Blood Road (2017) Script

There's a place I've been avoiding for a long time.

It's been in my thoughts for more than 40 years.

What happened there long ago set me on this path.

There are still lots of unanswered questions and I'm not sure I'll find what I'm looking for.

And this journey, it all started with my father's story.

We have made a national pledge.

My father was a pilot and he was shot down during the Vietnam War.

We did not choose to be the guardians of the gate.

Communism is a threat we cannot afford to ignore.

The spread of communism is imminent.

I was just 3 years old, and I never knew him, and he was missing in action for a really long time.

We do not want an expanding struggle with consequences that no one can perceive.

My mom raised my sister and I as a single parent.

A nation divided.

This war will have ramifications on this country for generations.

And we never really knew if he was alive, if he was a prisoner of war, or if he died that day.

All American prisoners of war will be released.

They will soon join the army of the forgotten.

Over 30 years later, a search and recovery mission identified the crash site and found my father's remains.

And now I feel drawn to go looking for answers, to a mystery that's been with me my entire life.

I've been a professional athlete for most of my life, and that involves continually prepping, training, preparing for some sort of adventure or race.

I'm pretty much always getting ready for the next thing.

Rebecca, growing up, was always attracted to challenge, and she was always doing things outside...

Riding a bike, roller-skating, ice-skating on the pond, riding ponies at the fair.

We went camping all the time.

It might have, at an early age, started instilling the love of what you can appreciate out there.

Everyone who competes at really extreme sports like adventure racing, climbing, ultra biking, all these kind of sports, requires a very high tolerance to pain.

And consequently, to participate in these races, it was mostly by passion and sacrifice.

No matter how good you are, people who do these sports have another job because they just don't pay.

Back to my other job, riding bikes.

Four-time Leadville 100 champion, Rebecca RUSCH!

Rebecca has become a top athlete, whereas I went into the Air Force, but yet you look at our similarities.

We're both very, very driven.

We both have probably more energy than a lot of people can tolerate.

We're both on a path to find our dad.

All of my life, I've learned if I prepare properly, I can do almost anything that I set my mind to achieve.

But this challenge, this is totally different.

My father's plane was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The trail is a massive braided network that runs through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

There are a ton of unknowns I'm gonna need help with, so I'm putting together a team with a support crew and a riding partner to piece this whole thing together.

It'll be good to have somebody that knows the area, speaks the language.


I've known Rebecca for over 10 years.

She's had a great deal of success as an athlete in multiple sports.

This trip is something different than anything she's done previously, and I hope she finds what she's looking for.

The logistics for this journey are incredibly complex...

The time on the bike, distance traveled, the heat of the jungle.

This'll be one of the more difficult undertakings that Rebecca's gone through.

My father's plane went down on March 7th, 1972.

My goal is to find his crash site, and be there on the anniversary of his death, as my way to honor his memory.

By riding my bike there, I will see more, discover more, fully immerse myself in the place, in...

In some sort of way to connect with him.

You driving?

I'll drive. Okay.

This trip, hands down, will be the biggest undertaking, the most ambitious thing that I've ever attempted, and I hope I'll actually be able to find his crash site.

"June 5th, 1971.

"Dear Judy, Sharon, and Becky, "I left California on Tuesday

"and spent 18 hours

"getting to the Philippines via Alaska and Japan.

"It is not a trip that I would care to do again.

"I have almost a week here for survival school, "and then I'm off to Da Nang and serious stuff

"for most of next year.

"I'd like to hear from you

"a little more often about the children.

"This is not easy for me and that'll help.

Be good. Steve."

In order to get to the site on the anniversary of my father's crash, we arrived in Hanoi during the Vietnamese New Year.

I was anxious about meeting my new teammate and embarking on such a big adventure with a total stranger.

But I knew that riding with someone from this area could be a bridge to the culture and really help me understand what went on here.

When I heard about this project, I felt excited, because, for the nation and people of Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail is a historical path, a link on the path to independence and freedom for our entire nation.

And lots of Vietnamese people's blood has been shed on this road.

It is indeed a journey that I believe will be exciting and meaningful.


I started biking when I was 16.

I became a cyclist and was determined to become the best biker in Vietnam.

Huyen is an athlete who was an idol in Vietnamese cycling.

Because Huyen won four Southeast Asia Games gold medals, in four consecutive events.

For an athlete in Vietnam, there has never been one who claimed such a record.

After putting an end to my competing career, I became a coach.

I've heard a lot about the Ho Chi Minh Trail since childhood.

Not until now does my dream of riding on the Ho Chi Minh Trail come true.

I am quite nervous, but also excited about it.

Hi, Rebecca.

I was looking for a long time.

Hello, hello. Hello, hello.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for having me.

These are for you.

Thank you so much.

I'm very sorry because my English is not very good.

Well, my Vietnamese sucks, so your English is better.

So happy to meet you.

Yeah, you too.

Rebecca, this is my father.

This is Rebecca.

It's nice to meet you.

Both my uncle and my father experienced the American Resistance war.

At that time, America was our enemy.

One big problem is how to overcome barriers among people, to connect their hearts and souls so they can understand each other.

Happy New Year.

Thank you for making all this food. It's beautiful.

Huyen's father and my father indirectly fought each other in the war, and it's extraordinary, more than 40 years later, that we can all sit down at the dinner table and share a meal together.

Cheers. Happy New Year, Happy New Year.

To a good journey. Yeah.

Our last major challenge before starting is mapping out the trail and trying to make sense of the complex route.

Don Duvall is an American living in Laos.

He has spent most of his life exploring and mapping the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

He is an essential part of our expedition because he has really helped create the most historically accurate route for us to take.

My background is navigating sailing yachts around the world for almost 15 years, and then I came to Laos and started map-making and surveying on a motorcycle on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

My role here with Rebecca's team is to help them with navigation, provide GPS maps and local knowledge and information.

Where we can camp, what rivers we can go across.

I'm gonna assist them as a guide, and also with navigation.

Very long.

Yeah. Explaining to the ladies about the trail, honestly, I was a bit skeptical.

I've been riding up and down. There are tough places.

No one's ever taken a bike and done the full thing from start to finish.

First off, the mileage is off the charts.

We are attempting to ride more than 1200 miles of unknown terrain.

It should take about three weeks.

And to top it all off, we're trying to find a more than 40-year-old crash site in the middle of the dense jungle.

The site was already excavated.

It's a large area to search, a lot of jungle.

There'd be a very small possibility of any evidence of the actual crash itself.

The idea is, you know, we'll have these guys in a small support rig that we'll meet at certain points along the way.

That's gonna take planning.

We're gonna sit down with...

There's places your bicycle can go that they won't be able to. There'll be leap frogs.

In between those places, we need to be totally self-sufficient for bike maintenance, whatever might come our way, so...

Yeah, there'll be some leap-frogging.

We have a little work to do to actually look at your whole route and make a master plan for the weeks ahead.

Yeah, easier. Yeah.

We can grind down the shoe a little bit.

The watts down here.

All right. Zero watts right now.

And then this screen over here's got my little map on there.

My experience as a professional athlete, you know.

Get from point A to B as fast as humanly possible.

And this is a little different.

So for this ride, we're a team, okay?

We are a team.

I will always be beside you. Okay.

I'm riding with a picture of my father in my backpack.

And before we started our journey, I really wanted to share with Huyen that my reason for being here is for him.

It's not really about me. It's to honor his memory.

So I wanted to bring her in and really help her understand why I'm here.

Ready? Okay.

In the past, I would imagine a U.S. soldier dropping bombs to kill my compatriots.

I had never thought of her father in the photograph as an actual person.

I thought that he was just one of war's victims.

Just like Rebecca's family.

After years of preparation, I'm nervous.

I don't know what we're gonna find out there, or whether or not we'll even find my father's crash site.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail is a 10,000-mile-long network of interconnected paths and roads crisscrossing the dense jungles and rugged mountains of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The trail, named for Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, was primarily used to secretly move military troops and supplies during times of conflict...

most notably during the war with the United States from 1964 to 1975.

At that time, a treaty temporarily split Vietnam into two countries...

North and South Vietnam.

The communist North sought to reunite the South, but the U.S. government feared the Domino Theory, which could lead to other communist takeovers within the region.

In order to help South Vietnam fight off the North and the spread of communism, the U.S. sent arms, aid, and eventually troops.

The North Vietnamese knew the Americans had superior firepower, so they resorted to guerrilla warfare tactics, while secretly transporting supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Initially, the North Vietnamese primarily used bicycles, troops, and even elephants to move supplies along the trail.

But as the war intensified, they realized the trail needed to expand.

My uncle and my father tell about the war.

The bomb on Kham Thien Street in 1972.

At that time my father, every day, he go to Kham Thien Street and collect a lot of bodies of many, many people, everywhere.

And in my garden, there's a big hole.

Now, there's still a hole?

Hole from bomb.

Why didn't he put dirt in the hole, to make it go away?

Because many fish live there.

The fish live in the bomb hole?

Yes. In the crater.

You know, that same year, 1972, is the same year my father died.


Yeah, your father died.


You need more food to take with you?

No. No, it's enough.

You have enough, okay.

It could go nose down more.


It's a vegetable.

Very good for health.

Very good.

So you're back a little less than a centimeter.

All right, thank you, guys. All right.

Okay. Let's go.

How do I say it in...?

I'm guessing we can probably catch them at 40K.

And then another 864 hours.


You can see the head. It's a head.

That's a head. Do people eat the eyeballs?

Yes. Yeah?


Excuse me?


Excuse me?

Oh, this one. Okay.

There's not really a line system here.

Oh, where's my passport?

Where's yours?

Make sure nobody has it.

Excuse me? My passport.

Thank you.

As soon as we crossed the border into Laos, I felt different.

It was really cool to just look around and soak in the atmosphere and feel like I was finally moving closer to my goal.

Instead of just thinking about it and dreaming about it, I was actually doing it and making progress.

So far, the biggest challenge to me is my stamina.

And the thing I worry about the most, that I ponder a lot about, it's how to become a real friend to Rebecca.

"Dear Judy, Sharon and Becky,

"I'm what they call the weapons systems operator

"in the back seat of the F-4E Phantom fighter jet.

"What we're really called is a GIB, for 'guy in the back.'

"Aside from being responsible for navigation, "we do just about everything the pilot does.

"We can carry just about any type of weapon made, "but a normal load would be

"about three tons of bombs or napalm.

"We generally release that at speeds

"ranging from about 400 to 600 knots.

"The ground really comes up at you pretty fast.

"I usually fly about twice a day, "which is quite exhausting.

"There is no such thing as a day off.

"We work seven days a week all year.

"It does make the time go faster, however.

Be good. Steve."

Stephen was a heck of a guy.

I can't call him Stephen. He was Steve.

Steve was a heck of a guy.

He went to Vietnam.

He didn't want to go to Vietnam.

Nobody wants to go to war, but it was his duty, and he was gonna do it to the best of his ability.

In Rebecca, I see a lot of her dad.

I see a lot of Steve in a lot of different ways.

She loves animals, she loves pets, and her dad did too, just adored them.

She definitely has a wanderlust the way her dad did.

She definitely wants to do things outside, not inside.

I see those things, and I see the seriousness.

Steve was a serious guy, he wasn't a goof-off.

And Rebecca's got a very serious mode, and her dad was very much the same way.

One big climb and then here a river.

Yeah. Here maybe we buy some food and water.

We need to really get this secured down better.

In fact, I think I'm gonna pop this dude.

Meeting up with the support team is taking more time than I thought.

We have a hard cutoff to get to the end of the riding and get on a boat.

Given the schedule and the goal that I've set for us, we're gonna have to figure out a better rhythm in order to make it to the crash site on the anniversary.

If we don't make this cutoff, that's gonna put us behind the next day and the next day and the next day.

Time's ticking!

It finally feels like this is truly the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

There's a simplicity to it. The terrain is different.

This is where I wanted to be.


Nope. Yeah. This way.

I just have to move the map.

♪ In the month of August ♪

♪ Mary loves Sally the most ♪ Oh, my God, it's a lake.

♪ Maybe Buddha is the true Son of God's kiss ♪

♪ Maybe you'll never know ♪

♪ Whoo-hoo they sang As they crossed the river ♪

♪ Whoo-hoo ♪

♪ As they prayed to Jesus ♪

♪ Whoo-hoo The walls fell on Jericho ♪

♪ Well, who knows Yeah, who knows ♪

♪ which birds will be left ♪

♪ Yeah, who knows which birds Will be left ♪


I just got a vine on my neck.

It stopped my bike. Holy shit.

The authentic jungle took a bite out of me.

I was... Heh. Rode through, basically a lasso. Err!

I tried to strangle myself on the trail.

But yeah, it really did a number on my neck and my face, so...

The girls used a boat to go across the Nam Theun II Reservoir, which is an area of the flooded Ho Chi Minh Trail.

That way?

Here is an aluminum boat.

This aluminum came from the war days.

This was fuel tanks that were dropped by the jet fighters over the Ho Chi Minh Trail while they were dropping their ordnance.

All this war metal was used, even the bombs.

Anything was used by the villagers for whatever they could fabricate.

Historically, the trail went through there, so the choice was either to ride all the way around, or enlist help to actually take a boat ride with our bikes across the reservoir to the other side.

It was the first part of the trail where there was a physical representation right in front of me of pieces of the war.

And that specific boat was actually an F-4, which is the plane that my father flew.

People in the war were very wonderful people.

Always when a solider catches a soldier from U.S.A., only they question.

Yeah. They question them.

Vietnamese people are very kind.

It's been really interesting to talk about the war.

We call it the Vietnam War. They call it the American war.

And she has what I'm sure her history books say versus what American history books say, and I'm sure it's skewed, and who knows what the truth is?

Somewhere in the middle, probably.

One of my biggest fears in not knowing what happened to my father was that he was a prisoner of war.

I had nightmares about it.

There are accounts on both sides of terrible treatment of American and Vietnamese POWs, and I can't even imagine how hard it must have been for those soldiers.

But across it all, she and I both feel the same way, in that, at this point, there is no animosity against the cultures.

People are welcoming. They're amazing here.

And she feels the same about Americans.

There's none of that.

I think to all Americans, whether they joined the war or not, the war has gone and so has the past.

If possible, I will do what I can to ease the pain of war.

As the war escalated, North Vietnam continued to improve the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Soon it was able to accommodate large convoys of cargo trucks loaded down with provisions and weapons, much of it provided by the Russian and Chinese governments.

Well aware of the North's secret route, U.S. forces attempted to halt the flow of supplies by creating strategic choke points.

But the North simply detoured the trail around U.S. positions, moving it across the border into Laos and Cambodia.

The U.S. knew the trail was being rerouted into neighboring countries, but were hesitant to send ground troops into Laos and Cambodia because they worried that China and the Soviet Union might respond by escalating their own involvement in the war.

So the American forces resorted to bombing the trail from the air.

Although the North Vietnamese utilized thousands of anti-aircraft guns to defend the trail, those early bombing raids caused major damage.

The North trail engineers were forced to be resilient and resourceful.

Whenever the Ho Chi Minh Trail was damaged, they worked tirelessly to repair it, and when necessary, rerouted it elsewhere through the dense jungles.

You okay, Huyen?

Okay. Okay.

Woo... Stickered vines.

We're gonna be scratched up tonight.

If you see the trail, let me know, Huyen.


That's a big mushroom.

Very nice.

If we get stuck here all night, we can eat it for dinner.

We have to stay generally south, so it's just gonna just...

We'll just kind of stay south and hope for the best.

Oh, wait, yeah, we have to go around here.

The physical beatdown that the jungle takes on you makes any task that you have exponentially harder.

It certainly did ours.

You okay? Okay. I'm okay. Yeah.

How do you like the sling?

Going up towards a protected area in the plateau, I was testing the bike out.

I made the slightest mistake.

The front wheel went out, and when I hit...

One of the most common motorcycle and cycling injuries is a broken shoulder, and I knew when I hit that my number was up.

Not a good day for Don.

You know how many freaking kilometers I put on without a freaking injury?

We had thought that he had to discontinue the role of guide and interpreter for Rebecca and I as well as the whole group.

Don was seriously hurt, and it's a minimum of a day's ride to the nearest hospital from where we were.

He needed to undergo surgery, and that would have taken him out of the trip entirely.

So he refused.

He decided to rejoin the trip and just tough it out.

Oh, very big hole.

Yeah. Big hole.

Big bomb.

This whole trail, this whole section, there's a lot of 'em.

The first bomb crater we saw, I didn't believe that that's what it was.

It was the first time of seeing really obvious physical scars still left in the land and people living amongst that, and living basically right on top, right around all these bomb craters.

There was crater after crater, and I actually couldn't fathom the scope of the devastation and how many there were.

Everywhere you look, there's another one, there's another one, there's another one.

And I was asking Huyen about them, like...

"Why is that hole still there?"

You'd think that the ground would have filled in, but I guess it doesn't, because in the rainy season, they fill with water and become these little ponds and sort of ecosystems.

Along the trail, there are so many bomb craters.

That really reflects the harshness of the war.

It's upsetting to see them.

I felt sorry for the people who lived there.

I felt sorry for my father and the other pilots and the internal conflict that they must have experienced.

We knew one thing for sure, that it was very painful.

And I think that war is the most cruel thing.

And I still do not understand what it was for.

Phanop Valley, this was the main choke point because it was where the greatest concentration of trucks were, so it was hit by fighters, B-52s, continuously for years.


There's a town in the Phanop Valley near the border of Vietnam.

I called it Bomb Town.

And what we did there was...

Wow, I mean, I... Yeah.

I couldn't describe it.

One thing you want to notice is how they're rounded off, and the jagged pieces are missing up there.

Because... From this ordnance. It got hit? Yeah.

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

"Dear Judy, Sharon and Becky,

"some of the anti-aircraft from the bad guys over here

"really water your eyes.

"They use tracers so you can really see it coming.

"Most of the time, we've only been getting small arms fire, "but I can do without any of it.

"You kind of lose inhibitions about bombing these guys

"when you know they're trying to knock you out of the sky.

"I have to brief shortly.

"Give my love and lots of hugs and kisses to Sharon and Becky.

"I've got that 8-by-10 color picture of them at my desk, "and it is a real comfort to look at.

Be good. Steve."

These circles with an X through it are areas where they were storing supplies, so very likely this was a storage place along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

I think many children from U.S.A., if they can see what happened here, I think they don't want to come here, came here.

Get ready.

Here it goes.

They turn down here.

Wow, this looks like this road.

People here are very rich, I think.

Big house. Yeah.


If you dig through this barrel here, you'll find all kinds of interesting artifacts.

Maybe some pickaxes.

This looks like springs from trucks.

I don't know, but this is igniter instructions in English.

What? Yeah, okay. Yeah, this is a parachute flare casing.

Oh, cool. Look at that.

That's amazing.

I feel sort of weird snooping around everyone's houses.

Like, you would never do this at home.

You can go into many villages and still find plates, utensils for cooking.

Almost every village along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, you'll find a planter that's built from a cluster bomb casing.

There's still plenty of evidence around, and it will remain for many years.

Oh, a pagoda.

This place is sweet, with the flowers and everything.

Check that out. Look at that drum.



Somebody collect it and put it here.

When I was young, I remember that people would hear my father's story and they would say to me, "Oh, I'm so sorry.

It must have been so awful to grow up without a father."

And I didn't really understand that, because I was 3 when he was shot down.

I was so young that it was nothing that I knew.

And it's taken me until now to be ready to dig a little deeper and want to know more.

Can we go?

Yes, I know.

I feel you.

Let's go.


In my dad's case, they did an excavation many years after he was shot down, and they identified him through teeth.

So I went in and they opened up the bag, and brought out the two teeth, and showed me what the teeth that were on the table were, and what his x-rays looked like.

It was no doubt. I knew it was him.

And my eyes filled with tears and I thought...

"Wow, he's... He's really home."

Because you don't believe it until you see it.

And I thought, "How different would our lives have been

"if we knew right at the beginning or doesn't it matter?"

But I do know that not a day has gone by that I don't miss him.

Not a day goes by where I want to make sure I'm making him proud.

Growing up, I didn't know what happened to my father.

I had reoccurring dreams that maybe he was alive and he had another family and was living over here.

We would meet in a coffee shop, and I would tell him all about my life.

And when they found his remains, and I knew that he died that day in the crash, I felt a strong desire to come here and try to find out the circumstances around his death.

Yeah. Yeah.

I don't understand.

To better communicate with the locals, we enlisted Pahn's help.

I am one of the coordinators who guide the track, speak to local people, and translate between her team and local people.

Each individual village, depending on their ethnic background, has areas that are sacred that have to be honored.

So he would also check quite thoroughly about that and inform us.

Just as we were about to leave, PAHN told us a monk had been watching us, and wanted to show us something.

Pass through here slowly because of the bombee in the ground.

There are some bombee under the ground.

Walk here, in his steps.

Walk in the line.

I didn't see where he first stepped.

Okay. Wow.

What is it?

A bomb.

A part of bomb. Avoid.

PAHN You just step on it, it explode.

Be careful here.

Be careful.



The plane drop it to ground, and then they do this.

Also they have many, many too.

The "bombees."

He only found it about a month ago.

A month ago he found it? He found, yeah.

Like Vietnam.

In Vietnam, we have many.

Thank you for showing us.

There was an unexploded ordnance right on the ground that the monk walks every single day.

I can't even imagine what that's like.

It was the first time in my life I have ever seen a bomblet, and I knew it could go off at any time.

People's lives were still threatened, though war has passed for 40 or 50 years.

I couldn't understand Rebecca's emotions fully.

She didn't express her feelings to me, but I did feel that she was holding in a lot.

From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. intensified their bombing campaigns along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, especially in Laos.

Determined to stop the continuous flow of troops, weapons and supplies on the trail, the U.S. conducted more than half a million bombing missions over the course of the war, averaging out to about one strike mission every eight minutes.

Approximately eight million tons of bombs were dropped over Southeast Asia with three million tons dropped directly on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country on the planet.

Nearly one-third of those bombs failed to detonate upon impact, leaving approximately 25 percent of the region littered with unexploded ordinances, also known as UXOs.

Since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, it's estimated that in Vietnam and Laos, more than 60,000 people have been killed or injured by UXOs.

Because of the bomb left from the war, I lost my eye.

I lost my arm.

When we clear our farms, that's scary.

I'm scared, but if we don't do it, how can we feed ourselves?

Over the past 40-plus years, organized bomb removal teams have been scouring the land carefully extracting the bombs one at a time, and disposing of them using controlled explosions.

In addition to bomb removal, governments are working to educate locals about UXOs.

Especially at risk are villagers who earn a living by recycling the scrap metal, and children who think the bombs are balls or toys.

Maybe it's a bomb.

Bring it out.

Gently, gently.

At the current pace of UXO removal, it'll be more than 100 years before all the bombs in the region have been successfully cleared.

In one of the villages, we met an elderly lady who was alive during the war and living there.

Good afternoon, Ma'am.

These girls are foreigners.

Would you mind telling us where people lived in the war?

Can you tell them?

We lived in the cave, the forest.

We lived in the mountain.

During the war, how long did you stay in the cave?

Very long. How long, days or months?

Five to six years.

Also, she too is daughter.

She was born in the cave.

She was born there. Her brother was born there.

And I asked this woman, "Well, why did you come back to this place that was devastated?"

I mean, their village is now built around a whole maze of bomb craters.

And she just simply said, "well, this is my home. Where else would I go?

I came home because I live here."

That was really powerful for me, and especially, you know, I've lived out of my car, I've lived all over the place, and haven't had a sense of home for a lot of my life.

The caves were essential for survival during the war.

They were used as shelter from the bombing, for storing ammunition and food, war room planning, and even shortcuts through the jungle.

Don found a cave that we could pass through and meet up with the trail on the other side, but since we are visitors in this place, we have to abide by the local customs to get permission to go through the cave.

They drink the whole thing?

Whiskey. Whiskey.


Heh. Okay.

It's good.

Thank you.

Also for good luck.

What do I do?

I just touch it? Yeah. No, no.

No. I eat it? Yeah.

Oh, okay. Really small.

Give me this small one. Yeah. Okay.

Also good luck.

The big one... Heh...

No, the small one is good, thank you, heh.

Yeah, I have something to tie it down with.

Immediately after the ceremony, Huyen and I grabbed our bikes because we really wanted to get through the cave before nightfall.



I'll get the paddles.

It was the biggest cave I've ever seen. Absolutely.

And there's tons of caves in this part of the world, and it's a big part of the history of where people hid out.

But also the explorer in me was, like, "Okay, what's gonna be in here? This is really exciting."

It's slippery. Be careful.

You okay? Yeah.

It's really slippery. Hold on to the boat.

We have to take probably at least two or three trips to move all the equipment one by one.

There was a super-difficult portage of getting around rapids and boulder-hopping and moving the bikes and the kayak.

Two of us really struggled.

I wasn't as strong, so Rebecca was always by my side to support me.

If these bikes survive this, I will be shocked.

We're gonna be here till fucking 2 in the morning.

Wait, wait. The pedal.

I'm pissed!

The trip to the cave, it was lengthy and gobbled up too much time.

It took too much time, while Rebecca always wanted to forge ahead to get to her dad as soon as possible.

And I really felt for her.

We had been in the cave for almost nine hours.

It was exhausting, frustrating, and set us back.

Huyen finally pointed out the outline of a tree.

That's where I was, like, "Oh, we made it out, we made it out, we're outside."

Rebecca and I were born in very different cultures.

Have you been riding with these? Carrying these the whole time?

Yes. Yeah.

However, very soon I found one thing in common between us.

She lost her father when she was a child, and I lost my mom since I was 8.

We both have a family, we have feelings, have fathers and mothers that we've lost.

The first time she talked openly about how close she was with her mother, and I asked about her husband who's also passed away.

And that's really recent as well.

This was her opportunity to kind of share a little bit more of her story.

My life with two kids has various difficulties.

However, it's my kids who give me strength and motivation in life.

After sitting down and sharing with Huyen, I realize that her daughter is growing up just like me.

We both lost our fathers at a very young age.

It really gave me a better understanding of what Huyen's going through, especially knowing how hard it was for my mom to raise us as a single parent.

You are very strong.

Thank you.

So are you. You're doing awesome.

That was a gnarly couple of days.

It all looks the same.

I don't have my GPS rolling.

Wow, it's not a very good trail.

Too much.

So at that time I felt utterly tired, drained and forlorn.

After two strenuous days, I was exhausted and I felt like giving up.

More up. More hiking.

I think it stays hard for a little while.

Yeah. And then we'll see Jason and Greg, but then we have 70 kilometers on the bike to reach our goal of the campsite.

I'll try my best to follow you.

I thought it was gonna get easier, but it doesn't look like it.



Hi. Hello.

You guys spent the night in a cave.

We went through, spent the night on the beach, then started the hike over this morning.


Lots of walking.

Today was all coming over?

All hike a bike, just totally over those mountains, like...

Huyen, how are you feeling?

My shoulders, my arms, my legs.

From your pack?

Huyen's body is definitely reaching for the reserves.

It sounds like a long time of being sweaty and wet.

Rebecca definitely came back with some battle scars and some scratches, and seemed to be a little slower.

It's 3:30, okay?

So no more than 20, 30 minutes here and we go.

Is that okay with you? Yes.

Cool. Awesome.

Party. I like it.

As we were about to get back on the trail, we heard a group of Lao villagers laughing and singing and having a great party.

And it was such a welcome sight, and it was exactly what we needed to lift our spirits before the long ride ahead.

We can do this, right? Yeah.

I kind of wanted to call a little team meeting.

Everyone's tired, sweaty, getting heat rash, and working super-long days, and I just felt like that I wanted to kind of use the opportunity to remind you why I'm here and to thank you for being here.

My dad was a musician. I don't know if you know that.

One of his favorite songs is one that speaks to me and sort of defines how I've lived my life wandering around as well.

This is my father's voice, and it's the only time I've heard his voice, 'cause I don't remember it from when I was a kid.

♪ It's a long and dusty road ♪

♪ And a hot and heavy load ♪

♪ The folks I meet Ain't always kind ♪

♪ Some are bad Some are good ♪

♪ Some have done The best they could ♪

♪ Some have tried To ease my troubling mind ♪

♪ And I can't help but wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪ Wow, a lot of people.

Here we go.

Here we go.

♪ Well I've been All around this land ♪

♪ Just doing the best I can ♪

♪ Trying to find out What I was meant to do ♪

♪ And the faces that I see ♪

♪ They're as worried As can be ♪

♪ And it looks like They're wondering too ♪

♪ And I can't help but wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪ I don't know where they turned wrong. I don't see tracks.

If you're not seeing their tracks, that'd be the only other way they could go.

Whoo! All right, we're out.

♪ So now I had a buddy from home ♪

♪ Till he started out to roam ♪

♪ Last I heard he was out By the Frisco Bay ♪

♪ And sometimes When I've had a few ♪

♪ His old voice Comes singin' through ♪

♪ And I'm going out to see him Some old day ♪

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪ When the planes came, people came inside.

This was a house and a kitchen.

♪ So if you see me passing by ♪

♪ And you sit And you wonder why ♪

♪ You wish that You were a rambler too ♪

♪ Nail your shoes To the kitchen floor ♪

♪ Lace them up And bar the door ♪

♪ Thank your stars for the roof That's over you ♪

♪ And I can't help but wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪ Once again.

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

Thank you.

What is this, Don? What is it?

That's a seat off an anti-aircraft gun.

Really? That they found up in the hills.

So they dragged all this stuff back here?

What's he telling you, Don?

He's saying that this came from the anti-aircraft gun they found up in the hills.

Yeah. They got the seat, but all the rest of the metal got sold to Vietnam.


This place is a living history.

And it takes on a whole other life when it's right there in front of your face.

It's a better use for it here, now.

Just to chill under this tree.

Throughout the war, the Ho Chi Minh Trail remained a top priority in the United States' battle against North Vietnam.

By 1969, the U.S. had 540,000 troops on the ground in Vietnam, yet they remained unable to halt the flow of supplies along the trail, so the U.S. continued its relentless carpet-bombing and even began spraying the jungle with Agent Orange, stripping the leaves off trees to better spot the trail from the air.

While the war raged on, both sides continued to suffer heavy losses.

By 1972, the death toll was staggering.

Approximately 58,000 Americans were killed, hundreds of thousands of Laotians and Cambodians died, while three million Vietnamese perished.

Meanwhile, in the United States, anti-war protests began to erupt across the nation.

Responding to an ever-increasing death toll, many Americans grew disillusioned with their nation's heavy involvement in the war.

Huyen and I are very different people.

She is very talkative, very curious, and I tend to be more of a private person.

It's probably good because she actually gets me to verbalize some of the things that are spinning around in my head.

Many people, many children, American, Vietnamese, and Laos died here.

When I think about it, and I feel unhappy, and very lucky now we can have a peace life.

Ever since we got to this area, I'm a little afraid to see the place where he died.

I don't know how I'll feel.


I knew the trip would be unpredictable and I would learn things, like you said, that I didn't expect, but...

I think I'm learning more about myself than I expected.

Maybe the missing part of myself is here.

"Dear Judy, Sharon and Becky, "I'm not looking forward to this next year.

"I love the flying and the airplane, "but I don't like the job.

"Regardless of any opinions I have

"about this war or any other, "it is hard to think about the killing

"that I will be doing.

"I try to rationalize and say that it has to be done, "but I can't see any reason why.

"If anything should happen to me, "please don't let me die to Sharon and Becky.

"That is very important to me.

"I'll close now.

"I've been rambling enough.

Be good. Steve."

The original schedule as planned was to visit the crash site on the anniversary of my father's death.

We had a huge ride in front of us.

We were late, the clock is ticking, but we pushed on and we finally got to Ta Oy, a small village really close to the crash site.

Yeah, for locating the actual crash site, we had historical documents from the Joint Pacific Accounting Command, who'd actually excavated the site and had GPS coordinates.

We could match them up with modern-day maps, go in and actually find the crash site, with the help of the local villagers, who had actually been there at the time.

If you go to the crash site or go to Ta Oy, we have to get permission from Liban, the village chief.

The village chief.

It's his land where the plane went down, and so we have to follow that protocol.

It's just the way that it works.

It's not like faxing over a document and signing it and you're done.

It's like, you sit on the floor with them, and you drink some mystery alcohol, and it's... You kind of be in their environment.

Logistics and difficulties in finding and contacting the chief meant that we didn't get to the crash site that day.

I was frustrated.

We were so close to the crash site, but now it was clear that we were not gonna be there on the anniversary.

My name is Don RAKESTRAW.

I was in the other aircraft on the morning of March 7th, 1972, in which I saw Stephen's aircraft get hit.

This is my statement as to what exactly happened.

"On the 7th of March, 1 972

"Gunfighter 60 and 61 departed Da Nang Air Base

"to search for trucks moving early in the morning

"on the route structures in southern Laos.

"We sighted two trucks

"and called them out to Stephen's aircraft, "which also had the trucks in sight.

"He called he was rolling in on the target.

"A few seconds later, we notice muzzle flashes on the ground

"and tracers from a triple A gun, going what appeared

"to be right across Stephen's flight path.

"I then saw a bomb explode, and right after that

"I saw Stephen's aircraft hitting the ground.

"In my estimation, "Stephen's aircraft was hit by ground fire

"which disabled the crew, and they went in with the aircraft."

For one of the first times, we actually halted.

And for me, it was a time to organize my thoughts.

This country just moves at a different pace, different than America, you know.

I was just letting that happen.

Don was pouring over his maps and cross-checking the GPS coordinates with the military documents.

There's two different points marked.

One of the actual GPS coordinates that they quoted is right here, and apparently the other excavation site would be down here. They're separated by 500 meters.

It's a large area and, well, don't get your expectations too high.

PAHN came back with the news that finally the village chief was able to meet with us.

This, the head of the village.

Mr. Airh.

PAHN So this is his culture.

If guest come to visit, have to have Lao whiskey.

First for the spirit of the house.

Yeah? For take care our team.

How it taste?


He heard from the elder of the village.

Talked to him about... plane crash in 1972.

In 2003, he go to join the team to looking for the plane crash.

He was on the team that went?

Yeah, he also join the team for looking for...


AIRH When they excavated, I joined them.

I worked as a laborer.

When we found something hard, the Americans would come get it.

Then they told us whether it was the bomb or plane debris.

It's incredible to meet somebody who helped find my dad.

It was really important for me and my family, so...

Mr. Airh told us what happened.

They screened to search for the remains such as bones, teeth, or things like nails.

They found and screened two teeth, and they brought them back to the U.S.

Luckily, they were Rebecca's father's.

There was another pilot, but he wasn't lucky.

He flew with Rebecca's father, but his remains were never found.

They shot the plane from far away and followed.

After the plane dropped, two Vietnamese soldiers, one head of the village at that time, his father go to check and see the dead person, and they put under the tree.

He'll show you at the crash site.

His father buried my father?

Yeah, his father.


It's okay, it's okay.


And the tree is still there, the exact tree?

It's still the same.

Still... Still over there.

He will show you the tree.

Okay. Yeah.

How I found him and found this village, there's no other explanation than it was meant to be.

There's no other way to explain it.

So, I mean, I sat there in shock, and it's like, "Okay, I'm ready. Now we really have to go.

We have to go to this site."

How blissful and ecstatic she was.

A daughter who lost her father since the age of three, and in all those years until she is 46, she has always been longing to return to her father and reconnect with him.

He says... The tree over there, you see?

He pointed around the corner, and you know, at the top of the tree, and kind of gestured that that was the tree that he was talking about.

How far we've come to be here.

And how many years I've waited for this.

And now, this moment was staring right at me.

It was a very strange tree, very old.

I could sense Rebecca's intense emotion.

And I thought she looked at that tree as if she was waiting for her father to emerge from the tree.

"This journey down the Ho Chi Minh Trail

"has brought me here to meet you

"and stand in the place where you died, "where you died for me and your country.

"You've spoken to me through your songs, "your letters and the way you lived your life.

"You've given me the gift of life, "and the tools to live mine

"with compassion, joy and curiosity.

"I know now that this, "this is not an ending, but a beginning, "the beginning of our relationship.

"I miss you, Dad...

"but now I know you'll always be with me.

Love, Rebecca."

I felt relieved.

I felt...

I felt close to him for the first time in my life.

I felt like he was really there.

And so I read him...

I read him my letter, and spoke to him, and uttered the words "Dad" for the first time in my life.

And it felt good to say, felt good to say, "Hi, Dad."

So I left my letter in there, and I left his MIA bracelet that my mom had given me, because he's not missing for me anymore.

I finally found him.

I didn't see a strong athlete, but a daughter coming back to her father.

Just like she was saying, "Dad, are you seeing me?

It's me."

Come on in, you guys.

AIRH When I took Rebecca to her father, where the plane crashed, I guess from her expressions, she felt both sad and happy.

And then he showed Rebecca the slide path that the plane had taken as it tumbled down the hill to its eventual resting spot.

Oh, yeah, I see.

There's a huge trench, goes as far as I can see, just dug down where the plane slid.


Oh, it goes a long way.

That made it real, and even more magical, because, you know that...

You know, that's the place.

No way.

And look what he just found, he just found a couple of things...


What? Yeah, he just picked them up.

I bet all up and down here there's stuff.

The impact site was up the hill a ways, and the plane had slid down toward the tree, and it had left a pretty good scar on the land that was still there.


Yeah, heh.


AIRH My feelings towards the event that I met Rebecca, I felt sorry for her.

I would go out and find my father too, if it was my father.

She came here because she is a good daughter.

Laos or other nationality, we are all human.

We have feelings.

I'm so happy that we could help her.

I'm glad we came here.


As long as I am alive, I will tell my children not to cut down that tree.

I'm gonna go back to the tree.


Since Rebecca started the journey back to where her father died, she was very persistent and eager to get there immediately.

Day after day, she became more and more impatient.

She yearned for it.

And I believe it was the biggest hope, the cause for which she did this trip.

It was to find the love that she had not been granted since her childhood.

Visiting him and visiting the site, it doesn't feel like mourning of a death.

It feels like kind of a rebirth of him, in a way.

I'm finding out who this man was that I never asked the questions about when I was younger.

But now that that floodgate is open, all that information, all those songs, those are things that, as soon as I get home, I'm gonna be digging into with a hunger.

Yay! We have a welcoming party!

So much has happened in just a couple weeks here, and now the mood and the motivation has certainly shifted.

And Ho Chi Minh City is within striking distance, really.

Even though my body is starting to break down, and I'm feeling the effects of the trail, but we're close.

This seems so long ago right here, heh.

Now we're down here, and we're already looking at the finish line.

For the rest of the ride through Cambodia and Vietnam, it was like a blur.

A weight had been lifted, and I felt free and happy.

I didn't expect to feel that way.

After she saw bomb craters, the local people's hard and poor lives along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, I realized that she became more and more open-hearted.

It felt to me that she had changed significantly.

All along the trail, we talked about the war and there wasn't ever a discussion of blame or a political agenda or anything.

We both shared the same sentiment that it was unfortunate that so many people died for something that not everybody understood, and I still don't totally understand.

After a very long journey on Ho Chi Minh Trail, seeing the harshness of the war with my two eyes, my opinion about war became clearer.

I understand the biggest pain of humanity is war.

Ultimately, I go back again to the letters that my dad wrote about war, explaining how difficult it was to drop bombs on people, and how he didn't necessarily understand why.

After riding every single day for nearly a month and covering more than 1200 miles, we were so relieved to reach the finish.

You could really tell that Huyen was excited to be home.

I felt cheerful and happy.

Through the last day of the journey, I could never have imagined that I could be so strong.

We rolled into the city center, and there was a small patch of green grass, amongst all the cement and the tall buildings, and it was the grounds of the Independence Palace.

This is the place where two years after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, the North overtook the South, ending the war and joining the country under one communist government.

The whole crew was there to greet us...

Greg, Jason, Don, Huyen's family and even my sister, Sharon.


Huyen's kids ran up to her.

They really couldn't contain their excitement.

They haven't seen their mom in weeks.

This trip opened my eyes to really hold on tighter to the people that are still here with me, before it's too late, before they're gone too.

I'm so glad you're here, heh, heh.

I'm so glad you're here.

Good job.

We did it, thank you.

The physical objective was to ride the whole thing, and she did that.

I think, emotionally, it's probably been more rewarding than she had hoped for.

I think I'm lucky to see such a woman in my life.

Not knowing when we would meet again, I feel so sad, that I had to say goodbye to a sister, a friend who had shared difficulties side by side with me.

Mr. Don, thank you for everything.

Oh, what a great trip.

On my motorcycle, I can't say I've ever done what they did.

Tremendous experience for me.

Probably one of the best things I've ever done in my life.

I realized the war was over and the war is still there.

When Rebecca found her father, it was a source of enormous happiness to her.

It was the feeling, I think.

That is the healing pains of war.

Thanks for taking care of my sister.

We need to heal those wartime pains.

You did such a good job.

And thank you for teaching me how to slow down a little bit.

They call the Ho Chi Minh Trail the Blood Road because so many people lost their lives here.

And while it's impossible to completely erase the scars left from the war, we can honor the memory of those who died here by learning from their sacrifice and choosing to forgive.

If we can't learn to forgive, we'll just end up making the same mistakes.

Over the past century, our two nations have known cooperation and then conflict, painful separation, and a long reconciliation.

If you consider where we have been, and where we are now, the transformation in the relations between our two countries is remarkable.

This is another one you can sing along to.

Everyone we sang for has seemed to like it a little bit at least. Ahem.

Here's the chorus.

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

♪ where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪ Try it.

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

♪ where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

♪ It's a long and dusty road ♪

♪ And a hot and heavy load ♪

♪ The folks I meet Ain't always kind ♪

♪ Some are bad Some are good ♪

♪ Some have done The best they could ♪

♪ Some have tried To ease my troubling mind ♪

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

♪ well I've been All around this land ♪

♪ Just doing the best I can ♪

♪ Trying to find out What I was meant to do ♪

♪ And the faces that I see ♪

♪ They're as worried As can be ♪

♪ And it looks like They're wondering too ♪

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

♪ So now I had A buddy from home ♪

♪ Till he started out To roam ♪

♪ Last I heard he was out By the Frisco Bay ♪

♪ And sometimes When I've had a few ♪

♪ His old voice Comes singin' through ♪

♪ And I'm going out to see him Some old day ♪

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder where I'm bound ♪

♪ So if you see me Passing by ♪

♪ And you sit And you wonder why ♪

♪ You wish that You were a rambler too ♪

♪ Nail your shoes To the kitchen floor ♪

♪ Lace them up And bar the door ♪

♪ Thank your stars for the roof That's over you ♪

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪ Once again.

♪ And I can't help But wonder ♪

♪ Where I'm bound Where I'm bound ♪

♪ Can't help but wonder Where I'm bound ♪

Thank you.

Thank you.