There are countless ways to kill a person.
''Some methods are sudden, like bullets and bombs, and some are slow like substance abuse, or a chronic illness, or a psychological condition that leaves a person in isolation,'' writes the Rev. John Schluep in his book, Soul's Cry.
Using the information he gathered about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on soldiers and seeking guidance about native healing from Shianne Eagleheart (Haudenosaunne-Seneca), founder of the Red Bird Center in Cambridge, Schluep has watched people heal.
Many veterans who returned from Vietnam 40 years ago were ridiculed. The lack of validation for their service to the country forced some to keep the atrocities they witnessed bottled up inside.
''One slow way to kill a person is to alienate them from the society to which he belongs. Separation and alienation bring about the death of the soul, a living dead,'' said Schluep, founder of Warriors Journey Home in Tallmadge.
Tom Saal, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, knows what it is like to live without a soul. He lost his 42 years ago after ordering snipers to shoot a North Vietnamese soldier.
After the deed was done, the men brought the body to Saal. He rooted through the man's possessions, retrieving photos of a woman and children.
The revelation that the person he had ordered killed was a husband and father was agonizing. Exhausted, he found a place on the ground to rest.
When he awoke, Saal discovered that his men had stripped the corpse of its clothing and crucified him on a bamboo cross.
''That's when my soul left,'' he remembered.
Baptism of a healed soul
As the warriors traveled around Vietnam in October on their reconciliation journey, individual ceremonies to honor each man's service were held in former operations and battle areas, and places of special meaning to the veterans.
During the services, led by Eagleheart, the group prayed and the veterans shared stories of the times they spent there during the war. Sometimes, the ceremonies included honoring a fallen friend.
''By the time the ritual took place, two weeks into the trip, I had already gotten it back,'' Saal said. But the ceremony, Saal added, was like the ''icing on the cake.''
In the years that followed his return to the United States from Vietnam in the late '60s, Saal was sad, lonely and depressed.
''On the surface, I was OK and happy that I had such a wonderful family; however, there was always a feeling of something missing, something not being right,'' said the man whose legs were nearly blown off by a land mine.
''The trip to Vietnam restored that feeling of emptiness and provided me with a newfound purpose for living.''
The tradition and formality of the ceremony were remarkably emotional.
The mercury hovered near the 90-degree mark and the humidity was miserable. Perspiration soaked their shirts as members of the team climbed off the tour bus at Hill 55, just south of Danang, where Saal's battalion had served. There, the friends formed their circle.
At the conclusion, Saal asked for water. But rather than drink it, he poured it over his head. Beads of salty sweat mixed with the coolness of the fresh water trickling down his face.
As Laura Fong Torchia, a senior visual journalism major at Kent State University who was among the travelers explained, Saal was like a newborn baby, wet from the rebirth of his soul.
A beacon of hope
The bridge that stood for hope 40 years ago was still there. During the war, it served as the only land route in and out of the Cam Ranh Peninsula. Had it been destroyed, the troops would have been without adequate supplies.
''It had to be guarded at all costs,'' said Ron Oskar, who watched the bridge when he wasn't on a convoy himself.
Here, beneath a blue sky and billowing clouds, his ceremony of peace and reconciliation was held.
When soldiers returning to base spotted the bridge, they knew they were relatively close to safety, he explained. They could relax a bit because the chance of an ambush was far less likely once they had crossed the bridge.
When people approached the structure, generally by water, they were given three warnings, said Oskar, who was a U.S. Army quartermaster. If they didn't stop or identify themselves, the soldiers were ordered to shoot.
Jellyfish still make the area their home, as they did four decades ago. Oskar remembers watching them when he was patrolling — even at night. It was far more enjoyable to keep watch on the sea creatures than the humans who might have been lurking in the waters.
''Our captain told us, 'If you see somebody at night under the water who is not trying out for the Olympics — shoot them.' '' Oskar recalled. ''Luckily, that never happened.''
As a First Air Cavalry scout dog handler for the U.S. Army, Joe Caley walked point in search of the enemy, clearing a safe path for others, alongside Baron, a German shepherd whose job included alerting his master to booby traps and ambushes. For his ceremony, Caley chose LZ Grant, where he and his dog had been trapped during a particularly brutal battle.
''That's called being in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' Caley half-joked.
Today, the area is a man-made lake. And the nearby Nui Ba Den, or Black Lady Mountain, where a signal relay operated during the war, is now a park — with gondola rides to the top.
To understand the pain her husband had been experiencing over the years, Caley's wife, Mona, traveled with him to Vietnam. During his ceremony, Caley held his wife's hand as they dropped to their knees. Curious Vietnamese gathered to listen and watch.
''They came to honor him,'' Torchia said.
While Caley didn't think it odd, Torchia, who heard of the gathering, but wasn't at the event herself, thought the soldier's ceremony held special meaning because of the dogs milling about.
Perhaps, some of the guys on the trip offered, it was a nod to Caley's canine warrior.
A therapist had instructed Ralph Knerem to find a special spot in Vietnam, scoop up a handful of dirt, bless it and throw it over his shoulder. That, the therapist explained to the former U.S. Army infantry soldier, would complete his history on Vietnam.
So, following instructions, Knerem sat on the ground and scooped up the soil at Hill 55.
''It's finished,'' he murmured. ''It's done. It's over.''
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.