“I know what it feels like to stay awake at night in fear of falling a sleep and to wake up covered in sweat with tears falling down my cheeks. I have woke up many nights reliving a friendly fire incident that occurred on February 17, 1991. Two vehicles from my unit,1/41 Infantry 2 AD (FWD) were destroyed. A Bradley Fighting Vehicle (Bradley) and an M113 Armored Personnel Carrier (M113) were hit by two Hellfire missiles fired at approximately1:00 a.m from an Apache helicopter commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Hayes.
Two of my fellow Soldiers died that night, Corporal Jeffery Thomas Middleton and Pvt. Robert Talley, six others were wounded. I used to dream about killing, Colonel Hayes in revenge. It is only through helping others and the Grace of God that I have finally, after all these years found some peace. I have made contact with many of my friends from old unit and have met Jeffery’s parents a few years back.
My friend Brad Bennett has been an example for me and to many of my fellow Veterans, through my relationship with Brad I have learned how to stay active in my community and to keep moving forward. Thank you, Brad Bennett.”
– Chuck Horton
Imagine taking a trip that was decades in the making.
For a Duluth, Minnesota radio talk show host, that is just the kind of trip he has taken—twice. Brad Bennett returned from his second trip to Vietnam last week. That doesn’t take into account the trip he took back in the Vietnam Conflict, a trip that has left him with a heavy heart and a desire to make things right.
As a young man still wet behind the ears, Bennett’s unit was activated to an area with reported Viet Cong activity. It was in a small village in northern Vietnam called Ap Chin An. The Viet Cong had built bunkers filled with explosives disguised as thatched huts. The firing started as soon as the helicopters came in; eight Marines were lost and over forty more were wounded instantly. Then things got ugly.
Bennett recalls with a great deal of emotion the events of that assault. The village was destroyed. Many innocent people who should not have been there got in the way. It was complete decimation and it has haunted him ever since. But good things come to those who do good things.
At a Vietnam memorial event in Duluth, Bennett met a man who fled Vietnam during the conflict. The man escaped on his fishing boat and ended up in a refugee camp in Malaysia. Through a sponsor he ended up being adopted by a Duluth family who raised him and put him through college. Every year he travels from his home in California back to Duluth on Memorial Day to honor his father who is buried in a local cemetery.
After meeting each other at the Duluth event, the men formed a relationship and traveled with Bennett’s wife and another Vet to Vietnam. All expenses paid by the generous emigrant.
Bennett found the village of Ap Chin An online last year. He asked his radio audience to help adopt the village. They were able to raise over $2500, which went a long way in the poor ricing district with no real tax base or government help. On his trip this year he was able to work with the principal at the local school where there were definite needs.
The middle school had little for sports or activities. Bennett was able to provide some uniforms and equipment, a metal filing cabinet for their records, four desks, and four chairs. The students were so excited that they immediately changed into the new clothing.
He was asked to speak to a couple of the classes. Some of the students wanted to know why he was doing it. He told them the story of what happened and how it made him feel. At the end a girl asked if she could take a picture with him. Soon they all wanted to be in the picture. Bennett said the experience was very healing.
But one thing that he couldn’t stop thinking about was the plumbing, or lack thereof. The “bathroom” out back for the boys was just a long steel urinal that leaked out the back of the wall to a pond behind the building. Bennett knew fixing the unsanitary conditions would have to be next on his list.
Luckily he met another kind soul; a successful businessman who escaped Hue (where the fiercest battle was fought) and was adopted by an Australian family. He heard what Bennett had done and asked him to help with setting up a nonprofit, with his aid in funding. Now it is an ongoing mission and they will help to fix the sanitation issues and help with the school’s basic needs.
Bennett also met a woman on his last trip who was there when the choppers landed in Ap Chin An. She recalled that she was herding in ducks to collect eggs when she saw what she thought were birds coming in from the sky. When they got closer she realized they were helicopters. She remembered the Viet Cong setting up the bunkers. As her family rushed to hide in a fruit cellar she said, “This is not going to be a good day.”
That was an understatement. Bennett recalls the landing as a group of young men who had “Never fired a weapon in anger and, all of a sudden, Marines are getting shot and dying in our arms.” But decades later it is time to take a trip for all of the guys who couldn’t make it. He is trying to do good where they “had done so much destruction…that made the heart feel good. It was a very healing time; a very emotional trip. But when it’s said and done, it’s so worthwhile.”