Combat veteran Jim Kessi is hoping that by returning to Vietnam - where most everyone in his battalion was either wounded or killed - he can exorcise the demons that still haunt him after 20 years.
"Whenever I think of Vietnam I get real sad for the people who were killed uselessly, both Vietnamese and American," said Kessi."If I go back and actually see the territory again - that it is different, that there isn't that big a bogeyman out there that will cause the same thing to happen for my sons, maybe I can come to peace with it."
Kessi, 43, seven other veterans, two group therapists and a documentary film crew were to leave Wednesday night for Vietnam. The veterans will spend three weeks traveling through the country and undergoing intensive psychiatric therapy.
Kessi said guilt was a big problem when his one-year Army tour was over.
"My first month in the field, my best friend from training drowned with six other guys" while patrolling a river in Vietnam, Kessi said. "When I got back 12 months later, I think I was the only guy out of 18 guys signed to my battalion with me who wasn't injured or dead."
Upon his return in January 1969, Kessi buried his memories and built a succession of businesses, dabbling in construction, real estate and commodities.
"I could build up something, do real well, and then destroy it. Out of guilt," he said. "I'm not supposed to be good. Why did I survive and nobody else did?"
Perhaps he will find some answers in Hanoi, the group's first stop. From there, they will go through several other cities, mostly by bus, ending up in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. They also will visit the sites of some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including Da Nang and the Mekong Delta area. Plans also include meetings with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army veterans.