Returning North Vietnamese Soldier item to Vietnam for Vietnam Vet, Part Two

(L) Larry when he served as a medic in Vietnam, Thuy with the buckle
(L) Larry when he served as a medic in Vietnam, Thuy with the buckle

Larry Hoffman, Former Medic in Vietnam

Today was quite an emotional morning for me. I met with a Vietnamese newspaper reporter to share about an item I had brought to Vietnam with me. Before I could even utter a word, the emotions came flooding through and I could not stop it although I tried. I too was surprised as to how much emotion was there.

Before I left the United States to come on this trip an American Vietnam Veteran called me up because he had heard I was going to Vietnam. He actually wanted to return with me, but his health did not permit such a trip, at least not now. He asked me if I could do a favor for him. I thought it might have been to bring him back a picture of where he was stationed before or some other type of souvenir. Instead, he begins to tell me a story.

When he was in Vietnam during the war, Larry was a medic. He was stationed around the area of Danang.  The troop he was assigned to was ambushed. Through this incident an NVA ( North Vietnamese Army) soldier had been injured quite severely. Larry, also goes by Doc, tried to save his life. He was unable too.  Larry had taken the belt buckle of this NVA and brought it back to the United States with him.

Many years later he then asks me if I would return it for him. His wish would be that ultimately it could go back to a family member of this NVA soldier, but that does not appear possible. If he could at least return it to Vietnam and Danang in particular, he would feel satisfied with that.

I asked him why it was important for me to do this for him. He told me that when he took the buckle back to the U.S. with him he was young and naive. It was his was of having a “story”, a souvenir. However, as time goes on and a person matures and the older you get, you do a lot of reflecting back. The buckle began to weigh heavy on him and he could not get release from it. He felt the buckle does not belong to him; it belongs to Vietnam.  He knew not only about my humanitarian work to Vietnam, the healing and advocacy on behalf of American Vietnam Veterans and their families, but also about my work on bridging the gap and finding healing and common ground between all who have been affected by the war in Vietnam.

When he heard I was returning again to Vietnam, he knew it was timing for it to be returned.  I also asked him to write something for me that can be left with the buckle in which he did. He also wants me to say a prayer and burn incense on behalf of this NVA Soldier.

He stated this would be a full circle moment for him and help bring release to him of the heavy burden he had carried regarding this item. It was the right thing to do and should go back to Vietnam where it belongs.

Let me tell you about Larry. I’ve been calling Vietnam Veterans the Number One GIS- familiar term in Vietnam used by some during the war. Many are returning or would like to return to Vietnam today. Many have either helped me or another NGO with humanitarian efforts to Vietnam. There are other testimonies of the acts of humanity such as this one by other former American GIS. Larry (Doc) said although he was an American soldier during the war, he was a doctor first. It did not matter to him that the man whose life he was trying to save was an NVA Soldier. He was a DOC first and foremost and he loved his “patients”.  With this, I call him not only the Number one GI, but I also add in his title Bac Si which in Vietnamese means Doctor. Larry stated that title was an honor for him especially coming from someone who was from Vietnam.

I did have Larry over to record an interview with him. That too was an emotional meeting. We both exchanged some heart to heart sharing and some tears. (Link) Not all is included in this video. I left out some of our more personal emotional exchange.

This was not the first time I’ve had the opportunity to experience something like this. Another former American Marine, who is a Native American, has a similar story and there was a Native American Ceremony to help send the NVS’s spirit home.  (Link )

Yesterday, December 12, 2010 I told this same story to the Vietnamese newspaper reporter. They are going to try and get Larry’s story published and get me connected to the right sources in Danang to do a proper ceremony. We will also be contacting another bigger newspaper in Vietnam to get this story told. One of many Articles written in Vietnam

Thank you Larry for the honor and opportunity to be a part of this journey with you. Thank you for listening to your heart and spirit and following through. This is another continual testimony of the American GIS that I’ve come to know. This is also another testimony of the bridging the gap, finding common ground, and forging new relations today.

Soldier to soldier, Veteran to Veteran, and people to people – we are all the same and there are parallels to our stories. I and Larry share this with you today as our way to pay tribute to all who have been affected by the war in Vietnam; and our hope and prayer is healing for all.

~Thuy Smith

Proud Amerasian and Daughter of an American Vietnam Veteran

*Thuy will be taking return trip to Vietnam in February 2014. You can follow her posts through this blog and the World Outreach Blog.

Website of Thuy Smith International Outreach

Related Posts to this story, Part one and two below

Final Reflections from NVA Buckle Ceremony, Part Three

LARRY’S VIDEO & WRITTEN THOUGTS in Returning Buckle to Vietnam- Part One

Article (one of many) done in Vietnam on this story

SIMILAR STORY- Native American Ceremony helping to release NVA Soldier’s Spirit Home to Vietnam

Returning North Vietnamese Soldier Item for Vietnam Veteran to Vietnam, Part One

Larry Hoffmann…..HM3  -Aka “Doc”  “bush doc” “mother doc”

Enlisted July 1967,  Served with: 2nd Bn. 1st Mar. 1st Mar Div.

Echo Company 1st, Platoon. 1969 – Hon. Dis. July 1971

Buckle came from wounded NVA soldier…..early summer of 1969…..the place and time where I treated this man is a little fuzzy….but it was during a Marine Operation called “Pipestone Canyon”…….it was to the west of Danang and perhaps a little to the South. If I remember correctly, it was called “Go Noi Island”…whether this was a real name or Marine Speaklesh I have no idea.

I am returning the buckle to Vietnam because it belongs to Vietnam…I have been the care-taker of this buckle for the past 42 years……I am sorry that I could not do more for this soldier…..he died in my arms, with peace and dignity.

Thuy, as I have shared with you in the video, you know most of this story…It is my hope you can explain to those you encounter, how the time spent, caring for this man, is so much the part of who I am today as a human being.

Wishing you many satori on your journey home…. Namaste’ ~ Doc Larry

Related Posts to this story, Part two and three below:

Read Thuy’s Reflection regarding her first encounter with Larry (Part Two)

 Read Thuy’s final reflection (Part Three) of the actual handing over of the buckle ceremony that took place in Vietnam

See Video interviews below (Taped before Thuy left to Vietnam to return item) Video will return soon

Related Posts to this story, Part two and three below:

Read Thuy’s Blog regarding this first encounter with Larry (Part Two)

 Read Thuy’s final reflection (Part Three) of the actual handing over of the buckle ceremony that took place in Vietnam


Child of War, Woman of Peace, Front Runner for Normalizing Relations with Vietnam

Steve, Le Ly, & I
My husband, Le Ly, and I

Both Le Ly and I had been invited by UM Marquette to speak about Vietnam years ago. She is one of many who have inspired us with our work- healing for all.

child war woman peaceFor those who many not be familiar, Le Ly is a famous author and humanitarian. She had fought during the war in Vietnam. There were many families such as hers who were split during the war, and many of the people were simply caught in between. Choices are made based on survival. For all this woman has come through and to be able to forgive all her “enemies” as she has is amazing.

Her first book – When Heaven and Earth Changed Places

Some of you may have even seen the movie based on her book.

The next day we had a discussion with the staff of the University about Vietnamese and American relations. The night before Le Ly and I hung out in her room until about 2am talking about our stories and sharing our work and vision for the future.

Le LY & staff
Thuy and Le Ly with UM Marquette staff

Stories are powerful and I have seen new relations develop today between the people from both countries. There are more similarities than differences and we can come together to form a common bond and work toward healing for everyone. I have been able to witness this myself.

Excerpt From Book: “The least you did- the least any of us did- was our duty. For that we must be proud. The most that any of us did- or saw- was another face of destiny or luck or God. Children and soldiers have always known it to be terrible. If you have not yet found peace at the end of your war, I hope you will find it here (book). We have new important roles to play”.

“Some people suffer in peace the way others suffer in war. The special gift of that suffering, I have learned, is how to be strong while we are weak, how to be brave when we are afraid, how to be wise in the midst of confusion, and how to let go of that which we can no longer hold. In this way, anger can teach forgiveness, hate can teach us love, and war can teach us peace.                                                                                                    ~Le Ly Hayslip

page8 reflections
Click to see more of Thuy’s Reflections (C) All Rights Reserved-TSIO

Some of Thuy’s Reflections Below, for more Healing my wounds of war, go here



Vietnam Veteran returns to Vietnam to put the past to rest

George in vn sitting as soldierI was first in Vietnam in 1969-1970 at Camp Evans. I returned in 1971-1972 and was stationed at Camp Holloway Pleiku. This is where I met my girlfriend Phu late 1971 where she worked in the camp mess hall. We were together when I left Camp Holloway to return to the states. She told me she was pregnant when I was leaving. My mom and I would communicate with her and sent packages and she would send post cards through a GI in the compound. I didn’t know they had closed Camp Holloway and the Americans pulled out soon after I left. I lost contact with Phu thinking the worst of two things- either she didn’t care anymore or she was a casualty of the war when the north gradually took over the south. For 40 yrs I was always thinking about her, but being active military and trying to keep my career going I had to move on with my life. I couldn’t turn to focus on the past even though in my mind it was making me crazy.

Article for search vn paper
Article in Vietnamese paper, Click to enlarge

At first I was going to various sites and searching on my own. I eventually found a site where I was engaged in a deep conversation with a person who had helped some Amerasians in the past. I was asked various questions including did I know if my former girlfriend had the baby or not. I wasn’t sure. I started looking at Amerasian women around the age of 39-40 to see if I could see me in them. It was suggested I place an ad in the paper in Vietnam with her picture.

In the meantime I started talking to a man who served with me in Vietnam during my first tour with the Ghost Riders A company 158th Avn assault helicopter Co. He shared with me about how he brings veterans back to Vietnam all the time to face their past. I wanted to finally try to go back and face some of my demons in life, but did not want to go alone. So my niece and her husband that have always supported me said they would go back with me. In September of 2012 we arrived in Cambodia and then we crossed into Vietnam. After being in Vietnam for only two days, I received an email stating Phu may have been found. I couldn’t believe it. About two minutes after the first email I get an email from another Vietnamese woman stating, ” I think the woman you are looking for is my mother”. She sent me a picture of Phu back during our time together. I was so in shock, happy, and excited. If you can only know that for 40 years I thought Phu and the baby were no longer on this earth. We communicated through webcam. Phu was dancing, jumping up and down, and yelling that’s him! It was so emotional for both of us. For me it was like a million demons had left my mind. The ad was in longer than usual. A woman, friend of Phu’s, by chance had seen the ad. She called Phu to inform her that she believed an American soldier was looking for her. Turns out Phu didn’t have my baby, but she does have eight kids and a good husband. I talk to them often and plan on visiting them when I can get the money together again. We have not yet seen eachother in person.

George return trip to VN
George’s return trip to Vietnam

My return trip to Vietnam was to try to visit places I had been during the war. I was there to rid war demons, never did I expect to get any response about Phu. The trip was not based on finding Phu because as stated earlier, I thought she was possibly a victim of the past. I will say this to my Brothers and Sisters from this War, the visit back to Vietnam is eye-opening and you will be shocked at just how you feel when you arrive there. I really didn’t think the trip would do anything for me, but it has helped me a lot. No it did not and never will rid all those demons, but it’s a way to start dealing with it.

Yes I had all those names and thoughts in my mind of the Vietnamese People, but if you only know how peaceful it is and how polite and so warmly accepted American are. Also no ruck, no steel pot, no weapon, just calmness and relaxed. I want to return so badly to actually meet Phu and her family. I will get there if time is on my side.

George today
George Today

Story of a Vietnam Veteran Prisoner of War

Watch Dan’s Story now, American POW for seven years.

Hmong POW Story Coming Soon.