Neil Hannan knew he was about to walk a very thin line between life and death when he arrived in central Vietnam in late February 1968, at the age of 19.
But the young soldier did not know that he would have to carry along haunting memories of the war even after half a century later.
Hannan, now 67, recalled that right after his arrival at Chu Lai Airport, he was immediately taken to a base of the US Army’s 196th infantry brigade in Quang Nam Province’s Thang Binh District.
“I was really shocked by what was happening around,” he said.
The number of people being killed and injured just kept rising for both sides.
On the third day, his unit began to move to a village where he could hear painful moans.
Hannan said he rushed into a small house that was burning and found a little girl. She had a severed foot and blood was everywhere.
Two adults in the house were horrified when seeing an American soldier with a gun. But Hannan said his worried look might have calmed them down.
He said he did not think twice and quickly carried the girl to his base for treatment.
Nearly half a century later, in 2010, Hannan decided to travel all the way to Vietnam to visit the former battlefield in Quang Nam, together with other vets from the same brigade.
After many efforts, he managed to find the person that he had helped rescue during the war.
At Nguyen Thi Son's house, he cried when hugging her. They recalled memories of the war and the time when they first met.
After returning to the US, Hannan often saved money from his meager pension and farm work to send to Son and helped her repair her small house and cover medical costs.
“Despite being weak due to long time illnesses, my younger sister had motivation to live for two more years,” said Son’s brother Nguyen Van Phung.
Neil Hannan shows pictures of him and Son's relatives. Photo: An Dy
She passed away in late 2012, at the age of 57.
"I let Neil know and he was very sad,” Phung said.
In 2015, Hannan visited Son’s grave and was really moved by the image of her mother, 94-year-old Luu Thi The, sitting by the grave.
He has been visiting the mother regularly, bringing gifts and medicine to her.
The veteran said he felt like he owed her a healthy daughter.
May Lis Carlsen, a Norwegian nurse who accompanied Hannan to Vietnam in a recent trip in March, said she was deeply moved by his story.
It could be a very common story during and after the war but the most important thing is that Neil has returned and did what he wanted, because most American soldiers did not have a similar, she said.
Returning from the war, besides injuries, illnesses and difficulties in making a living, they have also suffered from post traumatic stress disorder that can affect the rest of their life, she said.
Hannan knew the terrifying memories of the war may never leave.
But that day in March, sitting next to the grave of the woman he had saved, he finally found some rare moments of peace.
Neil Hannan hands over gifts to Son's 94-year-old mother, Luu Thi The. Photo: An Dy