BY GRANT COATES
The 2015 Veterans Initiative team—VVA Vice President Marsha Four, POW-MIA Affairs Chair Richard DeLong, Vice Chair Grant Coates, and Protocol Officer and VVA Communications Director Mokie Pratt Porter—left January 21 for Vietnam on the VI’s twenty-fourth mission. They brought with them the 299th case of a possible location of Vietnamese missing in action from the war. The VI has provided information on more than 13, 000 war dead.
Once on the ground, the team immediately launched into its itinerary with a meeting with Nguyen Thi Binh, vice president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam between 1992-97 and 1997-2002. She expressed gratitude to VVA for its continued humanitarian effort accounting for Vietnam’s MIAs.
The next meeting was with Ambassador Nguyen Tam Chien, vice chair of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO) and a longtime friend of the VI, along with other VUFO leaders.
While in Hanoi, meetings were held with Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence, Technology Centre for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN), and the Veterans Association of Vietnam (VAVN). A meeting with Deputy Minister Ha Kim Ngoc of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also attended by representatives of Vietnam’s Office Seeking Missing Personnel, who work in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense seeking missing personnel in Vietnam.
A roundtable discussion was held at the VUFO headquarters about the twentieth anniversary of the reestablishment of Vietnam-U.S. relations. In attendance were representatives from the Vietnam-USA Society, VUFO, VAVN, Vietnamese business people, U.S. veterans working in Hanoi, and the VI team. Deputy Director-General Le Chi Dzung from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Americas Department, and Marsha Four co-chaired the meeting.
After traveling to Hue, the VI team met with the president of the VAVN and People’s committee of Thua Thien-Hue Province. A trip was made to the Truong Son Military Cemetery #9, where respects were paid to those buried at the cemetery. The cemetery superintendent credited the VI Program with helping locate 106 buried dead from one particular unit. They were identified and relocated to Cemetery #9.
A stop was made at the Phuoc Loc Cemetery, where remains from battles in the area of Fire Support Base Tomahawk had been reburied. A second stop was made at a memorial that had been built on the site of a mass grave located in the Phuoc Loc district of Thua Thien-Hue Province. Ceremonies also were performed at the site of FSB Tomahawk, at the top of Phu Gia Pass.
At Da Nang, meetings with DAFO, the Da Nang Union of Friendship Organizations, VAVN, and the Da Nang People’s Committee were held.
The VI traveled to Quang Nam Province and met with VAVN and the People’s Committee of Quang Nam, Tam Ky. While there, the VI went to the construction site of a Monument to Heroic Vietnamese Mothers in the An Phu ward in the central province of Quang Nam. The monument is Vietnam’s version of a Gold Star Mothers monument.
On February 5 a meeting with VAVN of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) was held.
A meeting with Deputy Principal Officer Patrick Ellsworth of the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC was held, with a general briefing of ongoing activities in Vietnam, as well as the VI’s ongoing mission to locate MIAs.
Meetings also were conducted with the Ho Chi Minh City Union of Friendship Organizations (HUFO), People’s Committee of HCMC.
With the conclusion of the last meeting, the VI had completed twenty-eight meetings in twenty-one days, participated in three ceremonies honoring the war dead, stopped at three cemeteries, and paid respects at six memorials.
As a result of an unplanned and informal contact with a resident of Hanoi, arrangements were made to meet with a Vietnamese doctor who has been locating Vietnamese war burial sites and recovering remains for proper burials.
On the final day in Vietnam, the VI team met with the doctor for almost three hours and discussed research, interviews, and findings of war dead buried on the battlefield.
All of the meetings during the trip shared a theme of cooperation, eagerness to assist, and the desire for the Veterans Initiative to continue a humanitarian program that has been functioning for more than twenty years.