Phil Kinsey said ministering to the war's veterans is his life's calling.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
WASHINGTONVILLE -- The Vietnam War ended for Phil Kinsey when he stepped off a plane in Saigon on his first return visit in 1992.
Kinsey served in Vietnam for six months in 1962, then again from 1969 to 1971. He spent most of his time in Vietnam as a crew chief on an Army assault helicopter.
Now he and his wife, Vera, help other Vietnam veterans bring closure to their war experience.
Kinsey, 59, is a licensed minister and he and his wife are southeast Asia coordinators of Point Man Ministries, an international ministry serving veterans of all wars, but primarily those of the Vietnam era.
The couple live in Leetonia and last year established the first Point Man Ministries outpost in Ohio, LZ [Landing Zone] Refuge, a storefront community center in Washingtonville.
Trips: He and his wife have made dozens of return trips to Vietnam, usually two or three each year, with veterans and their spouses. They visit areas significant to veterans, and take toys, food -- including rice by the ton -- and other supplies to orphans, lepers and that country's many oppressed tribal people.
Kinsey said one veteran from California was on the verge of suicide when he made his first return trip to Vietnam. He's made five more trips with the group since then.
He said the groups of about a half-dozen veterans and their wives have built housing in leper colonies and orphanages. They have given many children their first toys.
Veterans find it meaningful to help the Vietnamese now. They can cover the cost of surgery to correct a child's cleft palate, including travel and housing expenses for family members, for about $90.
On one trip, one veteran noticed a young girl coping with a useless leg, dragging it along instead of walking properly. On a return trip the group paid for corrective surgery for the girl, who had been born without a kneecap, for about $300.
"The trips are great healing experiences for everyone," Kinsey said. "It's not just about the veterans. It's not just about helping the people there. Everyone receives something."
He said trips are planned this year in July and September. Veterans are responsible for their own transportation to and from San Francisco. Kinsey arranges travel and visa expenses from there for about $1,500.
"We want people to have this experience, so we do it as simply as we can," he said. "We don't make any money on this. It's all for the ministry."
Services: Back home at LZ Refuge, the Kinseys not only assist veterans, but they provide free clothing and food to anyone in need.
The ministry always is in need of volunteers and donations, he said. With the recent economic downturn, the stock of food at LZ Refuge is particularly low, he said.
Kinsey said he works with area veterans groups and ministers to make area veterans aware of the center.
Kinsey said his wife is an integral part of the ministry, working in particular with veterans' spouses and female veterans. He said it is important to include spouses of the veterans on the trips to Vietnam, because they can gain some understanding of the experience.
He said a part of his total ministry is dealing with families of veterans, who often have difficulty understanding that the war changed their loved one so much.
Kinsey said connecting with veterans is a slow process, but knows from his own experience that many Vietnam veterans have difficulty trusting people and often don't want to speak of their war experiences.
His return: When he returned in 1992, he "spent a month in Thailand getting up enough courage to cross the border." After he did, he wished he'd gone sooner. He only had three days left to spend in Vietnam, but knew he would be back.
"I stepped out the door of that plane and there were no flares, no tracer fire, no smoke," he said. "I realized then that the only war still going on was up here," he added, tapping his temple.
Kinsey said in dealing with post traumatic stress disorder after his return home, he turned to alcohol.
"My life completely shattered," he said.
He became a minister in 1989, working with Vietnam veterans from the beginning.
Spreading the word: He counsels veterans spiritually and through shared experience, and makes referrals for those who need more psychological help than he can give. He also wants to spread the word about Point Man Ministries and help area veterans start outposts in other parts of the state.
"I'll be doing this until the day I die," Kinsey said, adjusting clothes on the center's racks. "I tried working other jobs, but this is my calling."
He admits that dealing with the after-effects of his Vietnam service is a continuing struggle. Helping others also helps him.
"I enjoy helping people, and this" -- he said gesturing around the modest storefront of LZ Refuge -- "this keeps me out of bars."