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Reviewing the photos of our trip reminds me of our run-in with the Communist Party in Thanh Hoa province, in the village where Joe Kernan's plane had been shot down. Angry with us for not having informed them beforehand that we would be arriving in their village with TV cameras and an entourage in tow, the local Communist leaders summoned us to their headquarters for what turned out to be a very tense meeting.

Thanks to the fast thinking of Tung, our guide, we were spared the officials' full wrath; but I was reminded that simply by the mere luck of where we were born, just how fortunate we are to live in an open and democratic society.

That meeting, along with the fact that Facebook was often blocked wherever we went in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, also reminded me that, although progress has been made in these countries, there is a long way to go.

People everywhere just want to be free; free to raise their families, to try to make a better life for themselves and their children, and free to pursue happiness. And yet so many people still live under less than idea conditions, with those who are trying to fight for freedom for their fellow countrymen often jailed -- or worse.  In Southeast Asia, in the former Indochina, one country continues to stick out as among the worst offenders.

Myanmar -- the former Burma -- continues to hold one of the world's best-known dissidents. I hope you'll enjoy this moving tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, who has remained under house arrest in Burma for most of the past twenty years. Having spent much of her life fighting for her people, she is an inspiration to millions worldwide.

Additionally, I've included a very brief video of Bishop Desmond Tutu: prepare to be moved!

 
 
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In most cases the worst part of international travel is the time spent in the air getting from the USA to your first destination and then the return flight back to the USA. Yesterday's flight back to Los Angeles from Luang Prubang, Laos (via Hanoi, Vietnam - Seoul, South Korea -Tokyo, Japan) was no exception, with over 24 hours of travel time.

Those of you following my blog know that the early part of our trip was very emotional, as a small group of us accompanied former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan to the site where he was shot down 38 years ago in Vietnam.  Despite terrible internet connections, I tried to document as much as possible by posting text and video, and was surprised to learn that my blog had become the source for some of the network news reports of our trip. I think the videos I posted  gave a good sense of what we were experiencing at the time.

As our trip progressed through Vietnam from Hanoi to Saigon, and then to Cambodia and Laos, the ongoing lack of good internet connections made it almost impossible to update my blog. In some places I had no connection at all. I finally gave up. I'll try to post some highlights once I re-enter (I'm still on Laos time, which is 12 hours ahead of us).

Finally, I had a number of people email me about my Vietnam posts with very complimentary remarks.  I greatly appreciate your kind comments. To have shared Joe and Maggie's experience with them was one of the highlights of my life, and I thank them both for allowing me to join their group.

It's good to be back!



Note: The photo is of a painting I purchased in Saigon.

 
 
I apologize for the disorder of these videos.  A lack of consistent high speed internet connection has hampered my ability to upload videos, often resulting in aborted attempts for some videos during the upload process which then places videos out of chronological order.

This post includes additional videos of Governor Kernan and Maggie's visit to the shoot-down site last Friday, including the excitement and confusion of the initial meeting and review of photos and other documents just prior to the motorcade trip to the village.
 
 
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Our visit to Vietnam ended yesterday when we flew from Saigon/HoChiMinh City to Siem Reap, Cambodia -- where we've gone from 'hot' to 'much hotter' (and steamier!) weather. Our internet connection is even more spotty here but, if I'm lucky, you'll be reading this soon. 

In these exclusive videos, the raw and unedited footage will give you a good sense of the emotion and drama of our momentous visit to Governor Kernan's 'shoot-down' site last Friday. However, the professional journalists of WSBT and WNDU pull it all together for you with their wonderful writing and editing, and I urge you to check out their stories.

The videos are posted in chronological order, beginning with the motorcade into the village. You'll see a particularly moving moment in one of the videos where a Vietnamese man who helped save Joe Kernan's life, tells the story of how he helped rush a then-blindfolded Joe Kernan down to the river and away from the hands of an angry crowd the day he was shot down.  Looking much like Ho Chi Minh, himself -- with white beard-  the bond of two men from vastly different worlds, violently thrown together momentarily over a quarter century ago, and never broken, is on full display. The reunion, ever so brief, will be one of the highlife's of this man's life. It certainly was one of mine, and is a vibrant reminder that, although war is hell, and innocent people suffer -- there are good and decent people willing to do the right thing, no matter the personal consequences or risks.

You'll also see the bond of a loving couple displayed in its rawest and most beautiful form through the powerfully emotional reaction of Maggie Kernan when she's finally able to meet the very people who saved her best friend, and soon-to-be husband's life in 1972.

Finally, I leave you with this welcome fact:  the vast majority of the Vietnamese people hold no animosity toward Americans and, in fact, hold America and its people in very high esteem. During our briefing at the American Consulate on Monday, we were informed that Vietnam ranks #1 for countries considered friendliest toward America. I believe that we, as a nation, are obligated to rise to that high compliment.

I personally want to again thank our guide throughout Vietnam, Nguyen Thanh Tung, for a truly exceptional job. You can see Tung in nearly every video, as he translates and otherwise helps Governor Kernan and our group.  In all my travels, I have never had a guide who could compare to Tung. I hope you're reading this, Tung, as I send you best wishes for continued success and good health for you and your lovely family.

I hope you enjoy the videos!

Siem Reap, Cambodia
3 March 2010

 
 
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My two-day lapse in posting is due to either painfully slow connections or nonexistent internet access. It's now February 26, 2010 (my birthday), 11:00PM Hanoi time, and I'm just back from a reception with the U. S. Ambassador to Vietnam, and a late dinner.  Tomorrow's early AM flight to Ho Chi Minh City means I won't have time to post anything later tonight or early in the morning; however, I was able to upload one of the several videos I shot during today's emotional reunion between Governor Joe Kernan and the villagers who were at the scene when he was shot down 38 years ago -- including some who tried to kill him, and some who helped save his life. This has been one of the most profoundly emotional days of my life and a birthday I'll never forget.

You will see in the attached video: the then-7-year-old boy (man in white t-shirt) and his family who were in a bomb shelter under their home at the time Joe landed unconscious in their yard; the man whom it's believed may have actually shot Joe down (with the beret hat); the man (in the green shirt) who was, himself, in the Vietnamese army at the time, and whose father -- because he had a son in the Vietnamese army -- helped whisk Joe away from the angry villagers who were trying to beat him; and other villagers who were on the scene in 1972 and who remember both the incident -- and Joe Kernan -- very clearly.

I hope to be able to post more tomorrow (fingers crossed for a faster connection in Ho Chi Minh City) including exclusive video of Governor Joe and Maggie Kernan being interviewed by the Vietnamese media, and the extremely emotional reaction of some of the group as they met and reminisced about the event that took place in their tiny village over a quarter century ago.

Vietnam is a vastly different place then it was even 15 years ago when I was last here. However, the Vietnamese people are the same warm, kind, friendly, respectful and cheerful people I remember. The compassion many of these villagers showed Joe Kernan after he was shot down, and the warm and emotional welcome he and Maggie received from them today, are a testament to their inherent goodness.

As this country moves rapidly forward into an unknown but surly exciting future for all it's people, that inherent goodness will be the bedrock upon which generations of Vietnamese children will build their own lives. And no country deserves such a brighter future more then Vietnam.

More tomorrow from Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi, Vietnam
26 February 2010

NOTE: The past two days have been packed with activity, including a detailed briefing by the Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, and other embassy officials, conducted at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, dinner at the home of one of Hanoi's best-known chefs, and a day and night on a private Indochina Sails junk sailing around the stunningly beautiful and truly magical Halong Bay.

I'd like to personally thank Mike Cloonan, CEO of the phenomenal Innovative Immersions, for the outstanding itinerary he's put together for Governor Kernan and our group. (Our complete itinerary, with photos of a previous trip to Vietnam by Mike, is currently posted on Mike's corporate website)

 
 
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Vietnam is seeking UNESCO recognition for the central area of the Ancient Thang Long-Hanoi Royal Citadel as a world cultural heritage site.  This year, Hanoi has joined the Club of 1000-Year-Old Cities, and the city is full of beautiful decorations in celebration.

We spent most of the day visiting the two sites where Joe was held as a POW: the infamous Hanoi Hilton, and the 'Zoo'.  These were emotional visits for Joe and Maggie, both. I've included some photos below. (My internet connection is very slow and it's hard to find the time to upload the material, but I'm hoping to also upload at least one brief video.)

One of the more interesting developments today, was meeting "Mr. Duyet", who was the 'Chief Guard' at the Hanoi Hilton while Joe was imprisoned there. (He is in the black suit in the photos below)  There were also a number of other Vietnam vets who were visiting these two sites, as well.

At the site of the 'Zoo', which is under construction of a high-rise office building and movie theater, the guards attempted to get us to leave.  Luckily, once the owner of the project (the exclusive importer and distributor of American movies) was informed we were poking around the site, he not only allowed the visit, but also invited us up to his office nearby where we sat around a large conference table and discussed Joe's visit.

Hanoi, Vietnam
22 Feb 2010

 
 
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My second trip to Vietnam after an initial visit in 1995 (shortly after President Clinton opened the country to US visitors) will be particularly special -- and most likely emotionally charged.  I'll be with former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan and Maggie, and a small group accompanying them, as Gov Kernan returns to Vietnam for the first time since he was shot down and held captive as a POW nearly 38 years ago.

It's not hard to imagine what Joe Kernan must have endured during his long captivity. We've all heard the horror stories of what it was like in the POW camps during the Vietnam War-- especially at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton", where Joe was held.  But I've long wondered how this kind and good man, so young in 1972, dealt with the horror of being shot out of the sky, the resulting serious injuries and then his imprisonment. How he remained mentally and physically strong.

Imagine: the Vietnam war is raging, Joe gets shot down, lands in a neighborhood of people who'd been bombed and is immediately surrounded by villagers who strip him and begin beating him - he was literally saved by the militia.  Once he was imprisoned, he learned that the Navy thought he was dead. The fear became that the Vietnamese would have no reason to keep him alive.

Meanwhile, his sisters, brother, mom and dad -- and beloved Maggie -- were lead to believe he was dead.

Joe has never really spoken much about his ordeal as a POW.  This trip will be very special for him, and for Maggie; it will be an emotional return to a time in their lives that I can't even fathom going through.  I wish his dad and mom were still alive to go with him.

As I write this, it's 5AM. I've decided to stay awake all night trying to get caught up, and in the hopes I'll be able to more easily go to sleep shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles en route to Seoul later this morning.

If time permits, and internet connections are good, I'm going to try to write about our trip and post to my blog. If you'd like to read a much more professional perspective on Joe and Maggie's trip to Vietnam, the South Bend media is covering it in a series here.

I'm honored to be able to be with Joe and Maggie on this momentous visit to Vietnam.



* Photo: Courtesy of the South Bend Tribune. Joe Kernan 3rd From Left.

 
 
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My Vietnam visa finally arrived today, firmly attached to page 15 in my passport.  I'm looking forward to accompanying former Governor Joe Kernan and Maggie on Joe's first return to Vietnam since he was shot down in 1972 and held as a POW.

Shot down on a reconnaissance mission over the famous Thanh Hoa bridge, which spans the Song Ma river 3 miles north east of Thanh Hóa, the capital of Thanh Hoa Province in Vietnam, Governor Kernan -- then a young Naval Flight Officer -- was badly beaten and held for nearly a year at two of the most notorious prisons in Vietnam: "The Zoo" and the "Hanoi Hilton".  His return will, no doubt, be full of emotion.

Shortly after President Clinton re-opened Vietnam to travel for U.S. citizens in 1995, I spent a week traveling from Hanoi, down to Hue and then Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) <see map below>. I have vivid memories of the wonderful people who were so hospitable and generous. They loved Americans, most being too young to remember the war twenty years earlier. The majority of the population in 1995 was under the age of twenty five. I remember one bus driver who was proud to show us the scar from the bullet wound he suffered fighting the Americans, and the sense of joy in his voice as he explained how happy he was that Americans could finally visit his wonderful country.

Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country which I'm certain has changed a great deal since my visit 15 years ago. There was no internet or WiFi back then. I spent more than one night in a hotel room with roaches on the walls, or which lacked hot water -- and they were the best accommodations in the places we were.  Now, our hotels include hot water and WiFi. I hope to be able to post photos, videos and updates on my blog throughout the trip.