That’s the impact of a recent two-week visit to Vietnam on the lives of two Wisconsin veterans who fought there more than 50 years ago.
A.J. McCaskey and Dennis Williams were among 52 Vietnam veterans who returned to the country thanks to an Old Glory Honor Flight.
“I had said earlier that I had pretty much put the war behind me, so this trip would be truly a great honor for me to go and pay tribute and to honor all who served in Vietnam, especially those 58,000 plus brothers and sisters that did not return,” said Williams. "Also, to see how the country has recovered and moved forward from the devastation of the war. I feel both objectives were met."
The childhood friends both served in the Army during the conflict. McCaskey said although he initially had some reservations about making the trip, he’s glad he did.
“It was heartwarming to experience a Vietnamese welcome regardless of where we went,” said McCaskey. “They have moved on from decades of torturous war.”
McCaskey served in the Mekong Delta with the 5th Infantry Division during 1968 and 1969. Returning there 50 years later allowed him to “pay homage to those soldiers who never made it back alive and those that will never have the opportunity to get back."
“I had my moment to pay tribute to those soldiers in the 5th that were killed,” he said. “They were never able to return, move on, and enjoy a good life.”
While in Hanoi, the group visited North Vietnamese cemeteries, monuments, and a war museum.
“You were then looking at the war from their perspective, through their eyes,” said Williams. “One must realize that the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong had families and lost many loved ones also. Like us, they were just doing what their government asked of them.”
McCaskey added that the trip gave him a chance to see how Vietnam itself has recovered and moved forward since the war.
“This poor Third World country is prospering with busloads of tourists,” McCaskey said. “Lots of new building startups and factories are moving in from all over the world.”