For some young Americans, Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind when thinking of war veterans. But for older generations, the thought of Vietnam brings back painful memories.
David Clark was 19 years old when he was sent to Vietnam as a member of the Marine Corps. New to adulthood and new to the horrors of war, he said he did what he had to do.
“I would put that M16 in front of any Vietnamese that come near me,” he said. “I didn’t care if they were a man, woman or child. I’d put that gun right in their face because I wanted them to fear me, and I felt that if they feared me then my chances of going home were much better.”
Clark returned to the U.S. But the war stayed with him.
“When I was home the Vietnam War haunted me every day and every night,” he said.
Having suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) for years, Clark decided to return to Da Nang, one of the places in Vietnam where he was stationed. “It wasn’t until I came back to Vietnam that I found peace,” he said.
Clark came back to face his demons and seek closure. “I remember when I left, I said I would never come back to this place,” he said.
What he found was a country and people that he never knew. In fact, Clark became so enamored with Vietnam that he decided to move there. He now calls Da Nang home.
Clark and many other American survivors of the war were also casualties in a way. For many of them, the wounds aren’t physical. They are emotional.
Veterans for Peace is an organization that focuses on post-war solutions by working with communities exposed to the tragedies of war. Clark is a member of the Da Nang chapter. He works with communities that have been exposed to Agent Orange, in addition to helping people that have been wounded by previously unexploded ordinances.
“The remnants of the Vietnam War are still visible,” he said. “In 2017, we’re still killing people from the effects of Agent Orange dioxides.”
During the war, U.S. forces used the defoliant to clear forests. The purpose was to be able to see enemy soldiers in the open field.
Today, the Red Cross estimates 3 million Vietnamese people are still affected by Agent Orange. Those effects come in the form of mental disabilities and disfigurement.
“I really feel for the children who are victims of Agent Orange and their families,” said Clark. When the child is handicapped it puts a big burden on the already struggling family.”
Many members of the VFP volunteer with local hospices that aid children who have been impacted by exposure to the chemical. “I think the lasting effects of war is something we don’t think about. We never stop to think how this will affect future generations,” said Clarke.
Most of the children sent to these hospices don’t have immediate access to proper care within their communities. “Never in my life did I ever think that I what I would be doing,” he said.
“I just wanted to get involved because I wanted to be part of Vietnam’s next chapter.”