A sobering experience

Offseason trip to Vietnam has lasting effect on Edwards

February 02, 2011|By George Diaz, Tribune Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carl Edwards had his eyes wide open during the short NASCAR offseason, thinking that a trip to Vietnam would be a "great escape" from the everyday grind of living in the U.S.

And it was, in some ways. There was some fun stuff like trying to navigate traffic through a crazy-busy intersection while riding a bike. Edwards posted the video on Facebook.

But the images in his head are the most vivid. The trip left Edwards with a sobering perspective on history, war and the awful scars it leaves behind.

"I think I appreciate our country and the things that we have here more than ever," Edwards said as a handful of reporters gathered around him at Roush Fenway Racing last week during a NASCAR media tour.

Edwards went to Vietnam with a few friends on a 10-day biking trip. The culture shock was immediate.

The language barrier was impossible. The food was completely different. His group hardly ate a thing on the first lunch stop before accepting that Ronald McDonald wasn't around the corner with a Big Mac in hand.

But that was just a short-term personal sacrifice. Edwards went to Ho Chi Minh City's "War Remnants Museum" (formerly called the "Museum of American War Crimes") and was struck by the impact of war and the lingering ill feelings toward Americans.

If not for the disturbing images that included display reproductions of the "tiger cages" used by the South Vietnamese government to hold political prisoners and jars off preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to Agent Orange.

"I know a lot of folks who served like my friends' parents and I heard a lot about it," Edwards said. "I wanted to see it with my own eyes so maybe I could understand that conflict better, and the other thing is that it would be something so different that I would learn something.

"Going through that museum and seeing the presentation of the war through their eyes, I just can't imagine what (our soldiers) went through. I was proud to be an American even as I sat there and read what they wrote. The truth is that it made me realize war is a terrible thing. I can't imagine being through that."

Fortunately, there were some lighter moments. Edwards and his group noticed a guy wearing a Ford Racing T-shirt. He was unloading a truck along a roadside. Serendipity, Edwards, a Ford man, thought to himself.

Not so much.

"Nobody recognized me," Edwards said. "We stopped. Zero language interaction. We could not communicate with one another. I got him to pose with me for a picture and he had no clue why this guy stopped on his bicycle and took a picture with him."


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