After leading search-and-destroy missions, a Marine headed back to Vietnam to help at an orphanage.
68-year-old Al Plantenga of Grand Rapids was only 17-years old when he joined the Marine Corps.
“I like to say that when I went there the first time, I was on a mission to do what our government wanted me to do,” says Plantenga. “But the second time, I was on a mission to find out how the Vietnamese people really were.”
Plantenga said he is proud of his nearly three years of service and wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again, but at the same time as the years passed he realized he wanted to “make amends” and “find some peace in my soul” for his time in the war.
Plantenga, who like his father before him performed in barbershop quartets, recalls singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to an infant at the orphanage who fell asleep in his arms.
“Dealing with the war was tough, but I worked it out in my mind that I could help others,” he says. “If you think about it, that’s what we’re on earth to do anyway.”