Neil heads back to Vietnam with a different mission
“It takes a little bit of effort on your part, but means a lot to them. Those are the things that count. If people do more of these things I think it could be a better place, but people are just too caught up with themselves.” -Neil Hannan
By Dirck Rosenkrans Hawknews Writer It had been over 40 years since Neil Hannan had rescued a young Vietnamese girl Son from an almost certain death on his first patrol in Vietnam in late February, 1968. Now he would be reunited with her through chance after returning to the same spot he found her. Neil said he found her “living in squalor and malnourished.” So he decided to help. Neil was born in the small town of Versailles, Ohio, and was raised by his mom. When he turned 18 he could have had his college paid for by his dad, but instead he joined the Army and entered active duty upon high-school graduation. He was sent to Georgia for basic training and then to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for advanced infantry training. By that December, before he was even 19, he had orders for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Vietnam. He arrived in Chu Lai and was soon sent to Landing Zone (LZ) Colt , a “small LZ that was overrun all the time,” where he joined Company A 3/21 Infantry. On his first day he went out on a patrol with just two other guys. They took a prisoner that seemed harmless at first until they turned their backs and he tried to put a knife into Neil's comrade's back. Then they were walking down a small path when they came across a small hooch. In the hooch was a small girl and her mother, and the small girl had lost her left foot to a mortar round. There was a rag around her foot that was “oozing and stunk.” So he got permission from the mother, via nods, to take her back to the LZ on his back. He got chewed out for bringing in a "wounded gook," but they had to take her. The next day they moved out from the security of LZ Colt "into the field,” where they immediately went up against a battalion of NVA. Engaged in day-to-day combat in the field for the next seven months in Vietnam's I Corp, he never learned of the little girl’s fate. In 2010 Neil decided to return Vietnam through Global Spectrum, an organization that returns veterans to Vietnam to visit the places they once fought. He did not go back specifically to find Son, but put LZ Colt on the list of places he wanted to go. The place had changed a lot since he had been there. Before there was no road, electricity or anything. While he was in the LZ Colt area he asked his guide if they could ask around for Son. The guide looked at him like he was “out of his mind.” So they went and talked to the village elders, and a few people fit the description. Only one was a good match and hadn't moved out of the area. They walked down a path, and there was a girl sitting on the floor with a missing foot, but that didn't guarantee that it was the right person. So the guide asked some very open questions of the girl's mother and uncle, to which they responded. It was, without question, the same girl he had saved from almost certain death that day many years ago. In addition to her missing limb, Son and her mother were living in squalor, even by Vietnamese standards. They were both living on only about $7.50 each month. They had no running water and started a fire everyday to cook. Neil felt good for finding her, but sad about her situation. So he decided to help. Through Global Community Service Foundation, a humanitarian arm of Global Spectrum, he started raising funds. Neil manages the account where all the funds are deposited and withdrawn from and knows exactly what goes in and approves any plans. Food is a necessity. After Son's child died of brain cancer, she became stressed and had high blood pressure. She also suffered from a stroke not long before they got there. Because of the medical issues involved, Neil had Son sent to Danang to get checked out mentally and physically. She spent three months there in 2011 and returned home from a semi-annual checkup. “What she really needs is some pride back. She has lived a life of misery.” So they bought her a TV to stimulate her mind, installed new electric wiring, built a chicken coop, constructed a shower and bathroom, and built a house addition, a well, and some handrails. With the home improvement work done, the focus is now on food, medicine, and semi-annual checkups to DaNang. Sixty dollars covers food for the both of them for a month, which is only a dollar a day for food. Neil hopes to return in the future, maybe even as soon as this fall. His efforts to raise funds to ensure the continuation of Son's progress continues. What Neil has done for Son is an act of pure graciousness. He could have just left her there that first day to die. Or when he returned there to find her living in horrible conditions, he could have just walked away and never thought of her again. But, instead he helped her. Not once, but twice.