Posted at: 10/24/2013 4:42 PM
Updated at: 10/25/2013 2:15 PM
By: Renee Passal
"It came out of nowhere, really," said David Wheat, a former prisoner of war from Duluth. He's referring to a trip back to Vietnam this fall. And the circumstances are truly unique.
Wheat was just 25 years old when he was shot down over North Vietnam. He was captured, and spent 7 years and 4 months in various prisons.
He's shared his story multiple times. Each time, it's powerful. Just this summer, he was honored by the St. Louis County board.
On Memorial Day weekend, he and his wife were out in California, for a 40-year reunion of POW's. That same weekend, a couple who hail from Vietnam originally was hosting a thank-you dinner in Duluth, for Vietnam veterans.
Thai Nguyen and his wife Diamond said they are so grateful for what our American veterans did in their country, during that terrible time. They both escaped Vietnam and came to the states. Thai was sponsored by people in Duluth. Wheat said he got his education at UMD and the U of M, and is now a mechanical engineer. The couple now lives in California.
Wheat met them at the studio where Brad Bennett, also a Vietnam vet, was taping his radio show. They offered to host Wheat and his wife on a trip to Vietnam.
"I said, whoa. And we thought about it. And we said yes. I've always wanted my wife to see the places I've talked about. She's heard all the stories," Wheat said.
The trip is being planned via email. When we asked Wheat if he was nervous going back, he said no. He told Thai he definitely wanted to see what's left of the Hanoi Hilton, one of the prisons he was held.
"I'll probably feel some emotion when I'm there. But right now, I'm not nervous. I'll get to walk away a free man, with no blindfold or handcuffs," he said with a wink. That wasn't the case when he was there as a young man, when he was brought in and out of the Hanoi Hilton various times.
He said, as a young man, he'd never thought he'd want to go back. But this opportunity was not to be missed.
We will catch up with the Wheats once they return, and share their stories from the trip. And as always, we are grateful for Wheat's service, and his willingness to share his experiences.