David Hammick traveled back in time on a trip to Vietnam in April, and he said that he took the chance to work on moving on beyond a part of his life that has been haunting him for some time. As a Marine in the 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, the Lakewood Country Club resident survived and scraped through a time of four years with injuries and setbacks, but he hasn’t let that stop him. He called his spring trip a fulfillment of a plan that he has mulled for the last 10 years.
“I have thought about going back for the last 10 years, but I only became very serious about it in the last five years,” said Hammick in an interview on Friday. During his two weeks overseas he had the chance to travel with a group of 16 others that have been taking the time to travel through a country that has been war torn and rife with fighting for a long time.
“I know some people that have gone back to Vietnam and visited, and they used the chance to put to bed ghosts,” he said. “My wife, Sandra, became sick of hearing me talk about going back and told me to go.”
It was after her admonition that Hammick knew he needed to go back to visit. Shortly thereafter he started doing research online, looking into groups and programs heading there. During this research, he found “Vietnam Battlefield Tours” which was founded by a group of Vietnam veterans who have specifically orchestrated and planned these trips. The head of the program is a former Marine.
Hammick sent them an email explaining where he wanted to visit and what he wanted to see, and he said that they were very accommodating, telling him they could get him right to where he wanted to go.
Hammick was originally in Vietnam from 1967 to 1970 and he said that he had to spend some time out recovering from injuries.
During his recent trip, he said it was particularly important to him to revisit the areas where he was wounded. Areas that were personal to him included one place where he stayed for a while called Hill 55. He was there from 1969 to 1970. His group of engineers cleared the roads of land mines and booby traps, he said. Hill 55 was his encampment, now, he said, Those who had been there would not even recognize it. He said that there is nothing now but graves and a monument.
“The trip was 10 times better than I had every hoped for,” he said. “I really had a chance to leave ghosts over there. I sleep better since I have been back.” His trip, which was from April 14 through April 28, really gave him a great opportunity to work on putting the past behind him and allowed for the healing of some internal wounds.
He flew into Hanoi, and the first place they went was called Hoa Lo, which is known sarcastically as the ‘Hanoi Hilton,’ a prison built by the French colonists in the 1900s for political prisoners, said Hammick. The name Hoa Lo means either hell’s fire or fiery furnace.
The former prison has been transformed into a museum. This is the location of Sen. John McCain’s flight suit. McCain spent five and half years there as a prisoner; however, American’s were not kept in the building but were instead kept in a building outside known as “Little Vegas” with the individual buildings named after Vegas landmarks. This museum also houses the guillotine that was once in use there.
From there Hammick went to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum where the former Chairman of the Communist party of Vietnam is laid out in a glass coffin. Pictures are not allowed so visitors cannot bring in cameras or cell phones.
“You could about swear that he would just get up and walk out of there,” said Hammick. “He looks like he is sleeping.” From the mausoleum the group went to visit the grand house and the Presidential Palace.
“He was not a man of ostentation,” said Hammick. They toured the house and saw the One Pillar Pagoda that was built in honor of a god because a son was born. The trip was full of walking said Hammick, and the group was able to travel to many locations of both personal and historical significance.
The War Museum housed artifacts from the war, as well as had displays to explain the areas and battles. One story Hammick remembered was about how the French did not think that the Vietnamese could travel up the sides of the mountains where their compound was located. The Vietnamese broke down their equipment and carried it up the hillsides piece by piece, with the ammunition. They then fired down upon the French, causing massive destruction. The area where the battle was fought was called Dien Bein Phu.
The Huu Tiep Lake has a monument erected for the People’s Liberation Army where a B52 bomber crashed during the Christmas bombing around Dec. 27, 1972 during the time when John McCain was being held prisoner and is near the area where he was shot down.
A CAP unit, or Combined Action Platoon, consisted of a squad of 15 Marines and 30 to 60 Vietnamese Popular Forces which are the Vietnamese form of national guards. Hammick’s 1st Engineer Battalion, which was his parent unit, sponsored a clinic at the CAP and he was tasked with living there to help with the clinic making sure they had their needed supplies and that everyone was receiving help, as well as go on daily and nightly patrols.
“The villagers did not really care if we were there,” he said. “They just wanted to live their lives without interference. They wanted to have their piece of their county, their rice paddy and their water buffaloes.”
Hammick saved lives while in Vietnam in two separate incidents, he said. One time he pulled someone out of a burning Jeep and the second time he rescued a gut from a torrent of water that washed him away. The man he saved couldn’t swim, said Hammick.
“We traveled to a multitude of places that people wouldn’t think about visiting,” said Hammick. “But if you ask any Vietnam Veteran they would know exactly where you are talking about.” While he was there he visited a silk factory and brought back his wife a silk tablecloth. The trip has helped him greatly he said, and he has been able to open up so much about the trip as time has gone on.
Hammick said that many Vietnam veterans can’t talk about their time overseas, but for him, talking seems to ease that burden that builds up inside of him. He feels such relief from the ghosts that he has left behind.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org