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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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