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.
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.
Related Posts to this story, Part one and two below