War veterans go back to Vietnam in search of closure

AN HOAH COMBAT BASE, Vietnam -- Though Thursday will mark 40 years since America's war in Vietnam ended, for many who fought there, closure has been hard to find. CBS News recently traveled back to Vietnam with veterans looking to find meaning in the war they fought.

Larry Thon was among the veterans participating in a tour of land that was once a warzone. On Hill 52, Thon's battlefield memories flooded back to a Marine first lieutenant in 1968 on a hill thick with dust churned up by helicopters.

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Larry Thon, a Vietnam war veteran who recently traveled back to Vietnam ahead of the 40 year anniversary of the war's end
CBS News

"You know we had a job to do, that's the way we looked at it and we did our job but I think the toll that it took on the people of this country was pretty severe," said Thon.

Being back in Vietnam helped Thon write an end to a searing chapter in his life.

"I thought if I could see it under, in a different time frame it would just help me feel better about the whole thing," said Thon. "I see a very prosperous country. At the end of the day that is what you would hope to see."

Vietnam veteran and retired Marine Colonel Dave Wall led the tour. He volunteered knowing he would be sent to Vietnam. Wall told me the experience is cathartic for some of the men.

"Many of them are not psychiatrist type issues, many are just a desire to share something with somebody that you can't share with back home," said Wall. "Just get it out, absolutely get it out. And you have seen the interaction. They are sharing their maps, they are sharing their stories. My father served there, my brother served here. It kind of makes that whole trip worthwhile."

Much of the war in the area south of Da Nang was directed from the An Hoa Combat Base where Jerry McMullen served. His job was trying to convince civilians to support the U.S.

As he explained to his son who came back with him, one day when he was off the base, a bomb destroyed his hut. He would have been killed.

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Jerry McMullen stands at the site where a bomb destroyed his hut during the Vietnam War
CBS News

Standing at the scene where he almost died he said: "Of course it feels good to be alive but there was a lot of sacrifice made and that part is painful, that's the ugly part of war."

The war prompted massive ant-war demonstrations and took a toll from a whole generation. McMullen said he'd still go through it all over again.

"Do I have personal regrets? No. Do I think that mistakes were made? Yes. And would I do anything different? Probably not," said McMullen.

Because these men still believe that then, as now, that is what you do when your country calls.