The TRUTH Behind the movie 'Operation Torrent' from Veteran Josh Collins

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Khao Laem National Park To Srinakarin Dam Raft Homestay

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Khao Laem National Park To Srinakarin Dam Raft Homestay.

After some hilly climbs in the Thong Pha Phum and Itong area it was turnaround time to head back to Hin Dat Springs then divert off the Thai Burma Railway route section into another region. Even more very steeper climbs over another National Park towards the Srinakarin Dam for a two day stopover at a friend’s raft house.

Tested the body today with some 2 hour straight climbs and big downhill descents, but where’s there’s a down there always an up. Some serious off road cycling involved which kept the mechanic busy changing tyre after tyre.

Some beautiful jungle in this part of the world between the River Kwai Noi (small) and River Kwai Yai (big) fed by two huge adjacent dams the Khao Laem and the Srinakarin Dams. The National Park well off the beaten track was like the lost world and getting to the raft was quite a mean feat in itself.

My friend’s raft is a world away from the maddening crowd and smog created by the big cities, fish in abundance and not a soul around.

A couple of ferry crossings to get in and out after some heavy cycling but well worth the effort for the adventure and to simply chill out.

I’ll return here again soon for another training period and get back to the raft for a break, take the watch off and in future will certainly bag the mobile phone for a week or two whilst recharging my body and mind.

We managed to just avoid cycling into a herd of wild elephants on route to Erawan falls after leaving the ferry which was the excitement for the day.

Truck Sams dodging wild elephants on The Long Ride Home in the national parks of Thailand.

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The Long Ride Home at Tha Khanun Railway Siding and POW camp location on the Thai- Burma Railway.

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Passing through Hin Dat Springs riding North from Hellfire Pass, we were able to have a brief stop to ease the aching muscles in the local hot springs.

Hin Dat Springs is located 33km North of Sai Yok Yai National Park entrance and 20km South of the small town of Thong Pha Phum just in off the main highway linking both locations.

The springs were once known as Kuimang Hot Springs. They are natural hot springs with temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees Celsius.

The original spring was discovered by a Japanese soldier during World War II and blocked off by large stones to form a bathing pool by POW labour. Later two more pools were built for swimming and relaxation. It is believed that the mineral water here can cure many kinds of diseases, including beriberi and rheumatism. There is a cold stream running past the hot pools where you can cool off from your dip in the hot bath to stimulate the blood circulation. Located close by is a Japanese shrine with a small hot pool 50 meters from the main bathing area that was built for the Japanese commander and now reserved for the local head monk only.

I wasn’t so relaxed a bit further on from the springs in a small Thai town Thong Pha Phum that lays amongst the mountains of the Khao Laem National Park. The base of the Khao Laem Dam is known for it’s close proximity to one of the most ruthless POW camps along the Thai Burma Railway during WW2.

500km behind us since leaving Hua Hin and on arriving in Thong Pha Phum town we took a short ride across the old swing bridge to the vicinity of a few old POW camp locations of Tha Khanun, including a large mound of earth a grim reminder of where Tha Khanun railway station once stood.

I could still see where the line used to run through the old siding for about 3km towards the Khao Laem Dam wall.

In 2002, after walking up here from Nong Pladuk, I interviewed a 92 year local villager who told me that she and her family smuggled food into the starving POWs who had little to no shelter or food when slaving away in the camps that stretched along the river here 75 years ago.

I’ve marked a rough overlay of the railway line on some photos where the railway once went through Tha Khanun, now located on private property or in overgrown parts of the jungle around the East side of the River Kwai Noi.

Australian Department of Veterans’ Affair’s article in brief: Like many camps along the railway at this time, Tha Khanun was a cholera camp. The first case was diagnosed on 9 July 1943 . By 8 August there had been 59 cases and 21 deaths. 'It has been hell—accommodations inadequate and even then muddy, Insufficient men to look after them, insufficient containers to boil water for them—pouring rain', was how POW Roy Mills described the situation. During July being well into the rainy season dysentery and other related illnesses were rampant.

Truck Sams and co riders on the long ride home along old sections of the Thai-Burma Railway.

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Along What Remains of The Old Thai Burma Railway

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There is very little of the Thai-Burma Railway still standing with only 118km of active line remaining from the Nong Pladuk Railway Junction to Nam Tok near Hellfire Pass.

If you’re wanting to visit the Thai-Burma Railway to experience and travel along what railway still remains there are tours that will bring you to Hellfire Pass Museum 72km north west from the city of Kanchanaburi by road transport then bring you back 26km to Nam Tok station.

The train trip will take you around the banks of the River Kwai Noi through Wampo cutting to Kanchanaburi. You can opt to get off the train at a pre designated point to be picked up by the tour van or do the whole journey back into Kanchanaburi city including crossing the infamous Bridge on the River Kwai then onto the War Cemetery and the adjacent Thai Burma Railway Research Centre after arriving back in town.

The steamy jungles along the remaining railway length are long gone and over the years have been replaced by sugar cane fields and tapioca crops. It has been reported that farmers when turning over the fields have occasionally uncovered mass graves of Asian force labourers buried along the length of the railway.

A public hearing was held recently in the western border province to hear the views of local residents, majority backing a proposal by a national committee on the protection of cultural world heritage sites to have the railway line recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

After a well deserved overnight stop in Nam Tok we cycled onto Thong Pha Phum today passing by the Australian War Memorial Museum at Hellfire Pass which is currently under renovations and soon to be unveiled in October during the official 75th Anniversary of the end of the Thai - Burma railway construction line 1943.

The mist was rising up from Hellfire Pass when riding by early hours. A slight down pour of rain cooled our hot bodies but did not dampen our spirits whilst ascending a steep hill to the old Malay Hamlet that housed Asian force labour above Hellfire Pass during the construction.

The sun suddenly broke out allowing beams of light to shine from above almost like rays of hope carrying a message that we were on sacred ground leaving us to only visualise the hundreds of POWs and Asian labourers who died just below where we were passing by.

Truck Sams and Co Riders on the long ride home along the Thai-Burma Railway

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The Long Ride Home Singapore to Myanmar preparation ride

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Just reached Kanchanaburi after leaving Hua Hin a couple of days ago with my co rider Merle Oates from Narrogin Western Australia, Khun Ning guide and Khun Bird the mechanic. We’re now resting up before changing the training mode, that being an introduction to some steep climbs in the Khao Laem National Park area.

The laden saddle bags haven’t altered much to my formula of time over space over ground in other words getting to our destinations before the tropical sun is at it’s peak.

I’m still fascinated by the locals, mainly women out in the fields in the extreme heat working and hacking away with their tools preparing the earth for new sugar cane crops. All I can say the women in this part of the world are bloody tough.

The tarmac below passes under me endlessly as I clock up the required training kilometers each day, but at the same time I try not to avoid lifting my head to view out to beautiful Thailand - the distant mountains, rice fields, corn crops beautiful temples and the people themselves going about their way as they’ve been doing for hundreds of years.

I’m away from the tourist haunts which to me isn’t real Thailand, but at the same time I’m very understanding that tourists find the bigger cities like Bangkok, Pataya and Phuket to their liking.

Like in most parts of the world, country folk are more hospitable, easy going, polite, non aggressive, not so money driven and take the time to smile even though they’re doing it tough. At the moment I’m in that zone, certainly whilst riding off the beaten track for another 10 days at least.

Kanchanaburi today is another city becoming bigger and tourist driven due to a more recent border post opening up close by linking Thailand to Myanmar. Regardless, I’m here for a rest day and taking advantage of easing those tight muscles before moving on tomorrow along the adjacent road of the infamous Thai Burma railway to Khao Laem National Park to test the body on some big mountains as mentioned.

Wikipedia: Khao Laem National Park is a park of about 1,500 square kilometers in western Thailand, located in the northern area of the Tenasserim Hills, Kanchanaburi Province. It is a part of the Western Forest Complex, a system of protected wilderness in the Dawna-Tenasserim Hills area of western Thailand.

The park surrounds the Khao Laem Reservoir in Kanchanaburi province about 340 km northwest of Bangkok. It is cut through by Road 323. The vegetation consists of mixed deciduous, hill evergreen and dry evergreen forest. It is adjacent to the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, which is situated to the northeast of Khao Laem National Park. Large animals of the area include tigers, elephants, gaurs, sambar deer, barking deer and wild boars.

Truck Sams and riding crew on The Long Ride Home training in Thailand

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TLRH Training Day

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Now well into the preparations for the Singapore to the Myanmar/Thai border with continuous training over the next 3 months until the start in September.

I’m getting a last training ride here in the Hua Hin area before throwing the saddle bags on the bike to ride North for 2 weeks soon.

This morning I headed towards the Hua Hin hinterland amongst the pineapple fields. Plenty of trucks laden with the juicy sweet product passed by knowing that too much speed on the sharp bends would result in their top heavy load heading for the roadside and not the Hua Hin markets close by.

A quick stop over at the Temple of the famous monk Luang Phor Thuad before heading back along pineapple alley.

A description of Wat Huay Mongol by trip advisor for tourists coming to the area; The Wat Huay Mongkol temple complex located some 15 kilometers west of Hua Hin is famous for its enormous statue of one of Thailand’s most famous monks, named Luang Phor Thuad.

Giant Luang Phor Thuad statue is about 12 meters tall and 10 meters wide and is set on a large mound overlooking the temple grounds.

The image can be seen from far away reaching higher than the trees. You can climb up the wide stairways to the giant statue. The temple itself is a place very popular with Thai people from all over the country, who go there to pay respect to Luang Phor Thuad and to ask for things as favours, good luck, health, fortune and happiness.

On each side of the giant statue, there is a huge wooden elephant. Local people walk in circles under the belly of the elephants wishing for good luck. The complex also holds a Buddhist temple, a statue of King Taksin the Great on horseback and shops where Buddhist amulets can be bought.

The whole complex is set in a park like environment, very well suited for a couple of hours of relaxing. The area has a lake, waterfalls, streams, bridges, a number of pavilions and lots of shady places. Thai food can be bought in several restaurants. Apart from the very impressive Luang Phor Thuad statue, Wat Huay Mongkol is a very peaceful and serene place worth a visit. It is best visited on weekdays, as it can get very crowded on weekends and on Thai public holidays.

Luang Phor Thuad, whose name is sometimes spelled Luang Phor Thuat, lived some 400 years ago in Southern Thailand. He is now famous all over the country for the miracles that he performed. It was said that Luang Phor Thuad turned salt water into fresh, drinkable water on multiple occasions

A great number of miracles is attributed to the famous monk Luang Phor Thuad. Therefore, many Thai people believe that amulets created in the image of Luang Phor Thuad hold great protective powers, especially from natural disasters like tsunamis and flooding and from accidents. Especially old amulets are considered very powerful and priceless. Amulets can be bought in Wat Huay Mongkol at a number of shops.

I cannot help but being fascinated by the huge statue and the surrounding area when visiting here. It’s hard not to move on, but when you’re on the bike reality sets in that’s exactly what you’ve got to do in beating the dark clouds closing in from Myanmar ready to let loose with an almighty daily downpour.

Truck Sams On The Long Ride Home avoiding fallen pineapples on rainy days in Thailand

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Going Coconuts

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Back on the road again after a short stint in Australia. A full medical and I’m told by the medicos I can go ahead and ride another 100,000 kms. Now it’s time to focus on the long ride home events through to 2020 at least. I’m in Thailand and it’s an early morning training routine again rain hail or shine during the rainy season through until November.

Some big rides ahead for 2018 but the focus is on retracing the steps of our former POWs by cycling from Singapore to The Three Pagoda Pass Thailand to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Burma-Thailand Death Railway

It was an honour to receive an invitation from the Australian Embassy Thailand to be part of the commemoration of the 75 years since the railway was completed in October 1943 but also to be part of the opening ceremony of the newly upgraded Hellfire Pass Museum. The museum has undergone a multi million dollar overhaul which comes the Australian Government’s Department of Veteran Affairs and the watchful eye of the Australian Embassy in Thailand.

More to follow on the 75th Anniversary Ride as we move closer to the start from Singapore in September 102 days away.

My first training ride back in the saddle takes me 125kms from Hua Hin to Amphawa in the area of the floating markets well known to foreign tourists visiting Thailand .

Riding beside the river one can see the many local tributaries and streams called klongs that run into local village farms, in turn, are supply routes back to the local community direct to homes and floating markets by way of small hand driven boats laden with fresh products.

I’m surrounded by thick jungle and coconuts trees by the thousands as I ride along. The area famous for producing popular coconut crops but an area to watch out for working monkeys picking and tossing down the sought after fruit to their handler below. It’s always hit and miss with the odd coconut thrown onto a passing car or cyclists Oooow !!! But what can you expect from a monkey working for peanuts ?

I’m in the area of Wat Bung Kung an area famous for a former king who was passionate about training his warriors in the art of Muay Thai boxing combined with the art of sword fighting to be used against his Burmese foe during that time.

I walk through the grounds of the temple with only a few local tourists and encounter visiting an Infantry company compliment (100) of full Muay Thai boxer statues in different fighting stances, some and with swords in a striking pose.

Wikipedia: Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is a combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. This physical and mental discipline which includes combat on shins is known as "the art of eight limbs" because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees, shins, being associated with a good physical preparation that makes a full-contact fighter very efficient. Muay Thai became widespread internationally in the 20th century when practitioners defeated experts in other martial arts. The professional league is governed by The Professional Boxing Association of Thailand (P.A.T.) sanctioned by The Sport Authority of Thailand (S.A.T.), and World Muaythai Federation (W.M.F.) overseas.

Located in Thailand’s Bang Khonthi district, this area was once set up as a military camp called “Kai Bang Kung” for southern provinces troops fighting the Burmese army. After the fall of the Ayutthaya kingdom, King Taksin restored the camp as a base for Chinese soldiers and renamed it “Kai Chin Bang Kung”. The life-sized statues honour these heroes and are spread out behind a monument of King Taksin the Great.

The temple itself features a ubosot lodged in the roots of large sacred Bodhi and Banyan trees that have helped preserve the structure of the temple. Inside the ubosot is a large Buddha statue and mural paintings, depicting the Lord Buddha’s past life.

Truck Sams On The Long Ride Home Thailand watching out for airborne coconuts.

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Lieutenant Colonel Barry Petersen MC, MID (Rtd)

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SAS Mates meet in the remote outback of Australia

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Brian “Ned“ Kelly 1 SAS Squadron Vietnam 1970-71 and Martin Ardley 2 SAS Squadron 1980s met by chance during Anzac Day 2018 in the Great Sandy Desert Australia.

My good olde mate Ned Kelly who was one of my support crew on The Long Ride Home during the across Australia leg in 2016 for PTSD Awareness and who kept me fed with kangaroo tail soup on a daily basis for my ride.

Ned had been working with the Aboriginal tribes since the mid 1970s not long after he returned from his tour of duty in Vietnam. His first involvement was resettlement of the lost tribes of the Sandy Desert during the times of government intervention of the missile testing days in the remote areas of Australia.

Ned was indoctrinated into the tribes as a tribal member and has since returned to the region to what he terms as a dream job being a research & development officer for the Martu country in general, logging of the remote waterholes, burning the country the Martu way which is what he says is the right way, involved in endangered species work, and recording stories of the old ones that are still alive in the Sandy Desert beyond all telecommunications.

Wikipedia; The Martu (Mardu) are a confederation of indigenous Australian peoples, who are part of the Western Desert cultural bloc.

Writing in 1974 Norman Tindale Norman AO an Australian anthropologist, archaeologist, entomologist and ethnologist stated that the term had been applied to several groups in this area, among them to the Kartudjara, had no tribal significance but simply denoted that the people there had undergone full initiation.

The people aggregated under the tribal designation of Martu were speakers of versions of the Wati languages, so-named because the general term among them for 'an initiated adult (man)' was wati, though in the Kalgoorlie and Mount Margaret areas, the term was puntu. Since the 80s the Martu term for person (mardu meaning 'one of us') has prevailed among the peoples at Jigalong, Wiluna, Punmu, Parnngurr and Kunawarritji.

All of these languages belong to the Wati subgroup of the Pama–Nyungan linguistic family. However, the first language for at least of these 12 groups is now Nyangumarta, spoken down to the 1980s by about 700 people from Port Hedland to Marble Bar.

Martu Wangka – a hybrid language predominantly melding Kartujarra and Manyjilyjarra, is also spoken. Some members of the Warnman people may still speak Wanman as a first language rather than Martu Wangka.

Their traditional lands are a large tract in the Great Sandy Desert, within the Pilbara region of Western Australia, including Jigalong, Telfer (Irramindi), the Warla (Percival Lakes), Karlamilyi (Rudall River) and Kumpupirntily (Lake Disappointment) areas.

Another SAS Squadron member (2 Squadron) Martin Ardley has just spent most part of the last month or so on a walkabout, wandering around the Great Sandy, Little Sandy, and Gibson Deserts, retracing some of Len Beadell’s old tracks and survey points.

Leonard (Len) Beadell OAM BEM FIEMS (21 April 1923 – 12 May 1995) was a surveyor, road builder, bushman, artist and author, responsible for constructing over 6000 km of roads and opening up isolated desert areas (some 2.5 million square kilometres) of central Australia from 1947 to 1963. Born in West Pennant Hills, New South Wales, Beadell is sometimes called "the last true Australian explorer".

Marty says; “Back in the day we did numerous army trips to Woomera blowing up things or out of things, and learning something of the background and history of the region, and also walking from Mulga Downs Station East of Wittenoom towards Port Hedland on my SAS Survival Course, may have had some bearing why he’s still wondering the district and now accidentally bumping into veterans like Ned.

Marty explains; “ I felt like a well earned bath one day and headed up to water well Number 33 on the Canning Stock Route, where I knew there was good water, I hadn’t seen anyone in about a week or so, and went about my business, when your old mate Ned turns up with his little helpers, those being his Martu tribal assistants”.

Ned is a volunteer Ranger with the Martu People from the Kunawarritji Community, and promptly asked me for my permit to be on their land. I told him ”The dog ate It!“

Keeping it short, there was a bit of to and fro before we both realised we were tarred with the same brush (Ex SAS soldiers alike) and all of a sudden we were best mates. BLOODY SMALL WORLD !!!!!

He then made me “PROMISE” to send these photos and the story to you Truck to back up his excuse for not attending the recent 2 SAS Squadron’s reunion in Brisbane during this last Anzac Day.

Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home taking a short break in Australia

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Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Petersen MC. MID

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The Long Ride Home with The Tiger Man of Vietnam

Following my visit to Hellfire Pass and the Commonwealth War Graves at Kanchanaburi for the Anzac Day Dawn Service I took the opportunity to head to Bangkok to visit a fellow Australian Vietnam veteran, Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Petersen MC. MID, who has lived in Thailand for the past 27 years and who, sadly, couldn"t attend this year"s Anzac Day service due to his cancer-related illness.

Barry was kind enough to make time available for me and some younger veterans who wanted to meet the legendary Tiger Man of Vietnam.

In November 2010, after hearing of Barry's illness, The Sydney Morning herald published this article:

BARRY Petersen, a 75-year-old Australian dying of cancer in Bangkok, has one of those lives that seems untrue. Yet it is not. He is real. "I have undertaken a few endeavours," he says, "but I am nearing the end now."

Petersen was awarded 13 medals for his service in Vietnam, Borneo and Malaysia. He ended up a lieutenant-colonel.

What he did and how he did it, however, makes him the Colonel Kurtz of Australia - Kurtz being the Apocalypse Now anti-hero who led an army of hill tribe rebels against the Vietcong, at first with the blessing of his bosses and then, as his messiah status escalated, in defiance of them. The parallels are striking.

Petersen was an Australian Army captain in 1963. He had already worked with mountain tribes in Malaysia, so when trouble brewed in Vietnam the CIA sent him to lead the Montagnards (the French term for the mountain-dwelling tribes).

At first, the CIA left him to it. But as he got the Montagnards on side - ruining Vietcong supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and kidnapping, ambushing and killing Vietcong agents - his aura as leader of a unit called the "Tiger Men" grew.

By 1965, he had fostered, according to his CIA bosses, a "personality cult".

The CIA grew suspicious. They thought he was a destabilising influence. This is where his story differs from Kurtz, who wouldn't leave so they had him killed. Petersen did leave, but only after refusing to let his "Tiger Men" become assassins in the notorious CIA Phoenix program, which targeted civilian Vietcong sympathisers (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Program for background information).

He later learned that if he hadn't left he would have been killed himself. Biographer Frank Walker says he has no doubt Petersen "dodged a bullet". All this time the Vietcong had a bounty on his head as well. Petersen survived, thrived even. The 13 medals include a Vietnam War hero with a difference prepares for his last act of gallantry Military Cross awarded for "exemplary gallantry during active operations".

Yet Petersen - born in Mackay, Queensland - is now selling his medals. London auctioneer David Erskine-Hill from Dix Noonan Webb estimates their value at $100,000 - $150,000 but they may go for more. Petersen's Military Cross, Mr Erskine-Hill told The Age, was "fascinating and impressive" with an "extraordinary history of clandestine operations".

Petersen's reasons for selling are his final act of gallantry. He moved from Cairns to Bangkok in 1992 and set up a business consulting company for foreign firms, employing 17 Thais, who he says have become his "de facto family". He never married and has no children. He has two sisters in Brisbane.

"I"m a pragmatic person," he says, "and you can"t take things with you when you drop off the perch. I may have earned them and they are of value and, yes, I could send them back to Australia, but I would prefer to do something for the people who have looked after me here for the last 18 years."

The proceeds from the medals, and also the silver tableware he has collected since the 1960s, will buy the building his company leases. That way he knows the future for the staff is secure.

He says his attitude to them is the same as it was towards the Montagnards; rather than a personality cult he had a "total acceptance of them and their way of life".

He expects to be criticised for not donating the medals to an archive of Australian history. RSL national president Rear Admiral Ken Doolan said last night that while it was a "private and sensitive matter", all veterans should be "encouraged to retain medals with pride".

To Petersen, his choice will see a "tangible" outcome rather than "donating them to some corner in Australia where someone would see them once in a while".

He says he was never one to dwell on the past anyway, preferring to "do my best in whatever I get given to do but once it"s over [to] get on with something else". He says while he was "very fond" of the men he commanded during two Vietnam tours he was never keen on "hanging around at an RSL club to talk about all the exploits and so on".

He has, he says, even at this stage of his extraordinary life, a different outlook. "I don't march to the same drum as others."

It"s been eight years since the article but Barry continues to fight his cancer, hanging on, he says, like a frog clinging to a branch by one claw to avoid the jaws of a snake.

Now 84 and confined to a Bangkok hospital, Barry has a message for the thousands of vets who've suffered PTSD from their service: “Cling onto that branch, keep occupied, and help others as a way of helping yourself”.

Barry Petersen, from all those who respect you my friend, we're all thinking of you and pray you beat the odds.

Truck Sams with the Tiger Man of Vietnam in Thailand on The Long Road Home Team.

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