Veteran Spotlight: Dan Gilman
We are fortunate to have passionate and caring individuals take on leadership roles as sponsors for our community building projects. We are always inspired and motivated by our project sponsors’ stories of why and how they became involved with PeaceTrees and their connection to the project they have chosen to sponsor. Dan Gillman is a Vietnam Veteran, PeaceTrees Board Member, and sponsor for the Ba Long Community Center. Here is his story:
In 1969, Dan rarely left the grounds of the base where he was stationed in Quang Binh. On Sundays, however, he would join other medics and travel to nearby towns with basic health and medical supplies, like soap. He remembers these trips into small communities as an escape, not just from the base, but from war: curious children and families would surround him and the team of medics. During these encounters there was an opportunity to interact on a personal level and to briefly move beyond the larger context of war and violence.
When Dan’s tour in Vietnam ended, he returned to the United States determined to forget many of his experiences in Vietnam and the war in general. For the first decade after he returned to the States, Dan was largely successful at distancing himself from his experiences in Vietnam. Eventually, however, he began reading about U.S. foreign policy and the specific policies and actions that led to the United States’ involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. After learning more about this history, Dan found himself drawn to reengage in issues related to Vietnam. He joined a group called Veterans for Peace and became active in promoting peace, understanding, and responsibility. A few years later, Dan’s commitment to peace drew him to PeaceTrees Vietnam.
Dan with children at a PeaceTrees Kindergarten
PeaceTrees Board in 2017
(Dan is in the back row, 2nd on left)
Dan initially heard about PeaceTrees on the news. At the time he was considering traveling back to Vietnam and hoped to become involved in an organization working on the ground. Dan had contacted other groups before learning about PeaceTrees, but he ultimately chose PeaceTrees because of the organization’s mission of peace and friendship. Dan found PeaceTrees’ tree planting work particularly moving as a metaphor for the mission. He was also excited about PeaceTrees’ other projects and the way in which the organization partnered with local groups and community leaders. “It feels good” he reflected, “to be part of a group that is taking concrete steps to heal the wounds of war in Vietnam.”
Dan decided to accompany PeaceTrees Vietnam on a Citizen Diplomacy trip. He had not been back to Vietnam since the war. For the first time, he was able to explore the cities and landscape of Vietnam, engage with local community members and experience Vietnamese culture. None of this had been possible when he was stationed in Vietnam. During the trip, Dan became acutely aware of the fact that the children he interacted with were still living with the legacy of the war and the dangers of unexploded weapons each day. He witnessed how many families continue to live and work on contaminated land, how long-lasting the environmental impacts of the war were, and how limited economic opportunities remained as a result of the war.
Ba Long Community Center
Dan Planting Trees at the Landmine Education Center
Dan wanted to take an active role in reversing the legacy of war in Vietnam, and he felt moved to sponsor a building project. He was interested in doing a project that would impact the lives of children who had made such an impression on him and who will determine the future of Vietnam. Careful collaboration between PeaceTrees and the Women’s Union of Quang Tri Province resulted in a proposal for Dan to sponsor the Ba Long Community Center. The Center would be a place where families and the entire community could gather, learn, grow, and move forward.
Dan enthusiastically and successfully led the fundraising effort for the Ba Long Community Center Project. He was particularly motivated by the fact that the Ba Long villagers had self-identified the need for a community center and by the fact that the Center was part of a larger community development project in which Ba Long village was relocated out of a flood plain onto safely cleared land.
Thank you Dan for all that you have made possible through your commitment and dedication to PeaceTrees Vietnam’s work in Ba Long!