Earlier this year in a bar in Vietnam, Rod Harlor, Peter Safe and Vo Xuan Thu all sat together laughing, joking, and enjoying each other’s company over a few beers. They have big plans on their minds and are really excited about seeing them through.
But these men weren’t always on such friendly and non-formal terms. Forty-three years ago they were on opposing sides of the Vietnam War.
Harlor and Safe were Australian soldiers fighting against Thu and the North Vietnamese Army.
Though Harlor and Safe never met Thu on the battlefield, in the event they had, they were prepared to shoot at one another.
“I carried a pack weighing about 20 kilograms and all my weapons and ammunition,” Thu said of the war to ABC. “The weather was very severe … the days were hot and the nights were cold.”
Regarding the toll the war took on his side, Thu says he still remembers the people he lost.
“Sometimes when we reached our camp we only had 60-70 per cent of our men [left],” says Thu. “During the war, we were ready to die for one another…”
“I have never forgotten my comrades who fell.”
For Harlor and Safe, they refused to let the war efforts completely get in the way of their humanitarian interests. Safe especially commented on how he and his fellow soldiers tried to help as many people as they could.
“We were respected because we treated them as people,” Safe shared. “The soldiers we captured, [if] wounded, would… be treated by our doctors… and we always buried their dead respectably.”
With the three men making it out of the war alive, shifting back to civilian life was a strange and sobering transition. Continuing on, they all shared the common interest of doing something that would help the world as a whole.
It was these thoughts that would lead to them coming together.
In August of 2016, Harlor and Safe would meet Thu at a dinner for war veterans, which was held in Vung Tau. With no animosity held over from the war days, from there a strong friendship began to blossom.
Keeping in contact with one another, one day Thu approached Harlor and Safe with an idea he had. It was about starting a veterans club built around unity and bonds.
“Mr Thu came here one day with these booklets and showed us — it’s very well put together too — accommodation, bars and restaurants,” says Rod. “The whole concept is about friendship between the two nations.”
Harlor and Safe were intrigued by the idea and decided to join in on making it a reality. They meet in the aforementioned bar to discuss the progress.
The club is currently in its final stages of planning.
As for Harlor, Safe and Thu, shifting their interests to something that will be productive for many people has been a welcome change of pace. Grateful for each other’s friendship, they are looking to the future thankful that they’re going to do some good for the world.
“We would greet each other with guns and bullets but now, after all these years, we greet each other with a glass of beer,” Thu went on to say.