One of the most alluring things about traveling is that it gives us the chance to experience countries that are very much unlike our own. But all those differences can make the things we have in common—such as our shared history—stand out much more profoundly. And for people who lived that history, like our veterans, discovering an international perspective on an event that they were a part of can be incredibly moving.
A number of veterans have shared their historical memories recently—and I’ve included a few of my favorites below. If you’ve had a deeply moving experience like theirs while traveling, please share it with me in an email to [email protected].
Lowering the Flag in Florence
By Allen C., 13-time traveler from Wayne, PA
When our Program Director, Sergio, told us our group that we were going to visit the World War II American military cemetery in Florence, it was a big deal to me: I was in the Army from 1965-1968 during the Vietnam War (although I didn’t get sent over). My father was also in the Army—he was stationed in England for three years during World War II and came over to Normandy two days after the initial storming of the beaches.
We arrived at the cemetery late in the afternoon, and Sergio gave us ample time to look around and soak in the beauty. It was small, tree-lined, and located on a hill. The sun was going down … it was quiet, calming, and very serene. So many people were buried there, and reading each headstone made it real. Even seeing the names of people I never knew who were from the same state as me hit home.
The cemetery was about to close, and we knew we would shortly have to be on our way. It was then that Sergio asked if there were any veterans in the group. Four of us raised our hands, and we were given the honor and the opportunity to take down the American flag. One of the men was an officer, so he was privy to the procedure of lowering the flag. All four of us helped fold it, and then he presented it to the cemetery manager on our behalf.
I have experienced nothing in my life that compared with those few minutes. As someone who is very proud of his family’s military service, I was incredibly moved, and I still get choked up when I tell people about it. The experience will stay in my mind forever.
The Past is Past in Vietnam
By Bonnie B., 6-time traveler from Belmont, MA
In 1966, my husband, Mike, was drafted by the Army. He served two years, with one year in Vietnam at the 25th Infantry base at Cu Chi. Two of our friends from Florida—Larry and Jerry—are also Vietnam War veterans. All three men wanted to back to Vietnam, so together with their spouses, we planned a visit.
The most memorable moment for us happened on our way to the Optional Tho Ha Countryside tour. Our Trip Experience Leader, Nathan, noticed something happening at a veterans’ cemetery, so we stopped. After speaking with the family and veterans who were gathered there, Nathan informed us that the remains of a North Vietnamese soldier who was killed in 1970 had recently been found near the Demilitarized Zone, and that the ceremony was being held to bury him in the cemetery.
The Vietnamese veterans who were present indicated that the war was in the past and that they all had moved on … then they welcomed our men with handshakes and embraces while tears flowing freely on both sides.
A Salute for Service in Vietnam
By Brenda B., 5-time traveler from Cincinnati, OH
I was on an OAT trip to Vietnam and Laos in 2013. One of our activities was to visit a village where they made chopsticks and baskets. We met the Chief of the village and had lunch at his home. The Chief did not speak English.
During the course of our visit, it was discovered that the Chief had been a nurse during the war. Our guide translated for us and told the chief that I also was a nurse, and that I had served as a naval officer in Desert Storm. As we got on the bus, the Chief was there to say goodbye. He got my attention, stood there, and saluted me. To say I was moved would be an understatement. It was very humbling, to say the least. We could not have been more different, or more the same. It is a moment that is etched in my memory.