The Marc Steiner Show

Archive for Vietnam

Shared Weight: M*A*S*H 1969 – Visions of War, Dreams of Peace

mashJuly 24, 2014 – Segment 3

We listen to another episode of our documentary series about the Vietnam War, Shared Weight. Today it’s M*A*S*H 1969-Visions of War, Dreams of Peace. We hear the compelling stories of poet George Evans and the late author Linda Van Devanter. In a tale that could have come straight out of the movie and TV series M*A*S*H, Evans relays his experience as an Air Force medic who became the first soldier to defeat his court martial. And then we hear the powerful and heart-wrenching story of Van Devanter, who served as a surgical nurse in 1969 and 1970, and whose memoirHome Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam inspired the 1980’s hit TV series China Beach.


Shared Weight: Artists Born of War

vietnam kidsJuly 24, 2014 – Segment 2

We listen to another episode of our documentary series about the Vietnam War, Shared Weight. We hear Artists Born of War, where artists and writers from all sides of the Vietnam War reveal how that conflict influenced – and maybe even birthed – their work. Featured authors include: Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried); Bao Ninh (The Sorrow of War); and Wayne Karlin (Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam).


Shared Weight: The Gilchrest Brothers

vietnamJuly 23, 2014 – Segment 3

We listen in to a special broadcast of another episode of our documentary about the Vietnam WarShared Weight. In this episode, The Gilchrest Brothers, you will hear the heart-rendering story of the Gilchrest brothers: former Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, his brothers Jeffrey and Alan who served with him in Vietnam, their brother Richard who served in the Navy, and Clifford, who remained home to teach. We join the brothers as they reflect on how their world views and personal lives were affected by that conflict.


Shared Weight: Woody Curry’s Journal

woody curryJuly 21, 2014 – Segment 3

We continue listening back to our series on the Vietnam American War, Shared Weight. In this segment, we meet Woody Curry, a veteran from the Baltimore ghetto, who talks about how he survived the despair of war and transformed himself.

Shared Weight: Wandering Souls Part One

warJuly 21, 2014 – Segment 2

We listen back to our series on the Vietnam American War, Shared Weight. Two young soldiers meet on a jungle trail, one lives, one dies. Their fates are connected for 40 years. This is the story of Homer Steedly, and the journal of the young soldier he killed.


Shared Weight: The Artist Born Of War

Bao NinhNovember 15, 2013 – Segment 2

Artists reveal how their work was born of war. Featured are authors Tim O’Brien (“The Things They Carried”), Bao Ninh (The Sorrow of War), and Wayne Karlin (Crossover, Lost Armies).




Click here to download the interview transcript.

Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man In America

Daniel EllsbergNovember 8, 2013 – Segment 4

Daniel Ellsberg joined Marc to discuss the new film about his life: The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. In 1970, Ellsberg was responsible for releasing the secret U.S.government report that documented illegal US involvement in Vietnam, documents that have become known as the Pentagon Papers.  He discusses why he risked life in prison to publicize the papers, and why his story is still relevant today.

This podcast originally aired March 1, 2010. 


Home sweet home!

Hello everyone,

Jessica here, happy to be back in the good old USA. Nothing like two weeks out of the country to make you appreciate home again. Even if you have a wonderful time, as I did during the past two weeks in Vietnam, it is good to come home again.
But enough of that; I have so much more to tell you about my trip.

Click "Read More" below for more stories and pictures.

When I last left off, the Americans were waiting in Pleiku while the family of Hoang Ngoc Dam was attempting to get permission to exhume remains they believed to be his….

Day 4

We left our hotel in Pleiku at 7:30. We anticipated a three and a half hour drive to the grave site, but an hour into the trip we realized it would only be two hours, which made us very happy since we had to turn around and drive another five hours to get back to the train station. However, our joy was short lived because we got a call from the family. The military police were suspicious of us, they said, and would not permit us to come to the graveyard unless we had permission from the provincial authorities. We would have to turn around and drive an hour back to Pleiku, attempt to secure permission which would take who knows how long, and then drive the two hours back. We recognized that by that time they would be done exhuming the body anyway. It would be better for us to return to Pleiku and wait, which we did.

On the way we stopped at what was once the gatehouse to Camp Enari. This is where Homer was first taken when he arrived in Vietnam. It was quite an experience for him to stand and look in the street where you can still see the remains of the gatehouse that guarded the base.

A few hours later, the Hoang family met us in Pleiku. They were elated that they now were in possession of what they believe to be their brother Dam’s remains. Why do I phrase it like that? It was a fortuneteller who told the Hoang family which grave in the graveyard held the remains of their brother. This is a grave site that holds the unidentified body of many Vietnamese soldiers killed during the war. There was no documentation that could offer any assistance in determining where Dam’s body was located; remember, his identifying documents were removed from his body by Homer. DNA testing was a possibility for the family, but they did not feel that this was necessary. The word of the fortuneteller was enough proof for the military police who run the grave site, and the Hoang family was permitted to recover the remains.
There is a lot of sensitivity in Vietnam about bodily remains, so the Hoang family had to camouflage the bones by hiding them in a box that once was the packaging for a shower head.

We left Pleiku and traveled back to Quy Nhon, stopping at the Mang Yang Pass to conduct a small but beautiful ceremony.
The next day, Homer revealed a stunning fact. The place that we chose to pull over at the Mang Yang Pass is, he believes, the exact place where he had been dropped by a helicopter to begin the RIF (reconnaissance in force) mission during which he had killed Hoang Ngoc Dam. A concrete reinforcement that kept the hill from sliding down was still there. He remembered that during the mission, he had seen a single tree that towered above the rest of the canopy on the ridge line. He had chosen that tree as a spot to aim for. That tree was still there. The ridge line and road and valley below all was exactly the same. How could this be? How could this be the same spot where he had begun the mission during which he ended up killing Dam? He was stunned by this, quite unable to believe it, but the evidence was all around him.

Picture by Homer Steedly, showing the tree he remembers from 40 years ago.

Homer with the Hoang family at the ceremony at the Mang Yang Pass


The ceremony complete, we travelled to Quy Nhon, where we caught a train just a few minutes after midnight.

Day 5

We were on the train until around 7:00pm. At around 6 am, we went through the gorgeous Hai Van Pass. The pictures I took of it can’t do it justice, so I did a little google image searching for you. This is one of the most beautiful spots in the country. You are right in between the water and the mountains, with each attempting to outdo the other.

Click the images to go to their original location



When we passed through Vinh, Lt. Col. Tien joined us on board to come with us to Thai Binh. Wayne, Homer and the Hoangs were able to spend a good deal of time together, sharing stories of the past few days and their feelings about what had occurred. We arrived in Nam Dinh at 7:00. We got off the train, with Dam’s remains. Relatives who were waiting outside the train station to meet the Hoang family began wailing as soon as they spotted the remains. The Hoang family put the remains in the car and travelled back to their village to prepare for tomorrow’s funeral. We tired Americans hurried to our hotel to get some sleep.

Day 6

We left Nam Dinh at 5:00 am to travel to Thai Giang for the funeral of Hoang Ngoc Dam. How can I describe the day? It felt like a dream within just a few hours after it had happened. We arrived in the village around 6 am. Dang Cat took us to meet the chairman of the People’s Committee. The courtyard of the People’s Committee house was covered by an enormous tent and hundreds of people were milling about. A military band was playing traditional Vietnamese music as family after family approached the altar set up on the far end of the courtyard. After meeting with the chairman, we were ushered to the front of the tent to witness the dozens of families coming to pay respects to Dam. We must have sat there for an hour and a half watching family after family approach the altar, make offerings to the family, and light incense in Dam’s memory. We watched as several men, who had enlisted the same day as Dam, approached the altar and made their offerings.

The tent in the courtyard at the People’s Committee House

Female relatives of Dam’s sat on the floor near the altar

The oldest brother of the family weeps as he approaches the altar

The family, dressed in black and wearing white headbands signifying mourning


Finally, we Americans approached the altar on our own, and left a gigantic wreath. After a few speeches it was time to make the procession to the cemetery. Homer was asked to help carry the coffin to the cart.

Homer helps carry the coffin to the cart

Then he and Wayne were asked to walk in front of the cart. I was accompanied by a wonderful old woman who kindly shielded me from the hot sun for the entire slow walk with a parasol. She kept me from getting terribly sunburned and was very sweet.

My Savior

There were hundreds of people following the coffin cart to the cemetery. Traffic became backed up, even on this small local road.

Wayne and Homer in front of the cart

The very loud band that played as we traveled to the cemetery – my ears were ringing for hours afterwards


The cemetery in the middle of the rice paddy

Cars and trucks waiting for the funeral procession to pass

We arrived at the cemetery, where only a few bodies have been identified. Most remains there are simply unknown soldiers. The casket was lowered into the hole in the ground, and Homer and Wayne were asked to throw the first handfuls of dirt on top of the casket.

The red graves of the war heroes of Thai Giang

Homer puts the first handful of dirt on Hoang Ngoc Dam’s coffin


It was a deeply emotional moment for everyone. We were all so exhausted from the heat and from the challenges of the previous few days, we barely knew which way was up anymore. But we all felt a sense of release and relief, that we had accomplished what we had set out to do and that it was good. Homer Steedly, Jr. had brought his former enemy, Hoang Ngoc Dam, home at last.

Homer prays at the grave of Hoang Ngoc Dam

After the funeral, the Hoang family invited us back to their home for a final feast. It seemed the entire village was there. The mood shifted from being serious and heavy to a happy, relieved atmosphere.

The family provided quite a feast

Homer talks with the men who enlisted with Hoang Ngoc Dam. They were exceptionally friendly and open.

After lunch, it was time to say goodbye to the Hoang family and make the trip back to Hanoi. I cannot say enough good things about this family. Their kindness and ability to not only forgive Homer but to honor and celebrate him is remarkable. I consider it quite a gift to have known such a family and I look forward to bringing you their voices and words when we turn the audio from this trip into a radio documentary.

I also cannot say enough good things about Homer. He is truly a remarkable person. What he did took a kind of courage that isn’t easy to understand. And beyond that, he is a kind, caring and observant person who took a special interest in noting all the things he had in common with the various Vietnamese people we met along the way. He is a person who focuses on the connections we all share rather than focusing on those things which make us different. That’s a special thing.

It will take me a few weeks to put this trip into perspective and really understand what I learned from it. I hope you have enjoyed my travel blogs and pictures.




Vietnam Update

Hello friends,

Jessica here with an update from Vietnam.

The past few days have been among the strangest, most challenging and most wonderful of my entire life. There is no way I could even begin to do them justice in this blog post. All I can do is bring you a basic outline of what has transpired over the past few days and promise you that soon after I return home we will begin work on a documentary to bring you this amazing story.

Click "Read More" below for the story and pictures.

I came to Vietnam on May 20th with Homer R. Steedly, Jr. He was returning to Vietnam for the first time since he served here almost 40 years ago. His mission was to meet the family of Hoang Ngoc Dam, a North Vietnamese soldier and medic he had met on a jungle trail, shot and killed in 1969. He had promised not only to travel and meet the family, but to journey with them into south Vietnam to recover Dam’s bones, and then to return with the family to their small village for the funeral. He hoped that this trip would offer the family some closure for their tragic loss, and also help him in his recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a recovery he began several years ago with the help of his wife, Tibby. The story of how Homer got in touch with the family of Hoang Ngoc Dam was the subject of a CEM produced documentary called Wandering Souls. You can listen to it by clicking here.

But now let us move to the story and photographs of what has transpired over the past few days.

Day 1

We departed from Hanoi by van early on Saturday the 24th. Our destination was the village of Thai Giang in the province of Thai Binh. The village is about three hours south of Hanoi but a million light years away. It is a rural place, home to only a few thousand people. The road into Thai Giang is bumpy and lets you know that you are officially off the beaten path. When we pulled into the village, we were met by the youngest brother in the Hoang Family, Hoang Dang Cat. He shook every one’s hands and whisked Homer and Wayne at once into the People’s Committee House, where they were asked to provide the passport numbers and full name of everyone who was traveling in our party.

The People’s Committee House

People’s Committee House

After a few minutes, they returned and we all got into the car and went to the Hoang family home.

We heard the wailing as we walked up the alley to the home, and the sound increased as we entered the courtyard of the home. Homer was carrying a tray laden with fruit and other offerings for the altar. He walked into the home with wailing women on either side of him. We were all given incense to place on the altar. The room was hot, with fans pushing the air around. The wailing intensified as we approached the altar. We each paused before the altar with the incense in our hands and bowed our heads in Dam’s memory, and then we placed the incense in the holder. The smell filled the air. The wailing continued.

Homer in the courtyard holding the offering

Relatives of Hoang Ngoc Dam weeping as Homer approaches the altar.

At some point we were ushered back into the courtyard. While we were outside, quite stunned by the heat and the emotion, one of the Hoang sisters, Thi Dam, began to experience what was described to us as a possession by her late brothers spirit. Stamping her feet and speaking words that the Vietnamese speakers among our party did not recognize, her behavior heightened the tension. She was surrounded by her family members who attempted to find out what was going on. Finally, her family brought the message to us that Dam, speaking through her, had instructed us to bring him home and then "everything will be okay." We were moved back into the house and offered chairs. We introduced ourselves to the family and they introduced themselves to us. A huge feast was served and we all sat on the floor and shared the meal. After we ate, the dishes were cleared and we began to discuss the schedule for the next few days. It became apparent quickly that there had been some miscommunication between the family and us. They had settled on a schedule that was one day longer than what we had expected. We relented, because there was no other option but to relinquish control and follow their lead.

At 3:30, we set out with sister Hoang Thi Tuoi, brothers Hoang Dang Cat and Hoang Huy Loang, and brother-in-law Hoang Minh Dieu.
What to expect? How could we know? Emotions and tensions had run high the entire time we were at the family home. When the sister Thi Dam began to shout and stamp her feet, I think several of us felt fear that the entire situation was about to spin out of control. But as soon as the four family members got into the vehicle with us, they were gracious, friendly and curious about us. Their good nature continued as we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with them at a hotel in nearby Nam Dinh while we waited for our train. There were many toasts, questions, and smiles.
We boarded the train at around 8:00 pm and arrived in Vinh around 1:00 am. We made our way quickly to the hotel and to bed. It had been quite the day and tomorrow would be just as packed.

Day Two

We awoke in Vinh and met for breakfast. The family was in good cheer again, shaking our hands whenever they saw us and happily attempting to pronounce our names. We set off without them to visit the home of Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Tien. Tien is retired now, but she spent several years running the effort to find and identify the remains of the more than 300,000 Vietnamese who are still MIA from the American War. She designed and built a memorial and museum to that cause in Vinh, and she took us to that museum, where we were met by the Hoang family.

From left: Lt. Col. Tien, Hoang Huy Loang, Hoang Dang Cat, Hoang Thi Tuoi, and Hoang Minh Dieu at the MIA museum in Vinh.

You can read an article about Lieutenant Colonel Tien here.

Quite unexpectedly, at the home of Lt. Col. Tien we were introduced to this gentleman, the truck driver whose drivers license had inexplicably been on Dam’s person at the time of his death. Though in his 70’s and suffering from a bad knee, he had driven 40 kilometers on his motor scooter to meet Homer and the Hoang family.
After saying goodbye to Tien, we went to the hotel to test. At 6:30 that evening, we caught the overnight train to Quy Nhon.

Day Three

We got off the train in Quy Nhon at 10:30. We had to move
quickly because, by our estimation, we had a 6 hour drive to the grave
site. The Hoang family had to arrange the release of Dam’s remains and
the remains had to be exhumed that evening. The family went in a
separate car from us in order to be able to take care of those
arrangements while we traveled to Pleiku to find our hotel room for the
evening. It was a three and a half hour drive from Quy Nhon to Pleiku,
through some truly beautiful country including the exquisite Mang Yang
Pass. We arrived in Pleiku and found a hotel. We got back in the car
and had been driving for about five minutes when the phone rang. It was
the family calling. The process to secure permission to exhume Dam’s
remains was taking much longer than they had anticipated. They didn’t
think it would be done until much later that evening. We will stay here
this evening, they said, you go to the hotel and come meet us here
tomorrow to light incense sticks for Dam, then we will go back
together. We returned to the hotel and hoped things would go more
smoothly tomorrow.

There is so much more, but it is very late here and I must get some sleep. I will update you on the final days of our journey to return the remains of Hoang Ngoc Dam to his village as soon as I can.



Hello from Hanoi!

Hello from Hanoi!

Well I see that my coworker Justin is trying to outdo me with multiple blogs from his trip to West Virginia. Since it is
only 5:30 am at home and he is sure to be asleep, I will take this opportunity to do a little reporting of my own!
Click "Read More" below for stories and pictures.

I am writing to you from my hotel room in Hanoi. We arrived in Hanoi last night at around 7 pm after a flight from Saigon, which here is called Ho Chi Minh City. I am here to document the return of Homer Steedly, a Vietnam War veteran who has come to Vietnam to meet the family of the man he killed in March of 1969. If you want to hear the story of how Homer came to this point in his life, please take the time to listen to
the documentary
that CEM produced as part of the Shared Weight series.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City after traveling for about 24 hours. We were exhausted. I am visiting this country as a person with no emotional baggage attached to this place-but I am traveling in the company of three American veterans. One of the men, Wayne Karlin, is a writer who has returned many times. Another man, Doug Reese, now lives here with his Vietnamese wife. The third man is of course Homer Steedly, and this is his first visit back to the land that has played such a huge role in making him the man he is today.


From left: Homer, Wayne, Doug


I was relieved to get off the plane when we arrived in HCMC. The scene outside the international terminal was intense and vibrant. It was chaotic and warm and wonderful. Hundreds of people were lined up waiting for their loved ones to arrive. It was loud and hot and just that small experience made me feel the hours of traveling had been worth it.

The scene outside HCMC international airport terminal

We stayed at a small hotel in HCMC called the Spring House Hotel. It was a very nice small hotel. We all crashed and in the morning I was woken by the sound of intense honking on the street below. What a racket! I learned all about Vietnamese traffic from the final installment of CEM’s
Shared Weight Series. In Unpredictable Journey, Marc talked about how the traffic initially flummoxed him. It seemed so chaotic, so random, so dangerous. The hundreds of scooters, bicycles and cars seem to operate independent of any order. Disaster seems imminent. But somehow, it all works. It doesn’t make sense to my American eyes, but I have to admit that I enjoy it. I love being in a taxi and seeing a
scooter approaching from one side while a car approaches from another, while the driver deftly maneuvers to keep from colliding. I just laugh to think of my mother along with me and how she would be pushing an imaginary break on the floor of the car!

Doug Reese took Homer and me to a huge indoor market. I love
markets and this was a good one. From shrimp to jewelry to raw meat to beautiful artwork to an entire tailored suit from scratch–there was nothing this market couldn’t offer! It was the kind of place I could have spent four hours in, taking my time wandering from stall to stall, carefully weighing all my options before making my purchases.

Various types of rice and beans for sale

Meat for sale at the market

These little blue pigs caught my eye


Doug then took Homer and me to the rooftop deck of a very tall hotel so we could see a great view of Saigon.

After that, it was back to the hotel to check out, then a great lunch, then off to the airport–where our flight was delayed by an hour before we got on the plane headed to Hanoi. On the plane I met an American woman
who was with the Vietnamese boy and girl she had just adopted. She had been in the country for seven weeks already. She had arrived with her husband having been promised by the adoption agency that the entire
process would take only three weeks. However, there has been a recent crackdown on international adoptions after agencies in the US complained about irregularities such as some children turning out to not really be orphans after all. It took seven weeks for the adoption to come through, and she was leaving Saigon and heading to Hanoi to go to the American embassy to fill out the necessary paperwork to be able to take her new son and daughter home. She was hoping to be able to leave for the US in a week. She looked tired but as he held her beautiful son in her lap it was clear that she
would have stayed as long as necessary.

In Hanoi we had dinner at a restaurant that serves only one dish: grilled fish. It became clear once we walked in that the restaurant had some experience with disappointed tourists. They handed us a piece of paper that said, "We serve only one dish: Grilled Fish!" We smiled
and nodded; we had come to the restaurant fully aware of this. We walked upstairs and sat down. The waiter brought over a piece of paper. "We serve only one dish: Grilled Fish!" We smiled and nodded. Yes, we know. He pointed again at the paper. Yes, we know. Finally he understood that we were aware and that we were not going to make a
fuss when they didn’t appear with a menu. The meal was delicious.

Today we woke up and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Then we met Wayne’s friend Duc. He is an artist who lived for a time in San Francisco where he had a radio show on KQED. Now he lives in Hanoi and owns an art gallery. He took us to a wonderful coffee house. If you have never had Vietnamese coffee, you must! It is served with sweetened condensed milk and is delicious.
Wayne, Doug, Homer and Duc all had the traditional Vietnamese meal of pho. As a pescatarian , I was unable to eat this as it is made with chicken broth. Duc asked them to bring me some bread, assuming a baguette of some sort would be delivered. Instead, they brought me a wrapped loaf of sliced American-style white sandwich bread. We all got a good laugh out of that.



After coffee and pho we walked around Truc Bach Lake. Hanoi is a city of lakes and much of the social life of the city is centered around these areas.

A couple enjoying the scenery together

A grandfather taking his grandson for a stroll around the lake

Smiling teenage girls enjoying each other’s company at the lake

Another couple enjoying some time together

This is the lake that John McCain parachuted into after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War. A monument commemorating the event has been erected on the western side of the lake. Some details are wrong, such as the spelling of his name and military branch.



We stopped at Vietnam’s oldest pagoda, the Tran Quoc Pagoda, on the West Lake. This is a beautiful and peaceful spot-that is, until the tourist bus arrives!


Later in the day, we went to the Hoa Lo Prison, known more commonly to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton. This prison was built by the French when they occupied Vietnam. Many Vietnamese political prisoners were held there and subject to torture and terrible conditions. Years later it became the place where captured American soldiers were held, including Senator and Presidential hopeful John McCain. American soldiers who spent time there tell their own stories of torture and enduring awful conditions. It is very strange to visit the Hanoi Hilton, as an American, fully aware of these stories-and then to see display after display that shows pictures of American soldiers playing basketball and decorating Christmas trees while being held at Hoa Lo. Visiting this prison, you cannot help but be struck by the insanity of a place being used to torture one people who then turned around and used it to torture another. You are struck by the sadness of what we are capable of doing to each other, and you just hope that places like this throughout the world all become museums and cease to be operational.

The entrance to Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton

This very eerie room is full of statues showing how Vietnamese prisoners were kept shackled. You feel almost as if they could come to life any moment.

Artwork depicting the torture of Vietnamese political prisoners


That was enough for one day. I sit in my hotel room now resting with the streets still exploding with noise beneath my window. Tomorrow we have another day in Hanoi, and then we begin the journey to meet the family of Hoang Ngoc Dam, the young medic that Homer Steedly killed 40 years ago while a soldier. We will travel with them to where the fortune teller has told them Dam is buried. That body will be disinterred, and then we will travel with them back to their village for the funeral.

I hope to have the opportunity again to share more about my travels while I am here in Vietnam! I hope you have enjoyed reading about the journey so far!