It’s been 49 years since Bart Smith returned from Vietnam and he is still at war.
“It’s so damn hard,” he said. “It will never go away. Never.”
Bart was a 19-year-old marine gunner who experienced the horror of Vietnam from the front lines. He says there was no way to explain what he went through. And, for a while, almost no way to live with it.
“I probably would’ve killed myself because I had no fear of dying,” he said.
Bart says the only thing worth living for was his childhood sweetheart, Lynn Dwyer.
“I used to ride my bicycle 150 miles just to see Lynn,” he said.
Bart met Lynn on a beach in Michigan when they were teenagers. They started dating and exchanged letters during the war. When he came home, Bart asked Lynn to be his wife.
“The only thing that really made me happy was her,” he said.
But Bart just wasn’t the same. Soon, his battles forced their way into the marriage and for Lynn, it was just too much.
“She was just gone. “There was nothing. I gotta come home to an empty house,” he said.
She’s been gone 44 years.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys die. It was hard to see them die, but it was a lot harder to see her go.”
Losing her was that painful.
"Eventually, with the help of a doctor, Bart was able to emotionally deal with what happened in Vietnam. But he still couldn't get over losing Lynn. Until, a local film crew interviewed him for a Vietnam documentary. It was then he realized he had to stop thinking about her and find her instead.
With the help of a friend, last year Bart found a phone number for Lynn and gave her a call.
“I always wanted her to know how much I loved her and I didn’t blame her for what she did,” he said.
“I had a message on my answering machine and it was him and I didn’t believe it,” Lynn said.
Lynn was living in Pennsylvania and says once she called back, the two talked for hours. He spent the time apologizing, while she was just grateful.
“I just realized I had to come see him,” Lynn said.
Lynn flew to Texas where Bart asked her again to be his wife.
And so it was, 44 years after tearing them apart, the war began fading away.
“I still see him as if we’re 22 years old again,” Lynn said. “This image is not gone from me.”
“I thought I’d just be able to die and fade off into the sunset and now I’ve got to live again,” Bart added.
Vietnam may have stolen a lot, but today, he can finally hold on to the love he’s been fighting for.