Close to two dozen Vietnam War vets whisked back to the battlefield as part of a vet-help program were expected Thursday to crawl through the same famous Cu Chi tunnels their enemy crawled through a half century ago.
In the nine-day excursion, Day 3 was set aside to have the returning vets depart for the Cu Chi tunnels in a water boat from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
On the itinerary given to each of the vets, the trip was billed as: “An opportunity to get the unique experience of guerrillas living and fighting underground during the war.”
“Crawling through that tunnel at Cu Chi put me right back in Vietnam as though 50 years went back like a flash,” Vietnam vet Sonny Castellano, of Simi Valley, said of the experience.
“It was less scary since there were no armed VC (Viet Cong), but going into the darkness with such tight turns and no light was seriously intimidating,” he said.
Once they emerge from the tunnels, the vets are scheduled to visit various battlefields of the 25th Infantry Division.
But, unlike the events 50 years ago, instead of spending the night fighting in dire straits, the vets are scheduled to return to their hotel rooms and to a big dinner at the Hyatt Regency Resort.
The program enabling the 21 “Charlie Company” vets is called the War Without Heroes, sponsored by The Greatest Generations Foundation.
The Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to honoring America’s veterans, sent vets back to battlefields in Germany and Italy. Last year, they began sending them back to the battlefields of Vietnam.
In April 2016, Vietnam War veteran Bill Reynolds, The Signal’s Director of Veteran Affairs, blazed the trail for returning Vietnam vets when he went back to Vietnam, with his son, in 2007.
The Foundation reached out to Reynolds and arranged to have him escort three other Vietnam vets last year in what would become the Foundation’s inaugural foray into Vietnam.
Reynolds and his three “brothers in arms” from Charlie Company 4th of the 47th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, became the first Vietnam vets to make the journey to Vietnam as part of a new program launched by the Greatest Generations Foundation.
“For me, it’s a special thing revisiting Vietnam with 20 of my old combat buddies, 17 who’ve not been here in 50 years, and seeing their expressions of appreciation for this TGGF program,” Reynolds said.
“It’s obvious that as each day proceeds towards commemorating our 50th anniversary of June 19th Battle near Ap Bac Village, that they will carry this profound experience for all of their remaining days,” Reynolds said.
Over the next 10 years, the nonprofit is expected to sponsor 1,000 combat veterans to Vietnam under the new educational initiative called The War Without Heroes, designed to raise awareness of the selfless courage of all Vietnam War veterans so future generations will never forget their sacrifices or those who were left behind.
This time, 21 vets have the chance to re-visit the scene of their bloodiest encounter a half century later between June 12 and 21.
This weekend, they are slated to be standing Friday on the battlefield on the 50th Anniversary of June 19th Battle near the Ap Bac Village.
On Friday, after escaping from Ho Chi Minh City’s urban sprawl, the group traveled to Vinh Long.
There, they cruised on the Mekong River visiting various cultural sites including the famous Cai Be floating market, fruit orchards, a traditional family-run brick kiln, and drop in to look at some traditional cottage industries. In the afternoon, they returned to Ho Chi Minh City for an afternoon rest and relaxation.
On Saturday, they travel to Can Gio where they are expected to visit Rung Sac Guerrilla Base in the mangrove forest.