The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
November/December 2005
FEATURE
 
 

Peace and Friendship Among Nations
VVA's Veterans Initiative in Vietnam

 

BY MOKIE PRATT PORTER

For sixteen days in September, VVA’s Veterans Initiative Task Force traveled from the north to the south of Vietnam to engage again our former enemy in the continuing process of accounting for the missing from the war.

On September 12, in Hanoi, the VVA Veterans Initiative Task Force was awarded the prestigious Medal for Peace and Friendship Among Nations in recognition of the continuing contributions VVA has made in the exchange of information about fallen Vietnamese during the war.

At a subsequent meeting, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), Detachment 2, in Hanoi briefed VVA’s VITF team (Robert Maras, Bob Johnston, Gary Jones, Bill Duker, Grant Coates, and Mokie Porter) on operations in Vietnam. There were several requests from JPAC for the team to present to the Vietnamese officials throughout the trip; in particular, access to specific excavation sites.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the VITF delegation met with Ambassador Le Van Bang—Vietnam’s first Ambassador in Washington—at the Vietnam Office of Seeking Missing Personnel to discuss the need to reestablish Joint Field Activities in the Central Highlands. Access has been limited in the Highlands due to unrest over land and religious issues. Le Bang noted that although the situation in the Central Highlands remains sensitive, there is improvement. JPAC and VNOSMP have conducted some interviews and investigations; however, no excavations are scheduled.

At a meeting with the Veterans Association of Vietnam, General Dang Quan Thuy, the Association’s president, reaffirmed his organization’s commitment to working with VVA: “The Vietnamese government has always considered the MIA issue as humanitarian, so the two organizations would continue to cooperate to overcome the damage left by the war.”

General Thuy presented each member of the delegation with a copy of the diaries of Dr. Dang Thuy Trau, a 27-year-old North Vietnamese Army surgeon who was killed in a battle near Duc Pho in 1970. Her diaries were saved by an American soldier in 1970. The soldier, who later became an FBI agent, kept the diaries for over thirty years and eventually succeeded in locating the doctor’s 82-year-old mother in Hanoi and sharing them with her. Published in July 2005, the diaries have sold over 350,000 copies in Vietnam. They have been translated into English and can be found at www.texastech.edu/tramdiaries

The meeting between VVA’s VITF and the Veterans Association of Vietnam was attended by many from the Hanoi press corps, including Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Press, Vietnam News, TV 1 (Vietnam Television), TV 4 (Vietnam television for international community), Nhan Dan, Peoples Army Newspapers, Saigon Times, the Labor Daily, the Yomiuri Shimbum.

As they traveled south, the VITF delegation met with the People’s Committee and Veterans Associations in Thua Thien-Hue Province, Quang Tri Province, Quang Nam Province, Danang City, Ho Chi Minh City, and Ben Tre Province.

During the visit to Hue, the VITF delegation met a delegation of Australian veterans and the two delegations shared information about the missing from both sides. More than 500 Australians died in Vietnam. Four Australian Army soldiers and two RAAF airmen remain missing.

In Quang Nam Province, the Veterans Association of Vietnam represents 30,000 veterans and their families, of which 5,000 veterans are believed to have A/O-related illnesses and 500 children have birth defects. Unexploded ordnance is an ongoing problem for the province. The veterans of Quang Nam Province and the VITF have worked together for more than 11 years; their hard-earned relationship has led to the recovery of both American and NVA war dead from the battlefield of Ngok Tavak.

Veterans there face a new challenge: The battlefield of Kham Duc, 75 kilometers west of Tam Ky in northernmost I Corps, has been designated an “Enterprise Zone” and is slated for a strip mining project. In August 2005, a Joint Field Activity successfully recovered the remains of some American and Vietnamese soldiers, but, because of finances, the recovery mission was not completed. A second field activity, scheduled for spring 2006, should complete the mission.

In Hanoi, JPAC had expressed concerns that the strip mining project might supersede the recovery efforts. The vice chairman of the People’s Committee of Quang Nam Province in Tam Ky gave her word that the excavation of the battle site would take priority and the mining project would be delayed until the excavation was complete. The veterans of Quang Nam Province have vowed they would allow no development until the recovery of American and Vietnamese soldiers is complete.

Also in Quang Nam Province, at the urging of JPAC, the VITF asked for information about an American servicemember who remains unaccounted for. The team received detailed information in response to their inquiry, and this information has been turned over to JPAC for evaluation. In keeping with our commitment of confidentiality to the families of those who remain unaccounted for, it will be up to the family to decide to share this information.

While in the North, VITF members compared war memories with a Vietnamese veteran who had been an instructor in a military school under the Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Command of the Peoples’ Army of Vietnam. While in Bien Hoa, Grant Coates and Bob Johnston were invited to visit with friends of the veteran’s family. When they spoke about their mission in Vietnam, the conversation turned to a discussion about American remains that had been buried nearby and, to the best of their knowledge, hadn’t been removed. This information was immediately relayed to JPAC, which followed up with an interview.

VVA was consistent in its message that by working veteran to veteran, Vietnamese and American veterans can achieve extraordinary results. At each meeting, the VITF delegation provided recently received information about three mass burial sites in three provinces that reportedly contained over 90 Vietnamese KIA. During the course of its existence, the VITF has provided documents and information from American veterans concerning over 9,000 Vietnamese KIA in various locations. The Vietnamese have informed the VITF that the information provided by American veterans has enabled them to locate the remains of over 900 Vietnamese veterans. The news of VVA’s new leadership and the reaffirmation of the membership of VVA’s commitment to the Veterans Initiative was greeted with great enthusiasm, as was the hope that VVA’s president, John Rowan, would come to Vietnam.

VVA’s VITF continues to ask American veterans to provide documents, maps, photographs, diaries, and other information that might assist the Vietnamese in learning the fate of some of their many missing who never returned from the war. We know that missing Americans remain unaccounted for. American veterans still continue to come forward with information, and VVA’s VITF continues to work with JPAC and the Veterans Association of Vietnam. Working veteran-to-veteran, the VITF allows information and communication about the missing to be shared. Even with the solid accomplishment of Ngok Tavak behind it after many years of persistence and joint effort, the VITF knows that its work is not done.


The Medal for Peace and Friendship Among Nations

The medal for Peace and Friendship Among Nations honors individuals and organizations who are making great contributions to the promotion and enhancement of mutual understanding, peace, and friendship between the Vietnamese people and the people of the world. The medal, initiated in 2000, is awarded by the Vietnam Union of Friendship organizations, the umbrella organization for more than 50 bilateral friendship organizations of Vietnamese people with people of other countries. Of the 878 medals that have been awarded to date, only two have been awarded to organizations: VVA's Veterans Initiative Task Force and Clear Path International
share this honor.

Pictured on the cloisonne medal is the logo of the Vietnam Union of Friendship. Circling the logo in red on the gold background are the words, "Vi Hoa Binh Huu Nghi Giua Cac Dan Toc," translated from Vietnamese, "Medal of Peace and Friendship Among Nations." The Veterans Initiative Task Force was awarded the medal on September 12 in Hanoi. The citation recognized VVA's "valuable assistance and contribution to the process of the fullest possible accounting for the personnel missing in action on both sides and the establishment of friendship relations and cooperation between veterans and the people of Vietnam and the U.S."
 

   

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