Phaeacians were the mythic people who listened to the war veteran Odysseus on his way home from war. After 10 years of war and 10 years of thwarted homecoming it was the Phaeacians who finally helped Odysseus return home. This blog records notes from my ongoing study of modern day Phaeacians - civilians who make a point of listening deeply to the narratives of war veterans. It explores an old idea - that there is an important and necessary relationship between warriors and the communities of people that send them to war. The project asks, what happens or how are we changed (if at all) by listening to military and war veterans? It includes my observations and interviews with modern day Phaeacians and my own experience of listening to war veterans.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Next Stop Vietnam

Friday evening I showed up at San Francisco International airport and met my traveling companions - five Vietnam War veterans, several family members and Ed and Kate (our group leaders and guides). Collectively the vets represented service in Vietnam from 1961 through 1971.

While navigating the obstacles of check in, security and customs we slowly got to know each other. I often feel uneasy presenting myself to vets as having not served. But I was quickly welcomed. One vet pulled me aside and said, "I very much appreciate your presence on this journey. Having been in combat, I have the burden of knowing the beast and am stained. Removing, accepting or healing from the the stain of knowing the beast requires help from men who have not known combat . . . Men willing to hear my truth and carry the burden can recall me to a state of grace - a bandaged state - but whole again."

It was dark as we finally boarded the plane for the first leg of the journey to Manila, Philippines. As we flew west into the advancing night we remained in the dark for more than fourteen hours, losing a day, landing in Guam for fuel. During the long flight and long night I listened as several vets talked about their departures for Vietnam as young soldiers. We arrived in Manila at dawn.

We had hoped to use our 6 hour layover in Manila for a quick trip to see the city but were advised against it because of unpredictable traffic delays.

Finally, the next stop was Vietnam. As the plane descended toward the place of old battles some of the vets were clearly uneasy. Upon arrival we had to go through immigration and customs where the officers wore a green military uniform with the red star similar to the uniform of the vets old enemy and scrutinized our passports and visas with stoic efficiency. But as we cleared customs and headed out into the hot humid Saigon afternoon and into a sea of people and honking horns the vets were enthusiastically welcomed with hugs and warm Vietnamese greetings by a group of old enemies and allies who had shown up at the airport, some in their old uniforms and metals, to ensure the vets were properly welcomed back to Vietnam. It is difficult to describe the scene of aging U.S. Vietnam veterans being welcomed back to Vietnam with such warmth and unexpected acceptance. It was all deeply moving and such a marked contrast to the welcome (or lack of welcome) many Vietnam veterans had experienced upon their return to the United States after service in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese welcoming committee


  1. How wonderful to have been met by Vietnamese veterans in uniform!

  2. Thank you for posting a blog from your journey with Ed and Kate to Vietnam. I read your blog daily. Jessica - sister of a Black Hawk Pilot who served 4 tours in Iraq/Afghanistan

  3. I found this blog very interesting, thank you! I am a Viet Nam Vet myself. Served in the U.S. Navy at Naval Support Activity Detachment Chu Lai from September 1967 to April 1969. I was there during the Tet Offensive of 1968. It is 18 months of my life that I will never forget.