Barely 48 hours earlier, Heather Bowser raised her seat back to the upright position and braced to land in the home of her father's demons.
As the plane descended toward Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport, her anxiety soared. The 38-year-old Ohio native had been planning this trip for a long time, but now that she was nearly there, uncertainty was beginning to mute the buzz of her initial excitement.
Her mind raced: What will I find there? What will the Vietnamese people think of me? Am I ready for this?
It didn't help that she'd been wearing her prosthesis for 33 hours straight. No matter how she shifted and stretched in her seat, she couldn't ease the ache in her right thigh. She was long overdue for a break from the state-of-the-art mechanical limb that relied on suction to stay attached, but an artificial leg isn't something you can pull off and hoist as carry-on luggage.
To bolster her courage, Heather pulled out a picture of her father from 1967, just before he made the same journey. Back then, William Allen Morris was a 20-year-old newlywed, one of thousands of young Army draftees girding themselves to land in war-torn Vietnam.
READ MORE: http://www.cleveland.com/agentorange/index.ssf/2011/01/heather_bowser_connects_with_h.html
Agent Orange leaves its mark on the life of Heather Bowser
Bill was discharged from the Army in the fall of 1971, and he and Sharon returned to Wintersville. Bill had grown up there, but it didn't feel like home anymore. Most of his high school friends, including several who had worked with him in the mill, had gone off to college, not to Vietnam. He quickly found he had little in common with them.
Heather Bowser, children touched by Agent Orange find a common bond in Friendship Village
READ THE ENTIRE SERIES: Unfinished Business: Suffering and sickness in the endless wake of Agent Orange at: http://www.cleveland.com/agentorange/index.ssf/2011/01/unfinished_business_suffering.html
The Vietnam Reporting Project
Jon Funabiki is executive director of the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University and a fellow member of the International Dialogues for Thought Leaders in Media. For the last four years, we have joined about two dozen other journalists once a year to explore the changing landscape of our profession. When he called me in February 2010, Funabiki was quick to remind me of this mission.
"We've got a new adventure for you," he said. "It's called the Vietnam Reporting Project. We want you to go to Vietnam and write about the long-term impact of Agent Orange."
My immediate response: "What long-term impact of Agent Orange?"
Thus began my education about the tragedy that continues to unfold in that beautiful sliver of a country in Southeast Asia and for veterans and families in the United States.
Funabiki convinced me it is a story that demands telling.
The Vietnam Reporting Project -- coordinated by the Renaissance center and funded by the Ford Foundation -- offered to pay for my travel, hotel rooms and food, and provide training and logistics support. In return, I would report what I found. The Plain Dealer would pay my salary and oversee all editing.
Nine months of research later, I was as ready as I was going to be to see firsthand the legacy of a war that most of my generation has spent a lifetime trying to forget.
-- Connie Schultz