Tens of thousands of American veterans have never forgotten the tropical sights and smells of Da Nang they experienced stepping off their flights at the air base there during the war. Now they are sensing them again at a more peaceful time, when medals will be awarded not for valor in combat but for victory in a 26-mile race.
The Da Nang Marathon/Half Marathon and 5K fun run, in its third year and scheduled for August 30, has been attracting veterans like former sailor Dennis Zaborac, who served at the nearby naval patrol base in Hoi An in 1971.
When he heard about the Da Nang marathon, Zaborac thought, “Why as a Vietnam vet would I want to go back?” After all, “the last time I ran in Vietnam it wasn’t a marathon; it was a midnight sprint to a sandbagged bunker after a mortar attack.“
But the frequent marathoner decided to give the Da Nang run a try and signed up for the inaugural race on Sept. 1, 2013. “The heat and humidity of the marathon made it the toughest race I’ve ever run” he said “but seeing the warm friendly smiles of the Vietnamese made it the greatest race I’ve ever run.” Zaborac returned to Da Nang in 2014 to run the half marathon and 5K.
The 2013 event was organized by Dr. Khiem Ngo, a marathoner and sports injuries specialist in Houston who wanted to introduce the benefits of running to Da Nang’s residents.
The second marathon and half marathon, on Aug. 31, 2014, brought in more than 300 runners from 18 countries, including three dozen from the United States. The 5K race had more than 3,000 runners, most of them from schools and universities in Da Nang. The races raised money for the Da Nang Cancer Hospital.
The race was organized by Pulse Ltd., based in Ho Chi Minh City. The cancer hospital is again the designated charity.
Few Americans could have imagined such an event 50 years ago when the Marines landed at Red Beach, north of Da Nang Air Base, on March 8, 1965. They became the vanguard for more than 55,000 U. S. military personnel operating from Da Nang and surrounding areas by the end of 1968. When the fighting ended in 1973, the U.S. death toll was more than 58,000.
“I left Vietnam saying ‘never again'” Zaborac remembers, but the children he saw along the marathon route changed him. “As a runner whose war memories were burned away by the sunny smiles of these children, I now hope to return again and again.”
Information of marathon is available at www.rundanang.com. Jack Wells served in Vietnam 1968-69 as a first lieutenant with Alpha and Bravo companies, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and later as executive officer of H Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines. He ran in the 2014 Da Nang 5K.