Duncan man helps veterans find peace by taking them back to Vietnam

Duncan man helps veterans find peace by taking them back to Vietnam

DUNCAN, Okla. (TNN) - A Duncan Navy veteran has spent the last 20 years taking veterans back to Vietnam to help them find peace. Because of that, he’ll be featured in an upcoming documentary “Back to China Beach”.

Duncan resident Ronnie Ratliff served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. He was injured in battle and faced several problems upon returning home. He’s spent the last 20 years trying to get over those problems, helping hundreds of fellow veterans along the way.

“I had a real struggle after I came home from Vietnam and I couldn’t find the right answer for it. I felt like my country didn’t care about us. I came back and I was hurt, my friends were hurt, and it just seemed like no cared. In fact, it seemed like they blamed us for the war,” Ratliff said.

Ratliff turned to the VA for answers but was only offered medication.

“They didn’t really have the answers. And this preacher told me if you’re having a struggle with your life, the best thing to do is help someone who’s having more of a struggle than you are,” Ratliff said.

Ratliff took that to heart and began helping Vietnamese people in Dallas, where he lived.

“They needed help getting papers done because they didn’t speak English well or they needed help getting enrolled in school. Just little things like could help them so much. I started off with that and someone asked me to go to Vietnam and help out their families over there. I didn’t want to go. I kept saying that’s the last place in the world I want to go back to,” Ratliff said.

He eventually learned other veterans were returning to Vietnam to build an orphanage and decided to help.

“I thought I’d be there for 30 days and ended up staying 3 years. Got married and my life turned around,” Ratliff said.

While there, Ratliff saw many other veterans returning to Vietnam as well.

“I saw veterans coming in with these tour groups and they’d rush them here, rush them there, and then they’d go home. I knew they weren’t getting what they needed,” Ratliff said.

So, Ratliff went to one of those tour groups and told them he’d like to help with the veterans that come to the country. He refused to get paid for his services. That was in 2001. He’s now taken more than 200 veterans on tours.

“We’d go to the places where the guys had served, and we’d stay the places where they had been in battles and gone through different situations. At the end of the day, we’d have a bonfire on the beach. I’d tell them to write down all the things bothering you from the war. We’d write it down and throw it in the fire,” Ratliff said.

That caught the eye of filmmakers who were making a documentary about soldiers surfing at China Beach during the war. The filmmakers eventually accompanied Ratliff on a trip to Vietnam.

“What really started to happen, and you’ve worked on projects that you know once you get into them, they can evolve, and they can expand and that’s really what happened with this project. It really became a film of hope and healing,” said Mike Cotton, producer of “Back to China Beach”.

Producer Mike Cotton said they began interviewing veterans and were getting great stories.

“They would look at us and say I’ve never told these stories to anyone, including my wife, including my kids. We would always ask do you feel better getting it out. They’d say no question, no doubt,” Cotton said.

Once the film was finally complete, they screened it for a group of about 100 veterans.

“These veterans were coming up to me and Larry and Dave with tears in their eyes and saying this is the best thing anyone’s ever done for us. Basically, they’re seeing they’re not alone and others are dealing with the same things,” Cotton said.

Ratliff hopes the film can help others who have dealt with the same problems as him. He said once the pandemic is passed, he’ll be back on a plane to Vietnam ready to help anyone he can.

“The thing that changes us when we go back is seeing that it moved on. Seeing there’s no animosity towards us. We weren’t welcome home, but we’re welcome back. That changes how guys feel. Even today, I have a problem fitting in here, I have trouble feeling like I belong here, but when I go back to Vietnam, I feel like I belong again. We lost a lot of guys in our group. And I feel like I’m close to those guys when I’m over there,” Ratliff said.

Cotton says the plan was to show the movie around the country, but the pandemic put that on hold. It was, however, shown at the Pensacola Film Festival this year, where it was named best picture. You can find more information about the documentary by going here.

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