In 2005, Jerry asked if I would go to Vietnam with him for a 30th-anniversary service of remembrance for those who died in the Operation Babylift crash. As a friend and a pastor, I was honored to join him, and I also wanted to explore mission opportunities in Vietnam.
After many long hours and several connecting flights, we were finally making our approach into Saigon at the very airport where his father had taken off 30 years before. For just a moment, I felt that Jerry’s expression registered the emotion one feels at the end of a long personal journey.
As we toured the city and the countryside, Jerry kept repeating, “I can’t believe we’re here.” But when the time for the memorial service arrived, he opted not to go.
He preferred, he said, to visit the crash site alone. So on another day we hired a driver who took us beyond the city, down a long, dusty road, to a trail where we set out on foot. After about 300 yards we saw part of the C5-A’s landing gear deeply embedded in the ground.
A makeshift altar had been erected over the landing gear. Our driver placed incense on the altar, lit it, and stepped away. At Jerry’s request I offered a prayer. He thanked me and then we walked back to the car in silence.
Our itinerary in Vietnam included time with the Children of Vietnam, a nonprofit organization serving the children of Da Nang. We visited an orthopedic hospital specializing in the treatment of amputees, handed out rice to the poor, and attended the dedication of a new home for a needy family. We also toured a squatter’s village where Children of Vietnam planned to build additional homes, a women’s nutrition program, several orphanages, and a street children’s home.
Spending time with the children of Da Nang reminded Jerry of our work in Bosnia. Soon he was asking one of the translators where we could buy the children ice cream, something he does in Bosnia every summer. Later that day, after touring an orphanage and hearing the house mother speak lovingly about the children, Jerry asked if he could make a donation to help with the cost of their food and supplies. After handing her all his cash, Jerry spontaneously reached out and hugged her.
Since that first visit, Jerry and I have made two additional trips to Da Nang where we continue to partner with Children of Vietnam. Those long flights lend themselves to thoughtful reflection and conversations about life and the world in general.
As we returned from our most recent visit, Jerry shared that he could see God’s hand in all of this, as if he now is carrying on his father’s work by caring for the Vietnamese children. His wife and others note that he seems to have found an inner peace. Having found a way to care for the people of Vietnam, he also found a way to let go of feelings he had harbored for more than 30 years. As he opened himself up to care for others, the grace he offered them was returned.
More information about Children of Vietnam
Jack Mewborne received his M.Div. from Duke Divinity School in 1999. Since that time he has been actively involved in missions in the United States and abroad.