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Understanding Forgiveness


by
Geneva Maria Escobedo

            I never attended my cousin’s funeral. I was a freshman in college when I heard the shocking news.  Raymond Palma was killed eight days after he arrived in Vietnam and he was only 18.  I did not attend the funeral so that I could take care of my father and four brothers while mom went to support her older sister in California.  
Thirty years after his death, I finally found closure.  It took a physical and emotional journey that changed me in ways I could never imagine.  My inner voice called for me to go to Vietnam to honor him.  I’m glad I listened to it.            
I was raised in a traditional Mexican-American Catholic home.  During my childhood and adolescence, my parents, extended family and religious education teachers shared their views on forgiveness.  I would practice what I was taught by forgiving my brothers for yanking my hair (after they apologized) or for calling me deplorable names.  As an adult, I have come to believe that we have the human capacity to forgive anything if we don’t allow our egos to get in the way, and if we want to maintain good relationships with our loved ones, regardless of their shortcomings.  Little did I know that the lessons of forgiveness would resurface during my time in Vietnam.  
My friends and colleagues were surprised when I informed them that I was embarking on a two-week journey with a group called Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans.  “Of all the places you could travel to, why Vietnam?” they asked.  I told them that I wanted to honor my cousin, and I was interested in experiencing a country and culture I knew nothing about.  For too long I thought of Vietnam as a war, not a country.  I wanted to change that image.  
             Raymond’s death impacted our family in many ways.  Some of his siblings have held on to the sadness and still find it difficult to forgive.  It was important for me to visit the place where he died, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam.  I had the opportunity to honor him through humanitarian projects and by sharing with others what he meant to me.
My fellow travelers included the President of Tours of Peace Vietnam Veterans (a veteran and personal friend), a psychologist, two veterans, three daughters of Vietnam veterans and the wife of one of the veterans.  As I began the journey, I contemplated how a returning veteran would deal with forgiveness.  How could he forgive himself and his enemies for taking lives in battle?  Could he share the horror and sorrow of war with us?  How could he reveal what had been buried deep inside for so many years?  Was it possible for him to become whole and at peace? 

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