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“I want to see how it’s changed:” Vietnam vets visit country where they served, 45 years later

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VIETNAM -- Wednesday, November 11th is Veterans Day -- a day when we tell those who served how grateful we are for their service and sacrifice. The 'thank you' for one group of veterans has been a long time coming.

"I brought them out for the first time a year ago, but they've been put away for 20 years or so," John "Fritz" Walters said as he looked through photo albums.

John "Fritz" Walters

John "Fritz" Walters

Walters, of Delavan, was preparing for a trip back in time, to a place he last saw 45 years ago -- When he was just 20 years old, and a small engine mechanic serving in an Army engineering unit in Vietnam.

"As a guard -- shotgun rider," Walters said. "We had to go out to a job site and that night we got rocketed pretty good. That was the scariest."

Walters, who suffered a small hand injury in Vietnam, says he's not haunted by the war, but he has long had a desire to return, mostly out of curiosity.

"I wanna see where I was at and how much it's changed," Walters said.

The quick answer is, a lot has changed.

Vietnam

Vietnam

Earlier this fall, Walters joined a group of Vietnam veterans in a tour of a country that shaped their lives. They were able to see parts of the  battlefield -- like tunnels used by Viet Cong soldiers.

"Very humid in there compared to here," Walters said.

Vietnam veterans in Vietnam

Vietnam veterans in Vietnam

Vietnam veterans in Vietnam

Vietnam veterans in Vietnam

The men who went on this trip didn't know each other, but they understood each other -- because while they didn't actually serve together, they were all there -- in a place during a war that left scars that still haven't healed.

"There's no bravado here. There's no bs. You can't be a wannabe with there guys because they'll pick you out in a heartbeat. You can see them relax," a Vietnam veteran said.

Over the course of two weeks, these veterans opened up and began telling stories.

Current-day Vietnam isn't what it was, of course. There are few familiar landmarks. Walters said he was glad he came, though he was disappointed he couldn't see more of the country.

Vietnam

Vietnam

But even more frustrating to these men is that there are few reminders of what they did do there.

"I haven't heard anybody say they -- Americans -- left anything of value. We've been completely deleted from the picture and that sort of bothers me because I know we did leave something," a Vietnam veteran said.

One thing they did leave in Vietnam was their innocence -- taken from them by what they saw. And even when the tour couldn't get them to the exact place they served, it was close enough to tap into a lot of pain.

Emotional Vietnam veteran in Vietnam

Emotional Vietnam veteran in Vietnam

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