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Unexpected Embrace

By Trisha Coder

For 10 Whitworth students, the 2019 Jan Term program in Vietnam offered a rare chance to learn about one of the most infamous wars in America's history. For the Whitworth alum and Vietnam veteran who accompanied them, the trip offered a chance to heal tormenting wounds.

Professor of History Dale Soden, who led the program, asked alumnus Tim Lickness '73 to accompany the class. Lickness had served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. During the war, he was the platoon leader for the elite Screaming Eagles paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division. On June 15, 1968, he witnessed the deaths of all eight members of his squad. The Jan Term program was his first return to the country since the war.

On this trip, Lickness spoke with two Vietnamese veterans, one of whom had written a book about the war and shared it with the group.

"You don't get the chance obviously every day to see two people who had been at war with one another and were trying to kill one another sit down, hear each other's stories, and then shake hands and embrace," Soden says. "It was very, very moving."

While the meetings brought Lickness a sense of peace, he says an unexpected conversation the third day of the trip changed his life. For years, he'd been asking God to take away his nightmares so he could sleep.

"I felt an encounter with God," Lickness says. "He said, 'You know, Tim, I understand what you're asking for, but you're praying for the wrong thing.' Just like a father would counsel his son. It was really gentle. And he said, 'You don't need to confront your demons. You need to confront me. We need to have a conversation, so let's just spend the next two weeks talking to each other.'" They did. That night, Lickness slept soundly, as he has every night since.

What was going through my mind at this time was that we really understood each other. And that there is a brotherhood of soldiers here.  - Tim Lickness '73

Business management major Brian Hann '19, also a veteran, was deeply moved by Lickness' experiences, but his goals for the program were different. He wanted to learn about the tactics and strategies Vietnamese soldiers used during the battles and about their personal experiences during the war.

Locales the class visited included the village of My Lai, where U.S. Army soldiers killed 500 South Vietnamese villagers, and the War Remnants Museum, where foreign journalists filmed the effects of Agent Orange. As troubling as these sites were for Hann, he gained new insights and understanding.

"I have a lot of respect for the Vietnamese," he says. "Growing up, I viewed Vietnam just as a Third World country. But that's not the case at all. Their work ethic is amazing. They'll make a product for a quarter of the price and make it twice as good [as the United States] – that's unbelievable. I think they're in the midst of an industrial revolution."

Lauren McGeorge '20, an accounting and finance major, was moved by the people she met. "When we landed in Hanoi, it was amazing how welcomed we all were," she says. "Even our tour guide invited us into his home. We got to meet his kids."

The students say they'll never forget their experiences in Vietnam, and they credit Soden for creating such a memorable study program. "He was always asking us what we were thinking and wanting to know what we were feeling," McGeorge says.

"He did a great job explaining each place we were and making sure we understood the significance of each place," Hann says.

They also know that not many college students get such an opportunity. "Whitworth really challenges you," McGeorge says. "That's what this entire trip was about. 'You know what [Vietnam] is, but now look at it from what these people saw and what they went through.'"

Both Hann and McGeorge would love to return to Vietnam someday. Soden plans to retire in a few years and says this may have been his last trip. As for Lickness, he found what he needed to find and says he won't return. Instead, he's looking forward to the many vacations he plans to take with his wife where he can enjoy life and sleep well.

This story appears in the spring 2019 issue of Whitworth Today magazine.

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