From the heart of Los Angeles to the historic landscapes of Vietnam, Mission Veteran Expedition, a collaborative trip fueled by Veterans in Trucking, Waypoint Vets, FASTPORT, and Wreaths Across America, recently concluded its remarkable journey.
For Sarah Lee, Army Combat Veteran and the Founder/Executive Director of Waypoint Vets, this was more than a trip; it was a mission to unite and empower transportation industry veterans.
Ten Vietnam veterans representing nine states, four military branches, and ages ranging from 67-80, embarked on a journey that provided not only clarity but also closure.
Sarah shared the expedition’s impact on the veterans, leaving participants with a sense of liberation from burdens that had lingered for decades.
“The journey allowed for an inner amnesty, providing a unique perspective on the progress of the country and the warmth of its people. Participants expressed feeling a weight lifted since the trip, a sense of closure that had long eluded them”Sarah Lee
Attendees walked over 50,000 steps during their time in Vietnam, indicative of the 50th anniversary of our American troops’ withdrawal from Vietnam on March 29, 1973. This was just one of many powerful and symbolic dimensions of their journey.
For many Vietnam veterans attending, memories of the country were entwined with the challenges of war. Mission Veteran Expedition sought to redefine these associations, replacing them with new, healing memories.
“Hate. I overcame my hate. I opened my mind. I listened when Sarah told me my anger takes up too much room”SPC Neyhart, age 70, ARMY
Pictured above, the group visited the US Consulate and former Saigon Embassy, where Political-Military Officer, Christiana Le delivered a powerful briefing about the evolving relationship between Vietnam and the United States.
The veterans, armed with a perspective different from 50 years ago, experienced Saigon’s cuisine during a guided food tour, immersing themselves in the warmth and hospitality of the city. Food became an initial gateway to understanding and appreciating current-day Vietnam.
“I needed to know if the people still hated us. They do not. They moved on. They were so welcoming and I did not expect that”SPC Neyhart, age 70, ARMY
By boat, Mission Veteran Expedition explored 170 meters of the Cu Chi Tunnel system, used by the Viet Cong to combat Southern Vietnamese and American troops during the Vietnam War. Veterans were also taken along the intimate waterways of the Mekong Delta in smaller water boats called Xuong.
A visit to the War Remnants Museum allowed veterans to witness Vietnam’s perspective on the “American War.” The willingness to experience the conflict from the enemy’s viewpoint after half a century was a testament to their journey of healing and rediscovery.
Embarking on a 2-day cruise of Vietnam’s stunning Ha Long Bay was a pivotal moment during the trip. For many, this was an area of Vietnam they never imagined they would freely visit. Ha Long Bay, with its iconic limestone islands jutting from the waters, provided a stark contrast to the wartime images etched in the veterans’ minds.
“Witnessing their faces as we descended into Saigon and flying over the former DMZ into North Vietnam were incredibly emotional moments that marked the beginning of a profoundly impactful journey”Sarah Lee
Each veteran’s journey of healing was intricately shaped by their individual backgrounds, memories, and associations with Vietnam. As they traveled the historical landscapes, engaged with the local culture, and revisited sites ridden with wartime memories, each veteran underwent a unique process of introspection and reconciliation.
“Time seemed to turn bombs into butterflies, tunnel rats into tour guides, war into warmth, chaos into calm”Sarah Lee
The Welcome Home Ceremony was not just a conclusion but a poignant acknowledgment of the veterans’ sacrifices and an opportunity for them to reclaim a welcome home that had long been overdue. The Vietnam War Commemoration conducted a pinning ceremony and every veteran received a custom-made quilt from the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
Described by Sarah as deeply moving for the Vietnam veterans, she shared:
“The ceremony provided a profound corrective opportunity for these men, and it was moving to see them stand tall with pride in their eyes this time around.”Sarah Lee
The Mission Veteran Expedition has etched its place within the transportation industry as more than a trip; it stands as an emotional journey toward redemption and rediscovery. From this trip, we get a glimpse at the transformative power of collaboration, paving the way for veterans within our industry to heal, find closure, and rewrite the narrative of their connection with a country that once bore the scars of war.
“Witnessing first hand the shift in each of these gentlemen has sparked a newfound passion of helping Vietnam Veterans get to a better place before they go to a better place. There is no time to waste.”Sarah Lee
All are invited to join hands in honoring these veterans. For media inquires, please contact [email protected]