province of Ha Tinh on April 28, 1968. "I was five years old when my Dad's plane went down. I don’t remember hearing about it that day. Mom had a mass at the house afterwards. We used a piece of old furniture as the altar. I never saw a picture of me with my father until a few years ago, when my brother found one and sent it to me for my birthday. My cousin gave me letters dad had written from Vietnam. I read a couple of them recently and stopped. It was too hard. I'm nervous about going to Vietnam, and about meeting Vietnamese sons and daughters. What is their reaction going to be? Weren't our fathers considered invaders?"
Margot Carlson Delogne: Margot is the founder of the 2 Sides Project. Her father, John W. Carlson (Air Force), was shot down near Bien Hoa on December 7, 1966. "Truth be told, I grew up hating all things Vietnam. I was only focused on what I had lost. But slowly, as I got older, I realized that my father's bombs had probably killed many people, and that there were sons and daughters like me on the other side who had lost their dads too. As my anger subsided, I became curious about those children, now adults. What were they like? How had they tried to fill that hole left by their father's death? That's when the idea for the 2 Sides Project came to me. I had to meet them. And I thought others would want to join me."
We're flying from Los Angeles to Hanoi on December 6, 2015, and will visit much of the country in two short weeks. Here's where we're going.