While serving in South Vietnam in the early 1970s, 20-year-old marine Lester Newell told himself that if he ever got out of the war alive, he would come back to the country.
Newell had earlier decided to drop out of the University of Minnesota after his freshman year to enlist in the US Marine Corps.
ââ‚¬Å“That experience completely changed my life,ââ‚¬ Newell recalled inside the Hoa Lo Prison cells in downtown Hanoi, more than 40 years later. ââ‚¬Å“I was a young and capricious 20-year-old who would argue with you and after serving I became a very quiet person, more thoughtful, precise and focused.ââ‚¬
His first trip back to the country was part of a week-long educational and humanitarian delegation with 30 other Americans who have connections to the Vietnam War.
For the past nine years, several such delegations have been visiting Vietnam and its former battlefields in tours organized by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
One regular stop for the delegations is project RENEW in Quang Tri Province, a humanitarian program charged with restoring the environment and mitigating the impacts of war.
The province continues to suffer the aftereffects of the war in lives and limbs lost to unexploded ordnances.
At a press briefing on Monday, VVMF announced that it will receive a US$1 million grant from the US government to assist with demining activities in Vietnam.
Last month, the US Congress and President Obama signed into law a defense funding bill that included a provision directing the US Secretary of Defense to award the grant, which will be used for VVMFââ‚¬â„¢s Project RENEW.
Newell said such initiatives from VVMF inspired him to come to the country and do something for the people, whether it was building schools or assisting war victims.
On this trip in particular, he hoped to find the man who wounded him during the war and on the business side, bring in an IT company to Vietnam for business cooperation in the future.
ââ‚¬Å“Itââ‚¬â„¢s not the country I thought it would be. Itââ‚¬â„¢s much more progressive. Itââ‚¬â„¢s so energetic. Hanoi is such a busy city. This kind of reminds me of Rome ââ‚¬" so many motorcycles.ââ‚¬
For American George Whitehouse, this trip back to Vietnam is already special because he was able to return with his brothers and father, both of whom who served during the conflict.
Whitehouse said he and his brothers asked their father to join them on this trip as a way to honor his upcoming 90th birthday next month.
The former infantry US soldier said he knows thereââ‚¬â„¢s a political side when it comes to efforts to address the wounds of war and that the reaction from the US government regarding Agent Orange did not meet the expectations of many.
But itââ‚¬â„¢s the American people and their friends who could make up for that, he said.
ââ‚¬Å“I think there are so many Americans who do things on their own such as those who work for the fund and those who donate their money,ââ‚¬ he said. ââ‚¬Å“It will continue as more people come back and be exposed to whatââ‚¬â„¢s happening here.ââ‚¬
Reported by Le Huong