Release Date: June 7, 2021
Peace Trees Vietnam safely removes unexploded ordinance and plants trees on the cleared land, creating a living monument to reconciliation and friendship. In this episode, founder Jerilyn Brusseau — who lost her brother in the war — tells the organization’s epic and inspiring origin story. Also, VVMF’s Heidi Zimmerman discusses In Memory, VVMF’s program for honoring those who died after returning from Vietnam.
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[00:00:00] (MUSIC) (JERILYN) From the moment Dan was born, he was like the crown prince and in the best possible way, everyone adored him. He was so full of sparkle and laughter. He was just that kind of guy. He had lots of friends. And then the day came when he made a decision, and he went down and joined the army. As an enlisted person, he was in boot camp all the way through, and he rose to the top of his class, and he was, he was chosen for officers candidate school. And then he again went to the top of his class. That’s the kind of character he was. He had a photographic memory for studying. His fellow pilots are still talking about it. So, he finished to the top of his class again in officer candidate school. And he was chosen for a flight school for helicopters. So, he was the pilot of a helicopter gunship.
[00:01:17] (HOST) You’re listening to Jerilyn Brusseau, the sister of US Army Lt. Daniel Chaney. She spoke to me via Zoom from her home on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
(JERILYN) When he came home from his graduation from Cobra school in at Fort Rucker, he and my parents drove his car from Alabama all the way to Bellingham. That’s a long way to go. And on the way home, my dad said to Dan, “Well, I better tell you something. We have we have a guest staying at our house.
[00:01:50] (JERILYN) I think you know her.” The guest was the daughter of some of my parent’s closest friends. Our families had grown up together. All the kids grew up together, and they all pulled in the driveway coming back from Fort Rucker. Dan looked up and there was Gale on the front porch. And that was that.
[00:02:24] (HOST) From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founders of The Wall, this is Echoes of the Vietnam War. I’m your host, Michael Croan, bringing you stories of service, sacrifice, and healing from people who still feel the impact of that conflict nearly 50 years later.
(HOST) This is episode six, Out of Tragedy, Trees.
(HOST) Dan Chaney’s decision to volunteer for the Army would eventually lead Jerilyn on an epic journey. Maybe better suited to an opera than to a single episode of this podcast. This is a story of service and sacrifice but more than anything it’s a story of healing, of helping, of tragedy and triumph, and of remembrance. And it starts, as all great stories do, with love. Jerilyn Brusseau continues her story.
[00:03:38] (JERILYN) Dan and Gale decided that they would be engaged before he left for Vietnam. They always had been good friends, but now it was really clear they were really meant to be together. And on the 16th of December, in 1968, there was this grand family party of the two families. And three days later, Dan left for Vietnam.
(JERILYN) It was a really scary time for the nightly news had all the body counts from Vietnam and on the morning of January 6th, 1969, just after Christmas. Exactly 16 days after Dan arrived in Vietnam. I was up early in the morning, I was listening to the radio and I heard the announcer say in the newscast, two American helicopter pilots were shot down today, 15 miles northwest of Saigon. And I had a chill run through me. “Oh, no.” Four hours later, I got the news, one of those pilots was my brother Dan. And the other pilot was his co-pilot. Just in that instant of allowing this news to come in, I immediately thought of my parents, their loss, and I suddenly realized that my parents were joining thousands and thousands and thousands of American families losing their family members in this war. And suddenly in an instant. I realized the other half of the universe was the Vietnamese families losing their loved ones at the same time, and in that instant these words came to me. Wow, someday, somehow, someway, ordinary American families like mine. We must find a way to reach out to the Vietnamese people. I didn’t know how. Or when. I only knew, I only knew that we must. And I actually told no one about that experience. It just became a kind of seed that was in my soul.
(JERILYN) July 11, 1995. My late husband, Danaan Parry and I were on an airplane flying home from Berlin. We had just co-facilitated a conference on healing the wounds of war of World War II. And people had come from everywhere to share their stories of healing. It was deeply moving. The 50th anniversary of the end of the war. And when it was over and we said all of our goodbyes, we went to the airport to get on the plane and the flight attendant offered me the Herald Tribune, I was sitting in my seat. She offered me the Herald Tribune. The headlines leapt off the page. U.S. normalizes with Vietnam. It looked like the letters were four inches high, you know. And Danaan, my husband, who was a nuclear physicist and peacemaker, was right beside me and I said, it’s time to go. It’s time to go.
[00:07:33] (JERILYN) And by the time we got back to Seattle on that flight, we had a plan of how we would, how we would start to reach out to the Vietnamese people that they had come. We arrived in Hanoi exactly six months later. We were greeted by leaders of the country who welcomed us in and said, come in, come in, sit down. We’ve been waiting for the American people for a very long time, it’s time to close the past and open the future, and we still actually work with that very same person. Twenty-five years later, and we shared our idea and he immediately invited us to Quang Tri Province.
[00:08:19] (HOST) The northern most province in south Vietnam, Quang Tri had the DMZ running right through it. An area smaller than Delaware, it was one of the most ravaged provinces in the country mand the site of an estimated 60% of the war’s casualties. More ordinances was dropped on Quang Tri than was dropped on all of Germany during the second World War.
[00:08:43] (JERILYN) Six point six tons of munitions per person who lived in the province. When the war was over, three villages out of thirty-two hundred villages remained. Quang Tri was heartbreakingly desolate, utter devastation. When we arrived, we took the night train from Hanoi, and when we arrived in Quang Tri, as far as your eye could see, was bomb crater after it was like craters of the moon. Bomb crater after bomb crater after bomb crater. And yet when we arrived there, the Vietnamese people just welcomed us so warmly. From, from that first moment in Vietnam, there’s never been anything other than pure trust, partnership, collaboration, friendship, understanding. To resolve what seemed to be an unbelievable problem, the amount of ordinance in Quang Tri. They drove us around the province to look at possible sites where we could sponsor clearance. And we came to the, to the site. they most, they felt was best. It was near the town of Dong Ha, which had been just a fishing village before the war. And then it became the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Division.
[00:10:04] (JERILYN) That’s how we started that day. And my husband had this simple computer and he typed out a memorandum of understanding and we created a contract and signed it that we would, we would agree to sponsor the clearance of 18 acres of one of the fieriest battlegrounds of the war. Near the town of Dong Ha. And as an NGO, a non-profit organization, we would provide the equipment, we would bring the demi-, the demining tools, the technical devices needed because the Vietnamese, thousands of people had died in that province since the war was over, trying to clear bombs and mines. Thousands had died. Like up to 40 thousand people who died in Vietnam after the war, at least 10000 in that province, and many, many more were tragically injured. So, if you think about the B-52 that flew across Quang Tri province for nine years every day, dropping thousands of tons of bombs, cluster bombs, so those remain the most dangerous bombs on the ground today. So, when we made that agreement, we agreed that we would provide the equipment that Danaan, my husband would bring retired American EOD officers to accompany him and to provide moral support to the Vietnamese, the provincial military would do the actual clearance. And all that actually happened, it all happened in the summer of 1996.
[00:11:50] (HOST) 27-years after Danaan’s death, Jerilyn has created the opportunity to heal the wounds of the war and to honor her brother’s service. But before her fledgling organization can accomplish its first mission, she will have to endure another personal tragedy. One that might have brought a lesser spirit to a screeching halt. The inspiring origin story of Peace Trees Vietnam continues after the break.
[00:12:38] (HOST) For a lot of people, visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. isn’t easy. So, VVMF created The Wall That Heals, an exact replica, at three-quarters scale, that travels to communities all across America. The Wall That Heals and the Mobile Education Center, that travels with it, will be in Harrison, Ohio June 10 through 13. For more 2021 tour dates and locations, visit vvmf.org/.
[00:13:27] (HOST) June is a busy month down at The Wall, with our annual Father’s Day Observance on June 20th and our first ever PTSD Awareness Day, now scheduled for June 27th. Traditionally, we’ve also held our In Memory weekend and activities in June, but that was moved to October, this year, due to the pandemic. In Memory is a VVMF program created to honor those who came home from Vietnam and later passed. They’re not eligible under DoD guidelines to have their names’ inscribed on The Wall, so In Memory is a way to honor them online as well as on site at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and The Wall That Heals.
(HOST) Heidi Zimmerman is Vice President of Programs and Communications for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. So, she’s in charge of a lot of the ceremonies down at The Wall. She also oversees programs like In Memory, The Wall That Heals, and this podcast.
[00:14:20] (HEIDI) When The Wall was built in 1982 we didn’t know that Vietnam Veterans were going to continue dying because of their service. So, In Memory was actually started by another group. It was called Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It started on Memorial Day weekend in 1993. VVMF took over the management of the program in 1999 and we have hosted the ceremony and managed the program ever since. Most of the veterans that have been honored through In Memory have passed from Agent Orange related illnesses, many kinds of cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s, ALS, a lot of different things like that and then there are quite a few who were suicide or PTSD related incidents.
[00:15:13] (HOST) Heidi, for listeners who are not familiar with In Memory weekend, can you give us an overview of the event?
(HEIDI) There is a ceremony at The Wall where we induct that year’s honorees and it brings in families from all over the country. And, they get to come together and hear each other’s stories and go on to the stage and say their loved one’s name. And it’s really important to the families that it’s on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in Washington, D.C. It is, I think that is what makes it so important where you are standing and then you are participating in one of our longest standing traditions of Reading of The Names.
(HOST) For families that would like to have their loved one honored, through the In Memory program, what’s the process for them?
(HEIDI) It is easy to have a Vietnam veteran honored through In Memory. You can apply online or send the required documents to our office. There is no charge to the family to have a loved one honored. We believe that all Vietnam veterans should be honored for their service. So, it only requires a short application, some copy of their military records, which is typically a DD214 that shows proof of service in Vietnam, and we do ask for two photos if you have them. Maybe one from their Vietnam service days and one from later. And you send in the application and we do have, you know, like a class for each year. So, right now, that would be class of 2022 if you send in an application now and that would mean that you would be honored at our 2022 ceremony. But before that we would go ahead and get your application processed and get, what we call, your In Memory honor roll page online. Each honoree does have their own page on our website that can be shared amongst family and friends and it has photos and you can leave remembrances for your loved one. So, it’s a lasting way to preserve their legacy of service. They are also honored when our mobile exhibit, The Wall That Heals, is on the road. For instance, if we are in Florida and your honoree, their home state is listed as Florida, their photo is on the screen for all to see during that visit. So, there are a lot of different ways that we honor our In Memory honorees and it really is that easy and I encourage anyone who has lost a Vietnam veteran after returning home to apply. We would love to honor as many Vietnam veterans as we can.
(HOST) It’s a beautiful thing to be able to honor these service members when we can’t engrave their names on The Wall.
(HEIDI) That’s correct and we, we do have the In Memory plaque on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s there. The In Memory plaque was dedicated in 2004 and it is over by the Three Servicemen statue. So, if people come to visit, we encourage them to go check out the plaque and that is our on site, the way that we honor these veterans.
[00:18:54] (HOST) And now, back to the amazing story of Peace Trees Vietnam.
(HOST) US Army helicopter pilot, Dan Chaney, was shot down and killed 16 days into his deployment in Vietnam. 27 years later his sister, Jerilyn, created a non-profit organization to honor her brother by sponsoring the removal of unexploded ordinance in Vietnam and planting trees in its place.
(HOST) Peace Trees Vietnam is off to a good start, having signed agreements with the Vietnamese government. But before the work can begin Jerilyn will, once again, have to endure the worst kind of personal loss.
[00:19:45] (JERILYN) The first thing that happened after we’d made our agreement was that Oxfam Hong Kong, who were based in Hanoi, offered to contribute the first land mine detector and those were sixty-five hundred dollars at that time. Austrian detector and then Catholic Relief Services, also in Hanoi, also donated a detector. So, we had our detectors were covered and the DOD could only be a friend at that point. You know, there were no we did have diplomatic relations restored between our countries, but not yet at the DOD level. But they were they could be friends to us. They could support us. They helped Danaan and connect with retired EOD guys who would go with him. So, he took four of them with him. So, in August of 1996, it was quite something. I went I was at the airport. The airline carrier made it possible for them to have a big room to get ready and they had all this equipment. So, if you can imagine, I mean, it was it was a major, major something all the equipment they were bringing and it all went super smooth and off they went.
(JERILYN) So, I was on Bainbridge Island raising money for all of this and preparing for our first citizen diplomacy trip. On November 13th, which was two days before out, three days before I was leaving, everything was set. We had raised two hundred and sixty thousand dollars in eight months. We were set to go. I was heading to an appointment in Seattle and Danaan, my husband was going to come with me. I left early. I left for the ferry, drove down to the ferry, and he was coming right. He was going to walk on after he parked his car. And it was a dark, dark, cloudy November day. He and I left the office at about the same time, so he would be coming almost any minute. And. He wasn’t coming, and it was 10 minutes. The ferry was at three o’clock, it was ten minutes to 3:00 and. Eight minutes to three, five minutes to three, three minutes to three, and I was I was standing out on the deck on the stern. With the crew member whose name was Nancy, and she said to me, boy, you must be waiting for somebody really special out here. Nobody waits for anybody anymore out here. As I said, I’m so crazy about that guy, I’d wait for him on the other side of the universe, so we were laughing and thinking, oh, he’ll be here in a minute.
[00:22:29] (JERILYN) Oh, he’ll be here in a minute. And suddenly it was two minutes to three. And she said, we got to go. And I said, well, I know he’s coming. And we could see the walkway from where we were standing. We could see the walkway. I know he’s coming any second. And she said, OK, I can hold the boat for one minute. After that, I get a big fine, so she held the boat for one minute and then the captain went OOOO to this really big horn. And the boat pulled out. I was so stunned that it never happened. We both worked all over the world and places really remote, and we’d always find a way to connect with each other. And suddenly I heard my name called, I heard that, I heard the captain say, is there a Mrs. Parry aboard? And I thought, oh, well, Danaan must be leaving a message of where to meet him, so they asked me to go to the second mate’s office and another deck officer came along and said, come with me. He took me down into the, the lower deck of the ferry where there was the only walkie talkie, because that was a long time ago before cell phones. And they put the walkie talkie in my hand, and it was the Bainbridge Police Department telling me, we’ve got your husband.
[00:23:44] (JERILYN) There was this huge amount of noise in the background. The officer was yelling into the phone, we’ve got your husband. We’re going to try we’re going to try to airlift him to Harborview. Click.
(JERILYN) So, I didn’t know what had happened. My husband had had a massive heart attack in the walkway onto the ferry. Unfortunately, he had been found by that lovely woman, Nancy, I was talking to, and they tried for 10 hours to save him and that was not successful.
(JERILYN) So, it was very important to me. Integrating a tremendous loss to move forward. And so, they everyone is so kind. The travel agency, everyone rearranged everything so that we could have a memorial service in Seattle and then leave. That’s how we launched our first citizen diplomacy tree planting visit in Vietnam in November of 1996, we planted more than 2000 trees. Almost every tree was planted in honor of a donor or someone who had lost a member, and we had scrolls of names and out over this whole area that had been cleared, which was just bare ground and the sky and the lake down below, we had readers reading the scrolls of names out over this huge area. We had many veterans with us who were deeply, deeply moved by the planting and the trees.
[00:25:55] (HOST) And the place where you’re planting all the trees is the place you had cleared of UXO, the 18 acres you referred to.
(JERILYN) That’s a whole that’s, that’s our purpose, was to clear the land. And then bringing the former adversaries together to plant those trees on the safely cleared land, you know, is a giant step forward in peace making.
(HOST) And this may seem like a really mechanical question, but I’m curious, where does one get 2000 trees?
(JERILYN) Well, the Department of Forestry in Quang Tri Province, they were growing them that whole year. We launched the project in January, so it was planned out and it was incredible. They came in trucks, they came on backs of motorbikes, it was a beautiful scene to see those trees planted.
(HOST) That’s amazing. And so just from MOU to tree number 2000, what was the time span of that?
(JERILYN) 10 months.
(HOST) 10 months. That feels incredibly quick to me. How did you marshal all of those external resources and get the job done in months?
[00:27:09] (JERILYN) I think it was all the miracle of the beginning.
(HOST) So, Peace Trees Vietnam is off to a quick start.
(JERILYN) It was incredible.
(HOST) Can you talk a little bit about where the organization is today?
(JERILYN) Peace Trees Vietnam has just celebrated our 25th anniversary. I will just express my own gratitude for our organization. We have the most extraordinary staff. Three are in Seattle. One is in London. Our on the ground team in Vietnam, our country director is now a lovely woman named Ha, who has been with us for 16 years. What was our small office is now 15 because our programs have grown. We started with two deminers in 1996. We now have one hundred and ninety Vietnamese deminers who are all trained to the highest levels of the United Nations Humanitarian demining standards of safety for training. And they clear between 150 and 200 pieces of live ordinance every week. Every week.
(HOST) All these years later, there’s still that much to be uncovered.
(JERILYN) Yes, yes, in fact, we’re very excited to tell you that in all these years of country province, twenty-five years in Quang Tri, we were invited to begin a second demining operation in Quang Binh Province, which is the next province to the north. Quang Binh is north of the DMZ. So, there was not ground fighting in Quang Binh, but tremendous aerial activity. We have now been operational in Quang Binh Province for approximately two months. We’re starting our mine risk education to prevent accidents for children. That’s one of the most important parts of our work. Support of landmine survivor fami-, families who have survived an explosive ordnance disposal accident. We now have a system where the Vietnamese it’s, it’s if you see something, say something system, because ordnance is everywhere, it’s in ditches, it’s on roadways, it’s in schoolyards, it’s underneath people’s houses. So, when they go dig, they come upon things like five-hundred-pound bombs. Two weeks ago, in Quang Binh Province, our new province, there was a call in. Something had been seen near this soccer field where the kids were playing soccer. Our team went out and discovered right at the edge of this field. Something like 50 bombees, which are the most dangerous. They have a death zone of 30 meters when they’re dropped and they came out of the aerial bombings, the huge bomb would open and these small bombs, about the size of a tennis ball would be peppered around the area. They were designed to have three turns, one, two, three, detonation. Approximately 30 percent of those bombees, cluster bombs, as they’re known, did not go off on impact.
[00:30:33] (JERILYN) So you can imagine the danger that those are and they found this cache, I mean, this huge almost like a container. It was like in the side of a pile of dirt right on the edge of this soccer field. Fifty of those would have… well, that would have been a tragedy.
(JERILYN) In Quang Tri, also in Quang Binh, the problem every morning is still the same problem, landmines and bombs. Is it safe to farm our land? In most cases, no. We take several trips each year, I think we’ve taken about seventy-two trips so far. It’s quite amazing. Veterans, people who oppose the war, scholars, university students, Gold Star Families, sisters, like me, high school classes from all walks of life, people have come in our citizen diplomacy program. And the purpose is to give them the experience of connecting with the Vietnamese people and learning their life in the aftermath of war and seeing what they’re seeing firsthand, we can do this.
(JERILYN) Two years ago, my brother’s fiancée, Gale Garcelon, beloved Gale, is like my younger sister. She stayed very close to our family for all of these years and she called me one day from Dallas and said, I’m ready to go to Vietnam.
[00:32:09] (JERILYN) I want to be in Vietnam. On the fiftieth anniversary of the day, Dan was shot down. And I want to do a memorial at the site. And I said, absolutely. So, her brother. His partner, her closest friend and myself and two helicopter pilots were on this small mission. It took us one year to plan. And the important piece I’d like to share with you about this is that our Vietnamese partners in Hanoi with the Union of Friendship Organizations is a part of the prime minister’s pillars of peace. The Vietnam unit of friendship organizations, and they are our direct partner in the central government. When I wrote them that Gale was coming, my brother’s fiancee was coming and her family, they said, we must meet her. We must meet her. Please bring them. And they invited three daughters of North Vietnamese pilots who were shot down and lost in war time, and one woman who is the wife of a pilot who was shot down in wartime when her baby was three months old. And then several surviving pilots and we were around this giant oblong table, for like, between three and four hours. And every person at that table told their story. Every person at the table, there were tears, there were difficult moments… and it was in my lifetime, that is the most profound experience I have witnessed between former adversaries. I will never forget that day.
[00:34:20] (HOST) That was Jerilyn Brusseau. She, along with her late husband, Danaan Parry,
founded Peace Trees Vietnam, which you can learn more about by visiting peacetreesvietnam.org/.
[00:35:01] (HOST) Thanks for checking out the official podcast from the founders of The Wall in Washington, D.C. We publish a new episode every two weeks. So, be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like it, why not share it with a friend who would like it as well.
Full Interview with Jerilyn Brusseau
- The Wall of Faces: Lt Daniel Cheney – https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/8874/DANIEL-B-CHENEY/
- The Wall of Faces: Lt Daniel Cheney’s co-pilot, Walter N Koslosky – https://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/28698/WALTER-N-KOSLOSKY/
- VVMF In Memory Program – vvmf.org/in-memory-program
- Peace Trees Vietnam – https://www.peacetreesvietnam.org/
- The Wall That Heals – https://www.vvmf.org/The-Wall-That-Heals/
- Full Interview with Jerilyn Brusseau – https://youtu.be/gz5Hrq0to-I
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl