Bob Certain is going to see Vietnam like he has never seen it before.
Half a century after being released as a prisoner of war, the retired Air Force colonel and former MOAA board member will be one of several veterans and former POWs aboard a two-week river boat cruise in Vietnam and Cambodia from Feb. 17 to March 1, 2023. The trip is open to all MOAA members, and there are suites on the ship still available.
Certain’s first views of the country came mostly from radar during nighttime aerial missions or from in his jail cell in Hanoi. He is excited to see the historical sites of Vietnam, in particular the southern part of the country. He is also looking forward to speaking with the people who fought against him.
“They were our enemies because of government decisions, so there is no animosity there,” Certain said. “I am interested to hear what their experience was like [during the war] and how they experienced it.”
Highlights of the 12-night trip include a luxurious cruise down the Mekong River in South Vietnam, trips to Ho Chi Minh City and Cambodia capital Phnom Penh, and a visit to the UNESCO-designated temple of Angkor Wat.
It also includes an optional three-day excursion in Hanoi, the city where Certain was imprisoned for more than three months in 1972-73. On Dec. 18, 1972, Certain was shot down during a mission originating from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. Three members of the crew were killed when the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.
Certain parachuted just outside of Hanoi, landing in defoliated field. He was quickly surrounded by four men with automatic weapons.
“It was be killed or surrender,” Certain said. “So, I surrendered.”
As a longtime Air Force chaplain and Christian minister, Certain said part of the trip will be about forgiveness. It’s scheduled to end just a few weeks before the 50th anniversary of his release date.
“Part of my life as a clergyman is about reconciliation, and reconciling with your own past is important,” Certain said. “If you don’t keep history in mind, then you can’t learn from it. … I am looking forward to being reconciled for what we did and reconciling what they did, especially now that the nations are on friendly terms.”
Certain tried to organize a trip 25 years ago but ran into trouble securing visas on time. This year, he inquired about putting together something for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. Certain worked with MOAA Vacations, which successfully partnered with Uniworld River Cruises to create the 50 Years of Freedom Anniversary Trip.
“The emotional and historical impact of this event make it the most meaningful group I have ever been part of in my entire 34-year career in travel,” said Jon E. Brenneman, president of MOAA Vacations.
“It’s a very tight knit group of guys in the veterans’ POW community, but we’re also fading into the sunset,” said the 75-year-old Certain. “For others like me who have never been back, this was our last opportunity to go because of age and health.”