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Service & Sacrifice: 5 years after a return to Vietnam

New peace. New friends. And a war veteran facing a new fight five years after his return journey to Vietnam.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Vietnam veteran Frank Vollmer returned to that country for the first time in almost 50 years back in 2017 seeking “new peace of mind.”  It is something he said he found during that trip, helping him sleep through the night for the first time in decades, and it sparked lasting changes that have stuck with him five years later.

“I (still) have nightmares, but it’s to a lesser extent,” said Vollmer, who is open about suffering from post-traumatic stress, in reflecting on his experiences across almost a week of travel back to a country he first saw at war.

Credit: John Becker
Vietnam veteran Frank Vollmer

“The trip back meant that we met new friends from her travels as well as meeting new veterans who later became close friends,” said Vollmer.

The Air Force veteran was among a group of almost two dozen veterans who made the trip and were the focus of the WBIR-TV documentary Facing Ghosts:  Return to Vietnam.  Among the veterans who made that trip was helicopter instructor Howard Shoudy.  A man known as "scientific grampa" died in November 2020  but in this story, we reveal his “goosebump moment” on that return trip to Vietnam in a hotel lobby in Ho Chi Minh City.

Credit: John Becker
Vietnam veteran Frank Vollmer on top of "Monkey Mountain" on a return trip to Da Nang in 2017.

At age 75, Frank Vollmer now faces a new fight, revealing in our recent interview that he is suffering from dementia. 

With some prompting, he can recall his childhood friend killed in Vietnam, an event that drove Vollmer to volunteer for combat duty. But he offered this parting observation near the end of our conversation about his return to Vietnam.

“Parts of the trip have melted away.”

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