War veteran searching for peace in return to Vietnam
'If I can go over there and feel at peace, I think that's going to be a good thing'
Forty-eight years after his last tour of duty in Vietnam, Charlottetown's Kier Kenny is going back to see if he can finally close the book on the experience.
Kenny, an American by birth, was drafted, joined the air force, and did his first tour of duty in 1969 when he was 20 years old.
"After coming from a very loving family it was a very surreal experience," said Kenny.
"The first night we were there we got attacked. Some of the guys were yelling, 'Oh my God! We just got here we're going to get killed already.' That feeling just ended up staying with you: that nervousness, that anxiety."
Kenny's job was to look after the airplanes and protect the airfield, occasionally going out on recovery missions when planes crashed. The planes were an important target for the Viet Cong. There was a continual threat of attack, and bullets regularly bounced off the runway while Kenny worked on the planes.
The fear ate away at your soul, he said, and took away your humanity.
"We treated them very poorly," said Kenny.
"You go from a loving home to telling people to get out of their houses and lay down on the ground and seeing kids that are all burned and blown up from napalm and bombs and things like that, and you lose your humanity. You lose part of your soul and you don't know if you're ever able to get back to that."
Some of his friends died there. A second tour in 1970 was worse than the first. He was taking pills to deal with the constant fear.
And then he went home to New York, to struggle with becoming human again. He had his family's support. One uncle in particular, a Korean War vet, understood what he was going through. They packed him off to live with an uncle on a P.E.I. farm to sort his life out and Kenny has lived on the Island ever since.
He was sure he would never go back to Vietnam.
But then a friend, whom he regularly travels with, turned up on his doorstep with a ticket to Vietnam in his pocket for him.
"I really didn't have a lot of choice in the matter," said Kenny.
"I wouldn't have gone back there on my own but when he did that I thought, you know, maybe this is the time to go. I still have very mixed emotions about it."
The more he thought about, and the more he talked to other friends about, the more it seemed like a good idea, although the trip still terrifies him.
"I'm sure that those smells, you know, when you go somewhere there's certain smells and sounds that are going to trigger feelings and emotions. I'm not really sure what to expect," said Kenny.
"I'm hoping I can go over there and talk to the people. If I can go over there and feel at peace, I think that's going to be a good thing."
Kenny flies to Vietnam on Feb. 6.
With files from Island Morning