is situated on an antebellum plantation named after the African
country whose inhabitants had been captured as slaves and
transported to the New World. It is Louisiana’s oldest
prison and the nation’s largest prison.
post-Civil War Reconstruction era brought widespread unemployment,
poverty, and despair for the newly freed slaves, as well
for the former Confederate soldiers and their families. This
period was marked by social disorder and the need for cheap
labor to reconstruct Louisiana’s infrastructure. Work
was sorely needed on the levees along Mississippi River and
on the devastated railways and roads.
way to address these labor-intensive public work projects
was by “leasing convicts.” In 1880, former Confederate
Maj. Samuel James purchased Angola, an 8,000-acre plantation
in West Feliciana Parish, and offered to confine Louisiana
prisoners in the former slave quarters close to the Mississippi’s
levees at no cost to the state. In exchange, Maj. James kept
the profits from their enforced labor. This arrangement was
passed on to his son upon James’s death in 1894.
began a long period of penal servitude coupled with sheer
brutality. The life expectancy of a prisoner was about five
years, even after the state acquired the prison plantation
in 1901. Living conditions were extremely unsanitary, and
diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria were rampant. Prisoners
were guarded by mounted and armed “convict bosses.” Prisoners
were often desperate to escape the harsh conditions.
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of the brotherhood and healing provided by being a member
of a VVRP team was something that the VA can never provide
for a veteran. If one of us had a rough time with something,
there were ten brothers to pick us back up.
I watched one of
our brothers totally get off his PTSD meds. I believe I slew
a lot of dragons over there. My friends keep telling me I
came home different.”
VVRP team member
Having lived and worked in Vietnam
for eight years, John Ward’s return to the A Shau Valley
held a particularly special meaning. When he made it back
to the area in which he served during the Vietnam War, it
was in the company of other Vietnam veterans from the Veterans
Vietnam Restoration Project (VVRP), a California-based group
with a long record of returning to Vietnam to heal spiritual
wounds and undertake humanitarian projects.
The VVRP has sent
teams of Vietnam veterans (frequently accompanied by non-veterans)
to Vietnam twenty-one times prior to the 2007 mission. In
2008, Ward coordinated another project in the same A Luoi
district at A Dot. Another team went in April 2008 and built
another school building, as the team had done at A Luoi.
VVRP spokesman Ed Daniels said, “Both projects were
successful not only from our perspective but from the Vietnamese
perspective as well. The Vietnamese were very happy with
the work that was done.
How To Start And Run A Charity In Vietnam
A series of articles
focusing on VVA chapters and the fundraising strategies
they have developed
In 1999, Francis
(Chuck) Theusch bought an around-the-world airplane ticket.
He wanted to go to Vietnam to see the country where he had
fought 30 years earlier. Theusch was a mortar-man with the
Americal Division. His AO was near Duc Pho, close to the
My Lai massacre.
Theusch went to
the My Lai Massacre Memorial where he met a tourist guide.
She was reserved, and her demeanor showed some hostility.
Some of her relatives had died in the massacre, and she did
not like Americans. But she was polite, and Theusch spoke
with her about other things. He found out her father was
a school administrator near the memorial, and they went to
find him and talk about the war. The man was a former VC.
They talked about the war, and the conversation turned to
what the future held for the Vietnamese people.
had decided that he wanted to help this country and its people.
There had been flooding in the area, and Theusch thought
he could rebuild a bridge that had flooded out. His interpreter
shrugged and said it flooded every year. What this country
needed was libraries, the interpreter said.
ended his world tour, cashed in his ticket, and used the
cash to start a library.
The members of
Rockland County, New York, Chapter 333, in the Hudson River
Valley north of New York City, are justifiably proud of the
wide array of community projects they are involved in. Among
other endeavors, the chapter has provided crucial support
for the local County Veterans Clinic; was the driving force
behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Orangeburg, New York;
and created the Memorial Day Watchfire program to honor POW/MIAs,
versions of which are now held throughout the nation.
Since 2005, the
chapter also has been involved in an extensive humanitarian
mission far from the shores of the Hudson River. That year,
eight chapter members, including President Ed Frank and Board
member Howard Goldin, joined a group of other veterans and
members of the local Rotary club on a trip to Vietnam. The
group designed the trip to stop at each place where each
veteran had served, and also included a stop in the Vietnamese
capital where the group visited the Hanoi Hilton. The group
also met with U.S. Ambassador Mike Marine, who gave them
a briefing on POW/MIA recovery efforts.
the country,” Goldin said in a recent interview. “Our
guide was the son of an ARVN. We just happened to connect
with him and there was closure—not for everybody, but
there was closure. It was an amazing journey.” The
journey also led to a Chapter 333 commitment to help the
people of Vietnam, a commitment that was born after the veterans
met and interacted with many Vietnamese civilians, including
For nearly twenty
years, two-term North Carolina Congressman Billy Hendon has
focused his energies on the story and the fate of the American
POWs left in Vietnam. Last year, St. Martin’s Press
published An Enormous Crime, the culmination of
The book, written
with Elizabeth Stewart, is a compelling read. Hendon posits
that the fate of American POWs was sealed at the Bay of Pigs
in April of 1961, before the first serviceman was seized
in Vietnam. When Kennedy took the political expedient of
paying ransom for those held in the aftermath of the aborted
invasion of Cuba, the Vietnamese paid close attention.
escalated in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong
issued strict orders on the capturing of Americans: Take
them alive; they will be valuable assets later.
When the Watergate
investigations gathered like thunderheads over Washington
in 1972, Kissinger and Nixon became desperate to end the
war. The Vietnamese proved to be much harder negotiators
than Kissinger anticipated. And they insisted upon reparations.
Their bargaining chips were American POWs.
signed an agreement that guaranteed the return of the POWs,
but he never asked how many there were. Nixon, for his part,
signed a secret letter promising vast sums of money to help
Vietnam overcome the ravages of war.
When the Nobel
Peace Prize was awarded to the negotiators of the Paris Accords,
Le Duc Tho, unlike Kissinger, refused the prize because the
Accords had not been fully implemented: The Americans, he
said, hadn’t provided the assistance that Nixon had
that when pushed by congressional investigators, Kissinger
denied both a quid pro quo and the existence of a secret
Nixon letter. Persistent reports of live American prisoners
underscored the fact that the Vietnamese still believed the
POWs were their most effective bargaining chip, even though
Congress moved to end speculation by declaring them dead