It was a hot, sticky June
afternoon when Sons and Daughters In Touch Chair Tony Cordero
stood in front of a crowd on the knoll adjacent to The Wall.
It was Father's Day 2000 and SDIT was celebrating its 10th
anniversary. Cordero announced that he felt SDIT was ready to
go to Vietnam.
We had found one another and rejoiced with one another at four
Father's Day celebrations. Now, he said, we were ready to see,
smell, touch, and taste the country where our fathers gave the
Some in the audience were stunned, some were uneasy. After
all, how could we possibly visit the country that stole our
fathers from us? Having journeyed there nine months earlier, I
was not nervous. I saw only the same healing I had experienced
being offered to those I had grown to love. How could anything
but good come from this journey?
VVA member Bill Duker was chosen to chair the Planning and
Logistics Committee. He was a planner, counselor, negotiator,
and troubleshooter for the next 30 months. SDIT appointed me
as co-chair of the committee. First, the committee selected
our staff support and team leaders. We looked for strong
leadership skills and an understanding of SDIT and the mission
we were about to undertake. SDITwas literally besieged with
dozens of offers from people across the country to help.
Medical personnel were of primary importance. We selected a
group of nurses, most of whom had served in Vietnam.
We also added a psychologist with extensive experience working
with veterans suffering from PTSD and their families. Two SDIT
daughters and two Catholic priests were asked to act as
spiritual advisers. We could not have achieved the level of
success that we did without our team leaders and staff
support. We expected a great deal of these men and women
during our 18-day journey, and they delivered all that we
asked and more. We expected each to be available 24 hours a
day, seven days a week. We expected each to act as counselor.
What we didn't expect was for each leader to take on these
roles and to embrace them in a way that made each son,
daughter, widow, brother, and niece feel as though they were
part of an extended family.
Our journey was as much of a healing experience for our team
leaders and support staff as it was for the sons and
daughters. What began as hundreds of interested applicants
eventually thinned out to a group of 77 individuals. Never
before has a group of sons and daughters traveled--not as
individuals, but as a family to retrace the footsteps of the
fathers who were lost in a war three decades ago.
From the onset, the veteran community rallied around us.
Donations poured in from every state. More importantly, love
and support surrounded us from veterans across the nation.
At the farewell barbeque hosted by the VVA California State
Council, veterans, and AVVA members sent us off with well
wishes, lots of hugs, kisses, and more than a few tears.
One coordinator, Bob Johnston, presented me with a pin in the
shape of Vietnam, with the words ``My Father served in
Vietnam.'' Then he presented Chuck Gregoire with a similar pin
that said, ``My Brother served in Vietnam.'' Chuck was with my
father when he died. Chuck pulled him out of the bunker,
baptized him, and carried his body to the helicopter for
transfer to the Danang Mortuary.
I realized that these men and women understood in a way that
no one else could that each of us, veterans and family alike,
were at a crossroads in this journey for healing. Many
veterans will never set foot in Vietnam for reasons that only
they understand. But they understood why it was a step we
needed to take.
Our farewell party began the bonding process. I thought how
similar our group was to the groups our dads comprised. They
watched each other's backs, and they took care of one another.
They were brothers, family in every sense of the word. And so
it was with the sons, daughters, wives, brothers, and nieces.
Although the plane was noisy and rowdy, I watched something
happen: Slowly, small groups started to form. Kimberly
Kendrick, daughter of Richard Kendrick, confided, ``I don't
know if I can do this.'' I gave her the biggest hug I could
and told her she could. She was strong. She was her father's
daughter, and I knew every person on this plane could do this.
Saigon was everything we hoped it would be: noisy, crowded,
and exciting. We were met at Tan Son Nhut airport by beautiful
women dressed in ao di, bearing signs welcoming SDIT to
Vietnam. Each SDIT member was presented with a red and yellow
rose, SDIT's symbol for our fallen and missing fathers.
We knew there remained many unanswered questions and more fear
than anyone would dare admit, but the next two days were
dedicated to spreading our wings and getting our feet wet. We
were experiencing the Vietnam of 2003; the Vietnam of the '60s
and '70s would come later. We visited Tay Ninh, where we
explored the tunnels of Cu Chi, gazed at the Cao Dai Temple,
and climbed Nui Ba Den, also known as the Black Virgin
Each team was assembled according to the area of operation of
the father being represented. Our success in matching each
member to each site was the work of Global Spectrum's Dick
Schonberger. Our success in this area was remarkable and
Although we tried to prepare each member for the physical and
emotional rigors of the team visit, nothing we said could
quell the fears that each member faced as we stood in the
lobby of the Rex Hotel and said our good-byes.
My best friend once told me that the most important things a
parent can give a child are roots and wings. We had given them
roots in the short time we had together. Their fathers had
given them roots as well, ones that ran decades deep. As a
leader of this group, it was my turn to help these people grow