“This is for Terry … and for the other nine guys who stayed here that day and who never came home,” he said.
Then considering the Vietnamese men who had led him to the secluded spot, halfway around the world from his Hartland home, Heaney added: “And also for the young Vietnamese boys who died that day, I pray to God, the father of all of us. We are all your children. We are together now, in love and in peace. None of us will ever fight again.”
Heaney, a former platoon leader who 46 years ago saw all 10 of the men under his command gunned down in an ambush by North Vietnamese soldiers, had returned to the land he calls “my valley of death” to reclaim a piece of his soul.
As he traveled to the ambush site with a translator, a Communist party minder and several North Vietnamese veterans, Heaney wrote in his trip journal, “I was in God’s movie, and wondered what the script would have in mind for me.”
The Hartland man, a father of five and a retired lawyer and college history professor, had traveled to Vietnam’s Central Highlands to exorcise a lifetime of sadness and guilt, embarking on a journey he had planned almost since arriving stateside as a badly wounded 23-year-old Army first lieutenant.
Despite the successful professional career and rich family life he built after his tour in Vietnam, Heaney spent countless hours trying to come to terms with the fact that he – unlike many of his Army buddies – had survived Operation Crazy Horse, a firefight so fierce it has been chronicled in military history books.
Heaney’s journey to the hills near the village of Vinh Thanh was his reason for returning to Southeast Asia. But the expedition also taught him more about the battle that ended his Vietnam tour, about war and about the enemy soldiers who killed his men in May 1966.
In addition, the trip bolstered his conviction that there are very few wars worth fighting. “The long-term effect on soldiers and their families is never a factor that’s sufficiently weighed when we’re deciding whether to go to war. It’s ‘Are we going to win? How long will it take? How many casualties?’ ” he reflected upon returning to his Vermont home.
“That’s almost the easy part. The hard part is what about the long-term consequences? Every time you fight a war, you’re consigning a large number of people and their loved ones … to pretty dire consequences – forever.”
From the Valley News 12.7.08
Michael Heaney outside his home in Hartland, Vermont. Heaney, a former Army officer who was the only member of his unit to survive an ambush by North Vietnamese soldiers in May 1966, returned to Vietnam to visit the site.
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