This Vietnam tour one of peace, healing

By Dwight Woodward

U.S. Army veteran Dave Garrod's healing process reached a comforting level in January when he awoke back in Vietnam, nearly 30 years after he'd left the war-torn country.

"That first mornin g I rose early and went to a small pond and listened and smelled and watched the city wake up," Garrod says. "In my mind, I remember Vietnam as war. But I realized this was a country at peace, and I felt that peace."

A combined OU-Vietnamese video crew prepares to interview vet Andy Gerrie.

Photo: Vietnam Television

Garrod, BA '72, and five ot her Vietnam veterans joined a production team from Ohio University's Telecommunications Center in a journey to Vietnam to commemorate and document the 30th anniversary of the Tet Offensive, which began on Jan. 31, 1968. Historians cite the surprise attack by the North Vietnamese on South Vietnam's largest cities and provincial capitals as the pivotal battle of the war, turning American public opinion against further U.S. military involvement.

A first-ever collaboration between Vietnam Television and a U.S. television crew will tell the story of Garrod, and how he survived one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War and returned 30 years later to make peace with himself and his former enemies. Ohio University's Telecommunications Center hopes to distribute the documentary to the national Public Broadcasting System and cable networks once it is completed this summer.

"I'm trying to tell Dave's story and the story of sorrow and pain of people lost on both sides of the war," says Blis H anousek, producer of the project. "Hopefully, it will ring a bell with other veterans."

"Tet '68: Vietnam Remembered" will document how Garrod and his fellow veterans returned to former enemy's soil to find the Vietnamese people greeting them with open arms and smiles.

"I was shaking this man's hand and he was missing two to three fingers. He had fought for the Vietnamese guerillas, but he put his left hand over our clasped hands as if to say it was OK," says Garrod, now an insurance agent i n Athens.

Also featured in the documentary will be OU's Marjorie Nelson, M.D., an associate professor of family medicine in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Nelson, in Vietnam with the Quaker Service, was captured by the North Vietnamese and briefly imprisoned. The Quaker Service offered medical care to the wounded during the war.

For Garrod and his friends, the trip to Vietnam proved to be a catharsis, a return to the land where many psychological scars were born.

"I really thi nk I unconsciously blocked the war memories out, the good and the bad," Garrod says.

Garrod, 53, was drafted into the Army and in 1967 was sent to Vietnam, where he drove a personnel carrier mounted with machine guns for the 3rd Squadron of the 4th Armored Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division.

"For the first eight months, we were mostly involved in escorting convoys, which was actually pretty routine and boring, until we responded to the attack on Tan Son Nhut airport near Saigon (now Ho Chi Mi nh City)," Garrod says. "We lost 14 guys on the first day of the Tet. There were fire-fights every day after that."

By the middle of February 1968, U.S. forces had forced the North Vietnamese to flee, but skirmishes continued until Garrod's tour of duty ended in April. Garrod returned to the United States and served six more months in the Army before returning to his hometown of Columbiana in Eastern Ohio, where he worked to earn money for college. He returned to classes in Athens summer quarter of 1970 when the university reopened after war protests forced it to close in the spring.

Garrod completed his undergraduate degree in history, settled in Athens, began selling insurance for State Farm, married and had two children. His son Matthew, 23, accompanied him on his January trip to Vietnam.

(Left to right) Soldiers Dave Garrod, Ed McKenna and Joe Carlton two months before the Tet Offensive.
Garrod did not initially join veterans' groups when he returned to the States, but eventually he became interested in finding friends Ed McKenna, Joe Carlton and others who served with him. So he decided in 1987 to join a veterans' chapter for members of his squadron.

He eventually ran an advertisement in a veterans magazine, looking for his friends. The ad led to interviews of Garrod by authors of two books on the war, Red Thunder, Tropic Lightni ng and The Battle for Saigon: Tet '68. He was mentioned in both.

The interviews were instrumental in his decision to return to Vietnam. Garrod chose the 30th anniversary of the Tet because he wanted to honor the dead from both sides of the conflict. While Americans remember the Tet as the day the North Vietnamese blitzkrieg began, Tet is the traditional Vietnamese holiday for honoring ancestors.

Last May, Garrod approached Marvin Bowman, executive producer at the Telecommunications Ce nter, about his plans to return to Vietnam. Bowman agreed to produce the documentary.

Garrod's idea of having a memorial service on the anniversary of the Tet interested the five veterans of his former squadron who accompanied him. Athens resident Lady Borton, who was in Vietnam during the war with the Quaker Service and has returned periodically to work with the service, put Hanousek and Garrod in touch with Vietnam Television during a preliminary trip in December. Borton also helped arrange vis as for Ohio University's video crew, including videographer Helge Kirkhus and School of Telecommunications sound recordist Jeff Redefer.

The ceremony near the Tan Son Nhut airport included Vietnamese civilians and former Viet Cong. Prayers, readings and poems for the dead were read, says Garrod, who recited "Call to Wandering Souls," a Vietnamese funeral oration.

Andy Gerrie, a friend of Garrod's from the war who now lives in Las Vegas, didn't think twice about returning to Vietnam in Janu ary. "I'm a lot more at peace with myself since then and I'm just tremendously energized," he says. "While I was there, my anxiety, some of the fears, continued to change. It was one of the top events of my life."

The documentary portrays the dramatic emotional transformation in the veterans during their weeklong stay in Vietnam, Hanousek says.

"For me, going back to Vietnam with Dave was amazing because I saw this apprehension -- this fear -- leave his body, and by the time we left he was a new person," Hanousek says. "I want to show this process so that other veterans who have reached a point in their lives where they want to heal themselves may see the film and consider going back to Vietnam."

A Columbus Dispatch story on the documentary produced interesting results -- Garrod found his old friends McKenna and Carlton. A person who read the story contacted McKenna, now of Lake Worth, Fla., and told him Garrod was looking for him. McKenna placed a call to his buddy. Anoth er reader who wanted to help bring about a reunion did a World Wide Web search for "Joe Carlton" and turned up several people by that name. She wrote to each person, one of whom turned out to be the veteran's son. He called his father, and Carlton contacted Garrod. The three friends plan to reunite this spring.

"For me, this documentary is putting a period on the end of a sentence," Garrod says. "What I'm trying to struggle with is how to be proud of something and still sad at the same time. We a ll carry our baggage in different ways."

Dwight Woodward, BA '81, MAIA '89, MSJ '89, is national media liaison for University News Services and Periodicals.

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