Finding Peace in Vietnam

How kayaking through Vietnam changed one writer’s life

by Jan Goodwin
A Vietnamese junk navigates Ha Long Bay, which is known for its majestic seascape.
Photograph: Photo: Harf Zimmerman

More about Kim McClusky and Jean Gendreau
Kim grew up in inner city Detroit, where there were also few opportunities for him. It was anger that first brought him to Vietnam as an 18-year-old Marine in 1965. He’d been a gang member before enlisting, going nowhere fast. “I knew nothing about Vietnam. I didn’t even know where it was,” he told me. 
    A sharpshooter based in the Demilitarized Zone, which experienced some of the heaviest fighting of the war, Kim saw most of his platoon killed. “Fifteen percent of them came back,” he says. Wounded, he returned home with a Purple Heart, a presidential citation, and Post-Traumatic Stress, to a Sixties world that hated “GI baby-killers.” He also brought with him a conviction that the war was unjust.
    Jeanie, who holds degrees in linguistics and nursing but has been a university science writer most of her career, takes up his story. “After the Vietnam war, Kim went from being a hippie living on a commune, abusing alcohol and using LSD, to the deeply compassionate, educated man he is today," she says. "The spiritual growth in this man has been amazing." —J.G.

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