WASHINGTON – While the U.S. House was on a two-week break earlier this month, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District, traveled to the spot in rural Vietnam where his father, a captain in the Army, had died in a plane crash 54 years ago.
It was a tearful moment when Phillips arrived at the site. He scooped up some of the area’s red earth, placing it in a plastic bag to take home and hugged actor Woody Harrelson, who with several other friends, went on the trip with him. The group held what Phillips called “a little ceremony,” said some prayers, and left some flowers at the site.
“It was one of the most meaningful events of my entire life,” Phillips said.
He said the group toured north Vietnam first before heading for the site of the fatal crash.
Phillips never knew his father, Artie Pfefer, because he was only six months old when his father died. His mother later married Eddie Phillips, heir to the Phillips Distilling Company.
Phillips said his birth father grew up “with limited resources, but big dreams,” and that an ROTC scholarship allowed him to attend the University of Minnesota law school.
Phillips wanted to visit the site of his birth father’s crash to get a better sense of who he was but said he could not make the trip, which was paid for by the congressman and not official business, until he was ready.
“I knew it would be a deeply emotional journey,” he said. He also said the trip was “very healing.”
Just a few years ago, Phillips was surprised to find a box of mementos that included a recording of his father singing a song that was popular in 1969, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” by the Animals. In that recording sent to Phillips’ mother, Pfefer said, “Boy those words fit the situation to a tee,” and sent his love to his wife and “Baby Dean.”
The Vietnamese media widely publicized Phillips’ trip to the site of his father’s death. But the trip with Harrelson may have gotten even more attention during a stop in Seoul, South Korea, when the lawmaker and the actor ran into a group of K-Pop stars from BigBang and BLACKPINK and a popular South Korean actor, Park Bo-gum, at a recording studio. A photo of the group went super viral.
“I had the most incredible time with these young, talented folks in Seoul a couple of nights ago,” Harrelson said in a post of the photo on Instagram. “They were so warm and friendly, I didn’t want to leave!”
Phillips also praised the South Korean superstars as “kind and warm.”
Editor’s Note: Ana Radelat wrote this story for MinnPost.com. This story was originally published as part of D.C. Memo in MinnPost on March 23. The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.
Radelat is MinnPost’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.
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