In April of 2006, "War Stories" traveled to Vietnam, a country rich in its own history and one that has played such a large part in ours.
An Army veteran of the 101st Airborne by the name of Frank Boccia joined us on this journey back in time. He hadn’t been back to Vietnam since the war and was eager to see the country again. This time he was armed only with his camera and his sense of adventure.
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We started our expedition in the bustling city of Hanoi where street vendors will sell you anything and mopeds quickly zip by. From there we went to the city of Dong Ha and then made our way onto Hue. Hue is a two and a half hour drive from Hamburger Hill. So, the next morning we all met in the hotel lobby at the torturous hour of 5 a.m. We loaded up the vans and were ready to embark over windy and bumpy roads to our final destination.
After the long and sometimes nauseating ride, our vans pulled up to this little village in pretty much the middle of nowhere. As we disembarked, we saw young children playing over by what looked like a school house while the rest of the village observed their new visitors. Col. Oliver North and our producers were introduced to the head of the village and they sat down and got to know each other for a bit. After the meeting, we brought out a soccer ball and joined in with the children who eagerly played with it.
While spending time with the Vietnamese people in the village was fun, we had some work to do. So we drove the vans as far as we could, up to the side of Hamburger Hill. From this vantage point we were already at a fairly high elevation and about half way up the hill. We got some of the villagers to help us lug some of our other gear up the narrow trails while we carried all of our equipment. Our cameraman wouldn’t let anyone touch his extremely heavy and very important camera so he lugged it the whole time. The climb up to the top of Hamburger Hill took us about three and a half hours on trails that were at times angled at 90 degrees and only wide enough for about two people.
It was hot, humid and one of the most extremely humbling experiences of my life.
The whole time up this hill I just kept thinking about the men who were here 40 years ago in 1969. Carrying 40 pound packs on their back, in the sweltering heat or the drenching rain waiting to combat the Vietcong hiding in the jungle. As Frank walked up this hill with us, he could recall how it was all those years ago. He pointed out where the enemy had dug in machine gun holes on the side of the trail where the Vietcong used to sit. They would hide and wait for the company to climb the steep trails single file and then they would ambush them as the trail evened out onto an even plateau. The blood, sweat and tears that were spilled on this hill is absolutely mind boggling.
Frank never made it to the top of the hill in 1969. It took him 40 years, but he was determined to make it this time, if not for himself then for all the men who gave their lives there.
When we reached the summit, Col. North asked, "Frank what does this trip to the top of Hamburger Hill mean to you?"
Frank replied, "Personally not a lot. I feel neither pleasure nor pain about being here, but I'm glad I'm here. I'm glad I'm here because there were men that I left behind and they should be here, they gave everything they had, every ounce of courage every bit of manhood and they left it on these slopes and if I had one wish it would be that they would be here right now."
— Kelly Guernica is a producer for "War Stories"