Veterans return to Vietnam

A group of Gila Valley veterans pose for a photo on China Beach, Danang, Vietnam, considered to be Vietnam’s most picturesque beach, named by the American troops who visited during the Vietnam War for R&R (rest and relaxtion). Pictured are, from left, Steve Oller, Ray Thiessen, Bailey Stauffer, Claude Kupchanko, Robert and Danielle Morando, and Brando and Janet Quinn.

SAFFORD — Brando Quinn, of Brando’s Fun N’ Sun Travel & Cruise, and Janet Quinn, of Trophies ‘N Tees, were recently invited by China Tours to visit Vietnam on a 10-day, four-city tour.

“As soon as I got the invitation from China Tours, I contacted Steve Oller, commander of the Safford Post of the American Legion, and invited any veterans who had served during the Vietnam War to join us on this adventure,” Brando said.

The response was positive, and soon the couple were joined by Oller, Ray Thiessen, Bailey Stauffer, Claude Kupchanko and Robert and Danielle Morando, who had all served during the conflict.

The trip departed from Sky Harbor Airport on Oct. 17, 2018, and the group soon landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The following day, they toured Saigon, visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Post Office, People’s Committee Hall and more.

“We were then treated to an unexpected visit to the Chu Chi Tunnels tour,” Kupchanko said.

The Chu Chi Tunnels are now part of a museum outside Ho Chi Minh City. They offer visitors a sneak peek at the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers. The site has more than 120 kilometers of underground tunnels, with trap doors, living areas, kitchens, storage facilities, armory, hospitals and command centers.

“I was very impressed with the museum area and our tour guides, who explained very well the type of warfare that took place in this area in which I had served during the Vietnam War,” Stauffer said.

The group then toured through Hoi An, Danang, the East Sea, Hai Van Pass and Lang Co Beach.

“Our tour guides from China Tours knew their areas of expertise and spoke fluent English as well as their native Vietnamese tongue. They made the tour through the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace under the Nguyen Dynasty very interesting,” Janet said.

The group was then given a boat ride by local fishermen in handmade bamboo boats along the Perfume River to Thuy Bieu, the village of the Mandarins, where they then got to ride a water buffalo in the rice paddies, were instructed by a local farmer on growing conditions for fruits and vegetables, and even got to try their hand at net-fishing on the river.

The travelers then boarded a cruise ship and sailed throughout Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has more than 3,000 limestone islands filled with wildlife, grand rock formations and quaint floating fishing villages. The group got to experience top chef cooking demonstrations, paddle on local fishermen’s boats or kayaks and were even able to take a swim in the warm waters of the East China Sea.

“We took a side tour onto one of the islands and visited a cave area, now turned into a museum, which has been a shelter for thousands of years for fishermen and seamen who needed to escape bad weather conditions in the China Sea,” Bob Morando said.

The adventure wrapped up with a rickshaw ride through Hanoi, a city that celebrated its 1,000th year of existence in 2010. Many of the group also visited the infamous Hanoi Hilton, the notorious prison where the late U.S. Sen. John McCain was held prisoner during the conflict.

“The prison, which is now a museum, detailed the conditions of the prisoners and even had a section dedicated to Senator McCain. I was very impressed and profoundly affected by the stories written on the walls and the pictures of our service members, many of whom did not survive,” Oller said.

On Oct. 25, 2018, the group headed back to Phoenix and arrived exhausted from the 20-hour flight.

“China Tours really gave use a South, Central and North Vietnam Highlights tour that will not soon be forgotten. We were treated to 5-star hotels, top-notch tour guides and tours and 5-star authentic Vietnamese cuisine the entire 10 days we were there,” Thiessen said.

“I can’t thank China Tours enough, and the Graham County Vietnam veterans who served our country faithfully during the war years for coming on this epic adventure with Janet and I. They made the trip an amazing event, and we will be forever grateful for their service,” Brando said.

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