Earlier this week, on a humid evening, the air heavy with memories and raw emotion at the Cinematheque in Hanoi, I met some of the 17 members of the Veterans for Peace Chapter 160 Spring 2014 Tour, who are here for a two-week visit, including Hanoi, Dong Ha/A Luoi, Khe Sanh, Danang, Hue, Hoi An and HCMC. (This is the only VfP chapter in Vietnam.)
It’s an eclectic group that includes veterans of the American War in Vietnam, conscientious objectors and peace activists, among others. What they all have in common is Vietnam and a heartfelt desire for peace and reconciliation. Some have been here before, others for the first time, i.e., in the post-war era. Each participant will donate $1,000 to support a charitable cause. At the end of the tour the group will decide which project(s) to support. Below is a list of Chapter 160 projects:
- Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City- Has a special unit for Agent Orange (AO) babies & children.
- Project RENEW – Clears UXOs (Unexploded Ordinance – landmines & unexploded bombs) in Quang Tri Province & throughout Vietnam; supports victims, teaches children & adults how to be safe.
- VAVA – Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin – In A Luoi (“A Shau”) Valley in Quang Tri Province, Nha Trang & throughout Vietnam.
- DAVA – Danang Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin
- The Friendship Village in Hanoi – A residential, medical & vocational center for Agent Orange victims, including Vietnamese veterans & their family members affected by AO.
- HIVOW – Helping Invisible Victims of War is a non-profit 501(c)3 incorporated in New Jersey in 2009. Funds Duc Son Pagoda in Hue for disabled children & provides food to indigenous tribes along the former DMZ.
- Orange Cow – Provides a cow or water buffalo to Agent Orange-effected farmers in the Hue & A Luoi Valley area by partnering with Hue University & “Hearts of Hue” to fund training, materials for the animals’ shelter, feed, & veterinary care
Same Same But Different
The highlight of the evening was the screening of a film entitled Same Same But Different, the story of veterans returning to Vietnam to heal the wounds of war. It consists of interviews with four veterans who return to Vietnam to do what they can to right some of the wrongs of the past in different fields, some related to war legacies such as Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO). They are Chuck Searcy (Hanoi/Dong Ha, Quang Tri), Chuck Palazzo (Danang) and Mike Cull (Nha Trang), all friends of mine, I’m proud to say. Same Same But Different was produced by Deryle Perryman, a veteran (see photo below), and Moisés González, a film producer. It was funded as a Kickstarter project with donations that totaled $25,050 and completed in 2012. (Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects.)
The post-film discussion included some very emotional and eloquent comments by several members of the delegation and expats, all with a connection to Vietnam and the war. Two of the more notable contributors were Andre Sauvageot, a retired US Army Colonel, and another retired US Army Colonel and U.S. State Department official, Ann Wright. One expat who works in the field of education spoke about losing three brothers and a cousin in the war.
Sauvageot, who speaks fluent Vietnamese, arrived in Vietnam in the summer of 1964 as a US Army district adviser to local forces. He worked for Frank Scotton, a pioneer in counter-insurgency warfare, and was hired by Covert Action Chief Tom Donohue into the CIA’s Revolutionary Development Cadre program.
Wright is best known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She was one of three US government employees to publicly resign in protest against the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, in addition to Brady Kiesling and John H. Brown.
As many veterans have told me, the impact of a return visit to Vietnam is profound and therapeutic on so many levels. This is something I wrote about in this 2013 article entitled From the Lion’s Den: An Open Letter (and Invitation) to Vietnam Veterans.
P.S.: Here’s a Vietnamese language article about the tour: Cựu binh Mỹ vì hòa bình: Tích cực trong giải quyết hậu quả chiến tranh.