Butch Lund was 21 when he last saw Vietnam as a soldier with the 4th Infantry.
It was 1968. He arrived in country during the Tet offensive. In March, Lund, who lives near Backus, plans to return to Vietnam as part of an aid expedition.
“I had always wanted to go back and to see everything now that it’s peaceful, I just never had the opportunity,” Lund said.
The opportunity came with a Merrifield family — Don Hickman, his wife Sandra Kaplan, and their children Clark and Ellen Thu Ha Hickman — who participate in a Vietnam Aid Expedition. Now Lund plans to join the family on the aid trip in March.
“It didn’t take me but a few seconds to say ‘I’m in,’ Lund said.
The Hickmans previously traveled to Vietnam for the aid expedition and have an adopted daughter from Vietnam in 2000 when she was an infant.
The nonprofit Catalyst Foundation, which works to improve the lives of at-risk populations in Vietnam, is helping construct housing and a new school for families who now live in a landfill in the Vietnamese community of Kien Gaing near the Cambodian border and the Mekong Delta.
The Catalyst Foundation is helping construct housing and a school for these families, with the agreement that the local government will acknowledge the citizenship of the families if the children are taught to read and write. With that acknowledgment of citizenship, Don Hickman reported the families will be eligible for assistance. Without it, they are basically considered people who don’t exist.
The Hickmans’ previous experience and connections with the Catalyst Foundation provided a link to visiting Vietnam with access to interpreters and guides. Lund and the Hickmans plan to go to Vietnam a week before the March aid trip begins to spend some time in the country, traveling to Haiphong Bay west of Hanoi.
Lund’s time in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, had him serving with an infantry company in the highlands during a time of considerable military action in the country. He was stationed outside of Pleiku and spent most of his time in the field, seldom returning to the base camp until he was near the end of his tour. With the March trip, Lund will be able to visit some of the areas he was in during his tour of duty.
“The whole country is gorgeous,” Lund said. “That is really why I want to go back. I’m excited. I’m not apprehensive at all. This is something I’ve wanted to do for many years. I just didn’t know how to put it together.”
During the March aid trip, they will work to build two houses and assist at the clinic, distribute school and dental supplies. Lund, 64, said the trip won’t be the closing of a book from his experience in Vietnam. That was something he did long ago.
“You don’t forget it, but you also have to recognize there were some good parts to what was going on, too,” he said, adding his experience — in the environment and in the situation — was hard to describe. “There were bad times, but there were a lot of good times. You go through that, you don’t forget it. It’s just something you have to learn to live with.”
Lund grew up in Richfield. For a city boy, Vietnam presented a foreign experience in more ways than one. The heavy woods were like the Boundary Waters without the water, he said.
Now, he said, he wants to see how the people are doing in general and try to see as much of the region where he was stationed as he can and places he never went in the north to see how life compares now between the north and south. A majority of Vietnam’s population were born after the war.
Lund said there may be other people who want to return to the country and this could be their way of touching base with Vietnam again but in a whole new way.
A fundraiser for the Catalyst Foundation, planned Sunday at Crosslake Presbyterian Church, provides an opportunity to learn more about the trip.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.