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Closure after 40 years (Army combat veteran returns to Vietnam to put closure on the wounds of war)
The Lake Spokane Outpost ^
| February 17, 2010
Posted on 02/19/2010 12:30:00 AM PST by Stoat
Closure after 40 years
Local Vietnam veteran returns to Vietnam and Cambodia to put closure on the wounds of war after many years.
Suncrest residents Len Koolstra and his sons Dan and Jay recently returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. In every way, it was an eye-popping, life-altering adventure for the trio in the Far East, a place the younger Koolstras had never been before. But for the father, it was a full circle, the end of a long emotional journey, a closure for a 40-year battle. In Oct 1968, Len Koolstra, then a 20-year old young sunny Californian, found himself landing in the high land of central Vietnam, 40 km from Cambodian border.
Koolstra served as an Army combat engineer during the 14 month he was stationed in Vietnam. Mainly sweeping mines as a demolition specialist and building bridges, he says of his duties in the war zone. We have all seen enough movies to understand what war means, but nothing adequately compares to the trauma when one is under direct enemy fire. The base that Koolstra was stationed, curiously called Fire Base Oasis, came under fierce Vietcong attack on Mothers Day, 1969.
600 Vietcong, with 400 GIs, the elder Koolstra recalled. By nights end, 102 Vietcong were dead. Koolstras company lost 14 men. The North Vietnamese attacked the base for a week straight afterwards, with more US casualties. With a leg injury, Koolstra was hospitalized. It was there that the calamity of war, the combat trauma, the price the living and the dead paid, left its everlasting marks on the young mans psyche. Surrounded by the brutal reminders of suffering all around him, in flesh and in spirit, young Koolstra turned introspective. He was particularly shaken after witnessing the suicide of a comrade. The soldier had shot himself after reading letters from his wife announcing her leaving the marriage.
14 months after the deployment, young Koolstra returned to a country embroiled in anti-war protests. I was spat on, cursed upon, called all kinds of names. The young man clammed up, bottled all his emotions inside him, and braved the long road ahead of him. I just wanted to blend in. I wanted to disappear so I wouldnt be singled out, reviled, spat on. He put the war behind him and carried on his duties as husband, father and business owner for the next 40 years.
But how does one bottle memories like that? There is not a single day that went by that I didnt think of Vietnam, Len Koolstra confesses today. It is so painful to think of your brothers, that is basically who they are, who died there. And worse yet, I couldnt talk about it. Not one day went by in the last 40 years that Len Koolstra did not wrestle with the demon that tormented him. He moaned for the loss of the war, loss of life, loss of innocence, loss of faith, losses of what a young life could have produced, losses sustained by both sides. Some of the dead are just kids! Len says. At some point, Len came to realize that war is not between people, but governments.
Despite this internal rationalization, Koolstra could not shake his anger, resentment and distrust of all Vietnamese. Living in California, where there are a lot of Vietnamese immigrants, Len really did not enjoy the nagging apprehension that every Vietnamese he encountered on the street was likely to slit his throat. He did not like this irrational fear; nor his feeling toward what seemed like innocent and harmless people he encountered on American soil. In an effort to overcome the trauma and reprogram myself as Len calls it, he forced himself to befriend some Vietnamese, even going as far as allowing his hair be cut by a Vietnamese barber.
Growing up, Dan and Jay Koolstra had never heard their father talk about Vietnam. In fact it was in 2002, on a father and son fishing trip, that Jay, then 21, first heard his father, 54, mentioned Vietnam. The boys grew up into men and they both settled in Suncrest. 5 years ago, they started to hear their father talking about Vietnam, and how he would like to go back to see it again. But talk was all he did and the sons knew their father well enough to know he would never do it.
So on Fathers Day 2009, the brothers got together and bought a ticket to Vietnam for their father. If the old man wasnt going to do it, the young men were taking him, before it was too late. So on Dec 02, 2009 the trio landed in Saigon Airport, with cash, passports and nothing else. It was 90 degrees and 100% humidity. Dan, the older son, says. And we dont even know where we were going or staying! At the currency exchange window they picked out a hotel from the advertising board and the 2-week adventure began for the three musketeers.
- The Outpost Newspaper
To Be Continued Next Week.
TOPICS: History; Local News; Military/Veterans; Travel
KEYWORDS: army; cambodia; vietnam; vietnamwar; washington; washingtonstate
I hope that he found what he's looking for.
I'll be looking forward to the forthcoming installments, and I'll do my best to post them here as they become available. If I'm late with posting an update, please feel free to do so....no offense will be taken :-)
posted on 02/19/2010 12:30:00 AM PST
To: sionnsar; indcons; La Enchiladita; Kathy in Alaska; MoJo2001; StarCMC; snippy_about_it; archy; ...
Looks like it will be a nice story :-)
posted on 02/19/2010 12:34:12 AM PST
(Sarah Palin 2012: A Strong America Through Unapologetic Conservatism)
At some point, Len came to realize that war is not between people, but governments.
Uh oh, I wonder where this is going... seeing as in America, we like to think the People ARE "the government."
I really hope this isn't going to be another pro-communist, anti-war subversion story full of flowers and "getting along." Might make me think it was targeted at our troops, or sumpthin...
posted on 02/19/2010 12:52:03 AM PST
(When you find a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be damn sure it didn't get there on it's own.)
I too hope it is legit, but to be honest I have a life time of radar going up when combat vets raise their voices. Of course, I have a life time of being jaded as well. They all can’t have been REMF’s!
posted on 02/19/2010 1:01:03 AM PST
("America ... where are you now?" signed, a little "r" republican!)
I hope not also. The Spokane area and Eastern Washington in general is far more Conservative than it is over here on the ‘left’ side of the State, and their media ‘usually’ reflects that. It also goes into how brutally he was treated by the Left upon his return to the USA and how deeply that hurt him, something that I would think a Left-wing writer wouldn’t want to include.
All I can do is hope that it will turn out to be a positive article....if it turns out to be some awful Leftist screed then I’ll probably just stop posting the updates to it and I’ll apologize for taking peoples’ time :-)
posted on 02/19/2010 1:06:16 AM PST
(Sarah Palin 2012: A Strong America Through Unapologetic Conservatism)
I asked my brother in law once if he would ever want to go back. He said yes. In the left seat of a nuke laden B-52.
posted on 02/19/2010 1:18:50 AM PST
I went back to Vietnam a few years ago. It was a positive experience, all things considered.
Climbing Hill 881S again was an eerie experience. I lost it when we got to the top, though. Some memories are just too strong.
posted on 02/19/2010 1:28:09 AM PST
(Genuine Combat Corpsman)
Thanks Stoat. I look forward to the next installment.
posted on 02/19/2010 3:12:26 AM PST
(Cogito, ergo conservatus)
posted on 02/19/2010 5:54:10 AM PST
(What Would Jim Thompson Do?)
To: stylecouncilor; firep0w3r
posted on 02/19/2010 6:06:06 AM PST
it appears some do find some sort of closure by returning to the scene of the er....all I can say is “should I ever return, I will most certainly not tell any of them which unit I served in combat. The simple “drift” of many of our missions, would in their minds, merit almost any disasterous motion.
ummmm hmm ..a real bummer huh
er...this belongs with the food poisoning thread. I am a newbie here
To: firep0w3r; stylecouncilor
You’d be suprised at how so many have moved on. What has always been remarkable about the people in the South is their incredible reslience and stoicism, and that nearly 50% are under 40, and so actually recall little or nothing of the war anyway but for what they’ve been taught in school.
And if what one seeks is of all the people in all the world who love Americans even nearly beyond themselves, it’s here, from south of Saigon to the old DMZ and all points west.
posted on 02/21/2010 9:32:13 AM PST
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