Dean Phillips, the 54-year-old U.S. Representative from Minnesota, has recently journeyed to Vietnam on a personal mission to gain further insight into his father and the time he spent in that Southeast Asian country.
Phillips’ goal of visiting Vietnam was to reconnect with the memories of his deceased father, whom he had never had the chance to know. At just six months old, his father had passed away, leaving Phillips feeling robbed of a chance to build a relationship with him.
The trip was meticulously coordinated by Le Cong Tien, deputy head of the Americas Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dean Phillips (R), US Representative for Minnesota’s 3rd congressional district, warmly shook hands with Le Cong Tien, deputy head of the Americas Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as soon as he arrived at the Pleiku Airport in Gia Lai, a province located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Both men were captured in a photo taken by Nguyen Khanh and published by Tuoi Tre newspaper.
|Dean Phillips (R) shakes hands with Le Cong Tien, deputy head of the Americas Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after landing at Pleiku Airport in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
So far, Phillips and his team have spent time cycling and exploring Vietnam’s northern provinces, where they have had the opportunity to experience the extreme warmth, friendliness, and hospitality of the local people. They have been deeply touched by the kindness and generosity of those they have encountered on their journey.
Following his time in the North, Phillips visited Pleiku City in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai to gain further insight into his father, Atur Pfefer, a U.S. Marine who had tragically passed away on the Ham Rong Mountain in Pleiku on July 25, 1969.
Though Phillips never had the chance to meet his father, his grandmother regularly displayed pictures and relayed tales to him about his father.
Atur Pfefer (C), the father of Dean Phillips, is seen in a file photo. Dean Phillips developed the photo and brought it to Vietnam. The image, captured by Nguyen Khanh and published by Tuoi Tre, shows Atur Pfefer proudly posing for the camera. The photo serves as a reminder of the strong bond between Dean Phillips and his father.
|Atur Pfefer (C), the father of Dean Phillips, in a file photo. Phillips developed the photo and brought it to Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
“At the time, I knew that I would never meet him,” Phillips said while standing on Ham Rong Mountain near the site where his father’s helicopter crashed. “My mission now is to learn about my father and the country where he died.”
I want to learn about his journey and missions during that time. I want to go to the place where he passed away, take in the scent of the earth, and be immersed in the stories so that I never forget them.
With tears in his eyes, Phillips shared that he was only six months old when his father died and, though he never had the chance to meet him, he was able to forge a bond through recovered audio recordings.
“I still remember the first time I heard my dad’s voice on the recordings,” Phillips recalled with a hint of nostalgia. “That was the most memorable moment of my life.”
In the recordings sent to my mom before he passed away, my dad shared his memories of his time in Vietnam. He also mentioned taking photos with his friends in Pleiku, a city in the south-central part of the country.
Listening to my dad’s voice was like a miracle prodding me to visit Vietnam. The thought of reconnecting with my roots, and finally being able to experience the culture and history of my family’s homeland, filled me with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to explore the country and immerse myself in its wonders.
A Heartfelt Gratitude to Vietnam
As the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two, it is important to recognize and show appreciation for the immense contribution of Vietnam to the Allied victory. Vietnam was the site of some of the most brutal battles of the war and its citizens endured years of hardship and suffering in the fight for freedom.
The courage and resilience of the people of Vietnam was an inspiration to the Allied forces and their sacrifices helped to bring an end to the conflict. The legacy of Vietnam’s contribution to the war effort continues to this day and is a testament to the strength of the nation.
It is only right that we take a moment to remember and reflect on the hardships faced by the people of Vietnam during the war, and to express our gratitude for their bravery and determination in the struggle for freedom. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Vietnam for their sacrifice and dedication, which helped to secure peace and prosperity for generations to come.
Let us honor the memory of the heroes of Vietnam, and the courage and resilience of its citizens, by expressing our heartfelt gratitude to the people of Vietnam for their unwavering commitment to peace and justice.
With the assistance of two Vietnamese-born friends, local agencies in Vietnam, and the Gia Lai authorities, Phillips’ team was able to embark on a journey to Ham Rong Mountain in order to retrace the steps of his father. By doing so, they were able to gain an even greater understanding of the events that occurred during his father’s time in Vietnam.
Upon reaching the mountain, Phillips encountered Pyek Rocham, a 61-year-old local resident, and was able to point out the exact location of his father’s accident.
Though Rocham did not witness the crash of Phillips’ father, he was still keenly aware of the incident and visited the crash site several days later.
Dean Phillips (L) meets Pyek Rocham, who visited the site where Phillips’ father’s helicopter crashed in 1969. The photo, taken by Nguyen Khanh for Tuoi Tre, captures the moment when the two men are shaking hands. This event brings closure to Phillips’ family, who had been searching for answers for over 50 years.
|Dean Phillips (L) meets Pyek Rocham, who visited the site where Phillips’ father’s helicopter crashed in 1969. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips holds a cherished reminder of his father: a watch that belonged to his dad. It was on July 25, 1969, that his father, along with seven other U.S. soldiers, lost their lives in a tragic accident. The UH-1H helicopter they were in crashed into Ham Rong Mountain at 8:40 a.m. In memory of his father, Dean cherishes the watch, seen in the photo taken by Nguyen Khanh for Tuoi Tre.
|Dean Phillips holds a watch which belonged to his father, who died with seven other U.S. soldiers after their UH-1H helicopter crashed into Ham Rong Mountain at 8:40 am on July 25, 1969. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Pyek Rocham showed Dean Phillips the site of the accident, with a photo taken by Nguyen Khanh of Tuoi Tre.
|Pyek Rocham shows Dean Phillips the site of the accident. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
The day was spent with Rocham guiding Phillips and his team to the crash site, where the U.S. Congressman had buried photos of himself, his family, his mother, and his older brother.
It was an extraordinary sight to behold, as they walked across the barren terrain to the spot where the photos had been hidden. As the group neared the crash site, they could feel the emotion in the air. Each person’s heart raced as they imagined the memories that the Congressman had been trying to preserve.
Once the photos were unearthed, the team was filled with joy. It was a special moment for all of them, knowing that they had been a part of something so meaningful.
As they shared stories of the Congressman and his family, it was clear that the whole experience had been a powerful reminder of the importance of preserving one’s history. It was a priceless moment that none of them would ever forget.
Family photos and a badge symbolizing unity are buried here with my dad,” Phillips said, his voice choked with emotion. “My family and I will always be by his side now.”
In attendance at the brief, mountainside ceremony was Hollywood star Woody Harrelson, who became acquainted with the Congressman eight years ago and eagerly agreed to accompany him on the trip.
“I am deeply touched to accompany him on his journey to uncover his father’s recollections,” Harrelson declared.
Dean Phillips arrived at the site of his father’s helicopter crash in 1969, and a photo captured the moment. Nguyen Khanh from Tuoi Tre snapped the image, which shows a solemn Phillips surrounded by the wreckage of the crash. It’s a haunting reminder of the tragic event that changed his life forever.
|Dean Phillips arrives at the site where his father’s helicopter crashed in 1969. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips holds a sunflower branch to commemorate his father as he reflects on the importance of reconciliation between two countries. “I think the two countries will show the world the power of friendship, of protecting lives instead of taking lives, and of respecting each other’s political systems,” he says. This powerful moment is captured in the photo above, taken by Nguyen Khanh of Tuoi Tre.
|Dean Phillips holds a sunflower branch to commemorate his father. “I think the two countries will show the whole world the meaning of reconciliation, making friends, and protecting lives, not taking lives, the respect for different political systems, and the respect for each other.” Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips lovingly placed some cherished photos of his family underneath a coffee tree on Ham Rong Mountain. The special moment was captured on camera by Nguyen Khanh of Tuoi Tre, showing the profound connection Dean has with his loved ones.
|Dean Phillips buries some photos of his family under a coffee tree on Ham Rong Mountain. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips (R) and actor Woody Harrelson embraced each other in a warm embrace. The image, captured by Nguyen Khanh of Tuoi Tre, captured the moment perfectly. It was a moment of genuine friendship and admiration between the two, radiating out from their hug.
|Dean Phillips (R) and actor Woody Harrelson embrace each other. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Before leaving the mountain, Phillips took a handful of soil to bring back to his mother as a token of appreciation. He then said a heartfelt “thank you” to his U.S. friends, his new Vietnamese friends, and the journalists who had accompanied him on his journey.
“This may be the most significant moment of my life,” Phillips declared. “As you are aware, my father and his comrades who perished in 1969, as well as other American and Vietnamese servicemen, all had families, siblings, and children like me.”
We share the same emotions and endure the anguish inflicted by wars. We are committed to serving and loving our nations, yet no one likes war.
I can relate to and comprehend what he experienced during the war in Vietnam. I cherish peace and have a deep admiration for Vietnam, and I am sure that you feel the same way.
You are well aware, perhaps better than anyone else, that you have fought for peace and freedom from generation to generation.
My current mission is to remind Americans of the Vietnam War and its lasting implications. The conflict in Vietnam was a complex and devastating event that continues to shape our global landscape today. While the country has since moved on, the Vietnam War left an indelible mark on the lives of those who lived through it, as well as those who have come after. It is essential that we remember this history and reflect on the lessons it can teach us about the power of peace, justice, and understanding.
Everyone deserves to live in freedom and autonomy. All of us should have the right to make our own choices and live our lives without interference from others. We should be able to express ourselves and enjoy the rights and liberties that come with living in a free society. Everyone should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, to create a better future, and to live a life of independence and dignity.
This is the first and most important thing I will tell my family and friends in the United States: We must fight for freedom. We must stand up against injustice and defend our right to choose our own destiny. We must never give up hope, no matter how difficult things may seem. Let us take action and strive for a better future for ourselves and those around us. Together, we can create a brighter tomorrow.
Dean Phillips clutched a handful of soil from the battleground where his father had perished, determined to bring it back to the United States. The image of him carrying the soil is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by servicemen and women around the world. For Phillips, this handful of soil is a tangible connection to his father and all those who have given their lives in the line of duty.
|Dean Phillips takes a handful of soil from where his father died to bring to the U.S.. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips (R) and acclaimed actor Woody Harrelson recently reunited at the site where Dean’s father perished in 1969. Both men posed for a photo, which was captured by photographer Nguyen Khanh and published by Tuoi Tre. The moment was bittersweet, as it marked a solemn reminder of the tragedy that occurred in Dean’s life years ago. Nevertheless, it was a touching moment for both men and a powerful statement of how far Dean has come.
|Dean Phillips (R) and actor Woody Harrelson pose for a photo at the site where the former’s father died in 1969. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips expressed his sincere thanks to two Vietnamese friends who had joined him on his trip to Vietnam. A picture of the trio, taken by Nguyen Khanh of Tuoi Tre, captured the moment of gratitude and friendship.
The photo shows Dean and his two friends smiling and sharing a warm embrace. Dean’s eyes are filled with appreciation and admiration, and his friends’ faces beaming with joy. It’s a beautiful reminder of the power of friendship and how it can transcend cultural boundaries.
This touching image is a testament to the unbreakable bond between Dean and his two Vietnamese friends. It’s a reminder of how meaningful connections can be made through travel, and how these relationships can last a lifetime.
|Dean Phillips expresses his heartfelt gratitude to two Vietnamese friends who accompanied him on his trip to Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Dean Phillips embraces Vietnamese fashion designer Thuy Nguyen with enthusiasm and appreciation for her support during his visit to Vietnam. Dean Phillips is seen here in a heartfelt hug with Thuy Nguyen, a Vietnamese fashion designer who offered him her enthusiastic support during his stay in Vietnam. Photograph by Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre.
|Dean Phillips hugs Vietnamese fashion designer Thuy Nguyen, who enthusiastically supported him during his time in Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre