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The Trip of A Lifetime

By Staff | Jul 9, 2015

REUNIFICATION PALACE -- Kathy and Leo Goeders are pictured in front of the gates to the Reunification Palace in Saigon.

A two-week trip to Vietnam was the “trip of a lifetime” for Leo Goeders of Emmetsburg. It was there, in 1968-69, that the young Marine experienced the best of times and the worst of times. It was there that he made some of the best friends of his life.

Leo and Kathy Goeders had talked about a trip to Vietnam for a couple of years. As word spread of the pending trip, veterans contacted Leo asking him to take a picture of places where they had served.

“Everything has changed a lot,” said Leo. “We went to Hanoi and worked our way back through the whole country.”

While setting up their itinerary, Leo said he knew the names of conflicts, but not towns. Their travel agent located all of the places and made all of the arrangements.

“We saw every place for other veterans and took pictures,” said Leo. “We took over 1,000 pictures and they’re all getting some. We did this for all of them.”

GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM -- Leo and Kathy Goeders from Emmetsburg and their daughter Kristi (from the left) spent two weeks touring Vietnam. Vegetation and bird life are returning from the devastation of war some 40 years ago. --Goeders family photos

“I thought we would see a little bit of bitterness,” said Leo. “Everyone we met treated us great. It was wonderful. They think the United States is great.”

Highlights of the trip for this veteran were Hai Van Pass and the Rockpile.

“We had more fun up there (on the Rockpile),” said Leo. “When you’re 19 years old, we were looking for excitement.”

Kristy posted photos and a diary of their travels each day on Facebook. That day she wrote, “Dad was leaning forward in his seat the closer we got, scanning the terrain for anything recognizable. We approached the Rockpile and he was just shocked. He barely waited for the van to stop and was outside staring at it and shaking his head. To you or I the Rockpile looked like a lone mountain, but to him it looked like home.”

In the 1960s, Leo was experiencing his dream – to serve his country. “I believed in what we did. I believed in stopping Communism and back in the 1960s that’s what it was. I believed that the South (Vietnam) wanted their independence.”

RICE FARM -- Kathy, rice farm host, Kristy and Leo donned farming attire before planting rice in the traditional way with water buffalo-powered plow through ankle-deep clay soil.

The Goeders drove on Highway 1, made a day trip to the former DMZ, visited Dong Ha City, Camp Carroll, Dakrong Bridge and parts of the former Ho Chi Minh Trail. They saw the lingering devastation of Agent Orange and unexploded mines. The marveled at the resilience of the Vietnamese people, their faith and their work ethic.

‘”It was the ultimate trip. I’ll never match it, that’s for sure. It brought back the past and I was able to see what had happened in 40 years. The people are happy,” he said.

Coming home to friends and family waving American flags was unbelievable.