American veteran Manus Campbell summoned his courage to return to Việt Nam, where he had involuntarily taken part in the war 45 years ago, to seek forgiveness and atone for his wartime wrongdoings.
The veteran was overwhelmed with remorse for many years until he decided to return toViệt Nam, where he finally found his peace of mind.
The army tragedy
Campbell recalled that back in 1966, much like the majority of his generation, upon finishing high school he was forced to join the US Marine Corps against his will.
“I was in no position to choose whether to fight in the Việt Nam War [American War] or not,”
He added that except for the few who fled to Canada and Europe, all young men back then were conscripted, and most of them were too naïve and uninformed about the outside world the devastation of war.
“I served in the Marine Corps 4’s Battalion 1 and fought on the Đông Hà battlefield, where battles raged in central Quảng Trị province from June 1967 to July 1968.
I couldn’t imagine that life and death could be so close,”
Remorse, reparation and salvation
After returning home from the war, Campbell mentally struggled to get over the traumatic, appalling war-time memories.
In 2007, he decided to return to Việt Nam for the first time.
“I was so concerned then, not knowing how I would be treated here.
But the Vietnamese embraced me warmly, they didn’t loathe or feel furious at me,” the veteran confided.
He visited a pagoda in central Huế City, where the nuns built a home for physically-challenged kids and orphans.
“Guilt-ridden, I felt a strong urge to do something instantly.
So I began providing funds on a monthly basis to help the nuns run the home.
To further realize his cause of rectifying his wrongs and seeking deliverance, in 2009 he founded a non-governmental organization called Helping Invisible Victims of War (HIVOW) to assist war victims.
“During the one month I spent in Huế to take care of some paperwork, I joined a meditation session.
I realized then that I had been suffering in the hell of the past,”
In January 2012, Campbell moved to Huế and lived there for almost a year before settling in ancient Hội An Town in central Quảng Nam province.
During his time in Huế, he would come to work at the home for physically-challenged kids and orphans every day along with financially assisting another kids’ home run by Dục Sơn pagoda’s clergy.
The kind-hearted man also donates food and clothes to Cơ Tu and Vân Kiều ethnic minorities in central Quảng Trị province’s Khe Sanh and Huế’s A Lướii four times a year.
The man who worked at the hotel where Campbell stayed during his time in Hue took him to his home.
There he met the man’s 80-year-old mother.
She and her husband had fought in the war.
“The lady told her children that I was here to help Vietnamese kids and that they should consider me a member of their own family,”
Campbell emotionally recalled.
After that, her children built a house adjacent to hers and leased it to him.
“She told me that I was her son.
My mom in the US had just passed away four months before.
I was deeply touched and felt like crying then,” he added.
Once, Campbell and his friends met four Vietnamese veterans who had fought against them on the same battlefield.
“Now we can sit and talk together like this because, in the Vietnamese culture, love always surpasses hatred,” one of them told Campbell.
“I think I’ve been forgiven by the Vietnamese,” he concluded.
Campbell is a member of the US Veterans For Peace Association, which raises funds for the Renew Project in mine clearance initiated 11 years ago in central Quảng Trị Province.
He and several other US veterans also gift cows to needy households in A Luoi.
According to Campbell, many US veterans have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, of which more than a few have succumbed to and committed suicide.
“Others resort to alcohol and drug abuse, as they no longer want to live and suffer.
They’re unwilling to share their horrific war stories with anyone. They don’t want to remember how frustrated and outraged they were at the US government for lying to them about the battle either,”
To overcome his nagging obsession with the war, Campbell chose to face it and return to Việt Nam to seek redemption.
He is also an orator who narrates gruesome, agonizing stories about the war and its victims, including innocent locals in war zones, veterans on both sides and their families.
“Only by doing so can my multiple wounds get gradually healed,” he shared.
“Việt Nam is now my home.
I only get back to the US to visit my relatives,”