Give Up Your Medals

7:03 AM

From the front porch of my bungalow overlooking Halong Bay, Vietnam, I could swear that I am dreaming. The quiet waves of the Bay are refreshing after a busy week in Vietnam.

We finished up last week by heading to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. I wasn't looking forward to it, as we had heard tales of other backpackers getting robbed & the danger of the busy streets. 

I could have stayed on the beaches of Koh Rong, and convinced myself that this was what Cambodia had to offer me. But the greatest takeaway was what I learned at the Killing a Fields in Phnom Penh. 

The Killing Fields are one of many sights where Pol Pot's army, The Khmer Rouge, massacred over 3 million Cambodians. The Khmer Rouge targeted the highly educated; doctors, lawyers, teachers, leaving Cambodia with a lost generation. We walked around the mass graves where women were buried after being stripped naked and killed. The most sobering moment was at the killing tree where children were brutally beaten against the tree.

The next day, we bussed to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where we visited the Vietnam/US War Museum. One section displayed the horrific deformities caused by Agent Orange, the toxic chemical that the United States dropped over the area in the 70's. This chemical continues to affect these people even 30 years later.

The feelings of anger and confusion paralleled my reaction to when I visited the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in Kigali last year. I remember how unaffected I was when I was briefly taught these events in school and how deeply affected I became when I was surrounded by the victims, on the ground where these atrocities took place. I consider this a testament to why you must travel, you must let yourself feel history, so that you can be an agent for a different kind of world, one that is kinder. In the museum, there is a plaque of medals from a US Soldier. These medals were sent to Vietnam after the war was over, medals that he had received from the war, including a Purple Heart. Underneath the medals was a letter written from the soldier that said "I'm sorry for what I did, I was wrong ". I believe that in the midst of the hell that was the Vietnam war, there was always present these small glimpses into the image of God. If only we were better at giving up our medals, I wonder what kind of reconciliation we would see in our world?

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  1. I just want to let you know that we are so proud of you! We love you and think about you all the time. I know it must be exhausting sometimes, but just remember what we taught you on that hill with the silly yet sacred tree: the flesh is weak, but the spirit is willing. We love you Sweetheart! Hickory.