Five local veterans return home from soul-seeking trip

Britney Beaman

Nearly 40 years ago, many American soldiers came back from the dreaded Vietnam War. When they got off of the planes, protesters and unhappy Americans gave them a less-than-welcoming greeting.

A few weeks ago, on Oct. 19, five Vietnam veterans returned from a soul-seeking trip to Vietnam. They were greeted at the Akron-Canton Airport by a welcome they deserved.

“There were 300 people with flags and cheering,” said Laura Fong Torchia, a senior visual journalism major who joined the men on contract by the Akron Beacon Journal as a photographer on the trip. “It was the perfect ending for them, considering the first time they had no welcome.”

The five veterans are all members of the Warrior’s Journey Home ministry at The First Congregational Church of Tallmadge. The Rev. Dr. John M. Schluep suggested the men to go on the trip to find the forgiveness for a battle that they fought years ago.

Torchia said she remembered Schluep telling the soldiers, “I don’t know how to help you, but I’ll walk through it with you,” before they he began the Warrior’s Journey Home ministry.

The veterans included Joe Caley of Tallmadge, Charles Forsyth of North Olmstead, Ralph Knerem of Streetsboro, Tom Saal of Akron and Ron Oskar of Springfield Township. Before the trip, these men suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the war, Torchia said.

“The flight to Vietnam was very nerve-racking for the veterans,” Torchia said. “There was a lot of anxiety and worry.”

The Vietnamese people welcomed the veterans back and were inspired that the men made this trip 40 years later. Since the Vietnamese culture is Buddhist, they forgave Americans 10 years after the war, Torchia said.

Torchia’s favorite moment during the trip was a poetry reading done by both the American veterans and Vietnamese veterans. The poems were translated, so that the veterans could understand each other.

“We found out that the soldiers wrote about the same things: loss and pain of war. It’s like they were one, brothers and soldiers,” Torchia said.

The soldiers were all holding hands by the end of the poetry reading.

Torchia added that one of the Vietnamese soldiers made the comment, “Maybe we always were brothers, but we were put in these roles by our governments.”

The veterans were so grateful for the forgiveness they found and for the welcome they received when they returned home.

“Words cannot explain what it feels like to see them at peace with life,” Torchia said.

With Veterans Day coming up on Thursday, students can show their appreciation for soldiers and veterans like the men who went on this trip.

The Annual Veterans Day Observance will be today at 4 p.m. on the Risman Plaza. There will be a flag raising ceremony and President Lester A. Lefton and Rachel Anderson, director of the Center for Adult and Veteran Services, will be speaking.

There will be a reception following the event in the Kiva lobby.

“The main reason to show support on Veterans Day is because these people volunteered a large portion of their lives to protect your freedom,” Joshua Rider, the assistant director of the Center for Adult and Veterans Services, said.

Everyone is invited to both events, Rider said.

Contact Britney Beaman at [email protected].