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Getting Closure
Paying Respects to My Dad...

Written By Ken Hunt
Cover Page
Memorial to William B.Hunt
The Search Continues
Turned back
Other MIA/POW Links

Over a year ago, a good friend of mine established this web site as both a tribute to the legacy of my dad and to assist with my efforts to return to Vietnam. At that time I was in the process of piecing together every bit of information about my dad's life that was available. I was interested in everyday things; Did he like sports?; What was his favorite food and drink?; How was his sense of humor? The web site was designed to encourage any of dad's friends who viewed the site to contact me and share anecdotes or other information about him and to help piece together exactly what happened to dad when he disappeared. Many people responded, and in this regard, the site has served as a tool to help me learn more about my dad, and eventually come to closure on his MIA status.

Montage
This collage says it all - Vietnam is a beautiful and intriguing place
Shortly after the web site was established I began my efforts to return to Vietnam. I wanted to stand as close as possible to the site where my father was last seen alive and pay my final respects. An earlier effort, in 1993, ended in failure when a local villager armed with a revolver would not let me and my travel partner near Ground Zero. We were a mere seven kilometers from the area when this occured.

In May 1998 I began the actual paperwork process for another trip to Vietnam, but was denied permission because of my status as an active duty Army Officer. I learned that the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide placed Vietnam off limits to all Department of Defense personnel traveling in an ordinary leave/vacation status. After being turned down I requested an exception to the policy and wrote several letters to Senators, Congressmen, and other agencies for assistance. In January 1999 the Department of Defense Foreign Clearance Guide was actually changed to allow Department of Defense personnel to take leave in Vietnam. It is my belief that what helped most were Senators Craig and Kempthorne, from the great State of Idaho, who sent a joint letter to the US Ambassador in Vietnam asking for his assistance with this issue. I really can't thank them enough for their confidence in me and their support for my cause. Again, my window of opportunity was open.

Judd (L) and Ken (R) Outside of Hotel
Judd (l) and me in front of our hotel in Saigon
After travel approval was officially granted, my friend Judd and I traveled to Vietnam, departing the Washington D.C. area, fittingly, on Memorial Day 1999. Following the long trip to Southeast Asia we spent the afternoon of arrival getting settled in Saigon. We checked into a hotel, then arranged for a guide, driver, and car for the next day. A friend had given us some pointers about the travel agencies in the Saigon area that proved 100% accurate. He also gave us a tip to use the Lonely Planet Travel Guide- by far one of the best and most accurate travel guides I've ever used.

Members of the Li familiy
Members of the Li family show me the ruins of the old Special Forces compound at Sui Da
Mr. Li lived near the SF compound as a boy. Like most of the villagers I encountered, he was very helpful
The next morning we met our English speaking guide, Luoc, then proceeded north from Saigon to the area around Tay Ninh, a small city 100 kilometers northwest of Saigon. Gound Zero was not far away. Close to the area were dad was missing there was an old Special Forces camp, Suoi Da. It is likely that dad had trained at this site or visited it in the past, so we headed there to see the remnants of the place. We found the old camp overgrown but a local villager walked us around, showing us the old mortar pits, some old foundations, and the trench that surrounded the post.

Bikes and Guides
The dike and dam complex, built in the 1970's, created a lake that changed the appearance of the terrain around Ground Zero
We then traveled northeast along highway 13 arriving at the dike that forms Dau Tieng Lake. From the top of the dike, we could see out into the area where dad died. My family had been told for the last few years that the area where dad was missing was flooded due to this new irrigation project. It was several kilometers from the dike out to the area where dad was last seen. Due to time constraints and the changes in the terrain that weren't reflected on our topographic maps, we hired three local men with small motorcycles to transport us through the rough terrain. Judd, the guide, and I jumped on the back of the bikes and went down into the reservoir basin and headed toward Ground Zero.

Louc and I
Luoc (r) had been attached to our Military Police Units during the war. He was an old soldier and an excellent guide. By the end of the trip I had made a new friend
Four kilometers short of Ground Zero we encountered a water obstacle that we could not get across by motorcycle. One of the local men talked to some fishermen and we were ferried across the water on their small boats. On the north side we continued searching until we found the area where dad was missing. We were running out of daylight so we decided to come back the next day and complete the search.

On day two we linked-up with the motorcycle drivers and entered the area from the north. We were able to quickly get right back to the area around Ground Zero. We spoke with one of the local villagers who had been a National Liberation Front (North Vietnam) soldier during the war. Despite the fact that they had once been enemies, he and our guide, Luoc, bonded quickly. It was a type of mutual respect common amongst old soldiers. He was a lot of help during the final portion of our quest. After reconnoitering the general area I found a symbolic spot in the vicinity where dad died and paid my final respects. I'd brought a 5th Special Forces Group coin, with both dad's and my name engraved on it, which I buried at the site. After a moment of reflection I raised a toast to dad with his favorite drink from a flask that was brought on the trip for this purpose. Then I rejoined the group where we all toasted dad's memory. The quest was complete!

Getting Closure
The group gave me some time alone to walk the ground and pay my respects in the area around Ground Zero
It never ceases to amaze me how life is so mysterious. As you complete or accomplish an event in your life, another opportunity or hurdle presents itself, usually for the better. As I stood at Ground Zero, the site where my father was last seen alive, it occurred to me this may be the beginning of a new effort to ascertain if it's possible to find his remains. We were able to determine that the exact location where dad was last seen alive is not under water as previously reported. I will next give a report to the Office for Prisoners of War and Missing Persons with a request that they reinvestigate dad's case and explore the possibility of uncovering and repatriating his remains. In the meantime, I finally found my peace on that lonely stretch of ground many miles from home.

Cover Page | Memorial | Turned back | New Obstacles | Getting Closure | About Ken Hunt... | Other MIA/POW Links | Epilogue