War veteran finds forgiveness on return to Vietnam
'I was expecting it to be like 1970'
Kier Kenny thought he would never return to Vietnam, but after a friend talked him into it, he is so glad he did.
"[It] made me realize that these people have totally moved ahead and it's about time for me to do the same," Kenny said.
Kenny, an American by birth now living in Prince Edward Island, was drafted and did two tours of duty during the Vietnam War: one in 1969 and one in 1970. He was just 20 years old on his first tour. It was a traumatizing experience that took him years to even begin to recover from.
He had no desire to revisit, but late last year a friend bought him a ticket and told him they were going. Kenny said he "didn't have a lot of choice in the matter."
'I was a bit nervous'
They left P.E.I. on Feb. 6 for a two-and-a-half-week trip. He was still uncomfortable with the idea when they landed.
"I was a bit nervous. I was expecting it to be like it was in 1970, I guess," he said.
"We got off the plane. Everybody was so friendly. They don't have any police or army or anyone that's there to put the fear of God in you."
They visited a lot of the places he had been, including the air force base where he had been stationed, which is still in use by the Vietnam armed forces.
"The hangars, the tower and the mess hall and all the stuff I remember. It's still there," he said.
"That was really pretty traumatic."
'Don't worry. That was a long time ago'
It was outside the gate of that old air force base that he met a veteran of the war, one who had been fighting for the north. They had a beer together. Those meetings were the beginning of a new stage of healing for Kenny.
"They were all very forgiving. They hugged us and said, 'Don't worry. That was a long time ago.' That to us was a really good feeling," he said.
It was a one of a number of meetings he had with veterans. Many of them asked him what the war was about, and he had to admit he still didn't know. But none of them held grudges, he said. He said they knew that he, like them, was just a young man at the time, doing what he was told to do.
There were difficult times, said Kenny, such as the visit to the war museum, but there were good times too. He remembers the colourful clothing of the people in the cities, and all the new construction.
And there were a lot of hugs with war veterans.
It took a lot of that burden that I was carrying for many years off of my shoulders," Kenny said.
"The first time I went there I was scared to death the entire time, and this time I went there and I just felt the love of all those people."
Now that he has gotten over his fear of the country, Kenny said he is keen to visit again.
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With files from Island Morning