KIRBYVILLE, Mo. — A Vietnam veteran is sharing his story with OzarksFirst after he received an email for an all-expenses paid trip to the country he once fought in.

Tom Center fought in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and thanks to a Patriots program at the College of the Ozarks (CofO),  he was offered a chance to revisit the battlefields where he fought.

Center said he was about to delete the email that he received because he didn’t think it was real but he was glad that he didn’t.

“I almost had eliminated the email even before I opened it up but after reading it about three times, I have to admit I started crying because I always wanted to go back to Vietnam,” said Center. 

The College of the Ozarks offers patriotic education trips where students, veterans, and staff members travel back to the battlefields where the veterans fought and learn about their experiences. 

Center and 11 other veterans traveled with CofO students back to Vietnam where Center served as a combat sailor for an Army-Navy battle-seeking unit known as the Mobile Riverine Force. 

Center says he always dreamed about going back to visit Vietnam and after he completed the trip, he said he came back a changed man.

“What a trip, there was so much emotional and mental healing provided through that trip. To see the battlegrounds I have traversed, restored, people reunited in terms of what they wanted to do,” said Center. 

After coming back from the trip to Vietnam, Center decided to write a book—something he has always wanted to do.

“I have to admit, from the time I came back from Vietnam … and for 45 years in the back of my mind, I said I wanted to write a book … but I didn’t know how to write dialogue, I couldn’t write a dialogue of you and me speaking so it would just be a monologue of one person and that fits a diary,” said Center. 

Tom Center’s book is called The Crossroad Diaries. It is a mixture of poetry, pictures, and letters sent home from someone who spent more than a hundred hours per month going on deadly river operations.

Tom said he wrote the book online on Facebook over a year’s time.

He said after writing his book, he got to relive his first year in Vietnam all over again except this time it’s not as a 19-year-old soldier but as an adult. 

Center said the feedback he’s received from other veterans is what makes his work so special.

“One of the most important things is the report back from those who’s dealt with PTSD. whether it be the service members themselves or the family members. I’ve had many of them go … now I understand what’s going on inside the head and that has been a real blessing,” said Center. 

The Vietnam War Veteran told OzarksFirst that he has plans to write a second book in the near future.