In conversation with Jared Groneman

It’s been over a year since Jared Groneman took off for Vietnam to be the director of photography on The 2 Sides Project documentary. Jared captured everything he saw, from the dramatic meetings between sons and daughters who lost fathers on both sides of war to the jolting bus rides through city streets to the tiniest of bees pollinating a flower. As he gets ready for the film’s premiere at the GI Film Festival in May, Jared reflects on his experiences in Vietnam, and what he hopes people see in the film. (All photos courtesy Jared Groneman)

 

What did you think when you saw the first cut of the film?
For a while, a lot of the trip kind of disappeared into the background because Nora, the editor and writer, was so deep into developing it. Once I saw the first cut, I got to experience it all over again. It was so refreshing!

A pigeon promenade on temple grounds. 

A pigeon promenade on temple grounds. 

Is this your first feature length film?
Yes. I haven’t done anything this long before. It was such a crazy experience, so quick and fast and intense. I just didn’t want to screw up. Anyone can throw a GoPro up on the back of a bus and let it roll. That’s footage. I was trying to feel my way through the trip. I wanted to get the shot, but also get the right context. I wanted to capture as much of the experience as possible.

Bananas roll down the street at dawn in Hanoi. 

Bananas roll down the street at dawn in Hanoi. 

Do you have a favorite shot?
Don’t make me pick one! I love the shots we got hanging out of the bus in the cities, all the scooters.

A hawk high up in Halong Bay. 

A hawk high up in Halong Bay. 

You filmed a lot of nature, too, didn’t you?
I do that all the time. On any shoot, I seek out the birds and the wildlife. Anthony, the director, will sometimes look at my shots and say "what the heck are you doing?!" But I’m really attracted to wildlife. It might be because I stare at a computer screen all day. I’m interacting with things in a digital environment all the time, and I like to detach and connect with the real world. I love nature. It gives me some balance. We recently bought a house and moved away from the city. We’re on a half acre and it feels like the wild kingdom back there.

A rare bee comes in for a landing.

A rare bee comes in for a landing.

Are you ready for the premiere?
I’m very excited. All who have experienced the film have great things to say about it. I want to see what people disconnected from it have to say. 

The photographer's selfie. 

The photographer's selfie. 

What’s your hope for the 2 Sides Project film?
There’s so much overload these days. You see tons of videos on social, and they’re cute, but then they’re gone from your mind. I want this to be a story that stays with you, that informs the people who watch it, to tell them there is a lot more that goes into conflict and war. There are repercussions to all we do. War is a complex subject. I hope this might ground people’s vision of what happens after war ends.

This Time Last Year…

Dog tags commemorating the trip from Sons and Daughter in Touch (SDIT) sister Jeanette Chervony.  

Dog tags commemorating the trip from Sons and Daughter in Touch (SDIT) sister Jeanette Chervony.  

It’s been a year to the day since we took off for Vietnam and the inaugural 2 Sides Project trip. What an adventure it was, and what an adventure it’s been since we returned! 

Patty ready to ride in Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.

Patty ready to ride in Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.

Patty Young Loew came back from Vietnam determined to find someone who had served with her father, Jack Young. She found a Facebook page for war medics and posted a message. Days later, she got a response from “Doc.” Not only did he know Jack, he’d served under him, and was able to tell Patty new details about who her father was and how he died. Patty and Doc plan to meet in person soon.

Mike with Grandpa Burkett and the Camaro.

Mike with Grandpa Burkett and the Camaro.

Mike Burkett brought a picture of his dad’s 1967 Camaro with him to Vietnam to lay at the site where his father died. That car was Curtis Earl Burkett’s pride and joy. Thanks to a gift from his grandparents, it's now Mike’s. He recently drove the Camaro to his house and started a restoration to make it look like it did in his dad’s time. It'll be back on the road again by early 2017. 
 

Susan's father; James Mitchell, in a picture from his high school yearbook.

Susan's father; James Mitchell, in a picture from his high school yearbook.

Susan Mitchell Mattera was one of a select few Gold Star family members invited to the White House to meet President Obama and attend a Memorial Day brunch. If that wasn’t enough of a standout moment, there was another one in store. In September, Susan, a nurse, was assigned to do a patient survey, and randomly chose one patient from a list of 300 to visit. As they talked, Susan realized that the woman was originally from her home town. When she asked if she knew her father, the woman said they’d been in the same class, and pulled out the 1963 Banning High School Yearbook to show Susan something she’d never seen before—her dad’s senior picture. 
 

Margaret at the top of the Duomo. 

Margaret at the top of the Duomo. 

Margaret Von Lienen works long hours for the IRS, but in 2016 she took another break to travel to Italy with her daughter. She also went to Austin, Texas to get an update on her father’s site. Margaret’s father, Robert Saavedra, is still listed as MIA. He was shot down over the province of Ha Tinh on April 28, 1968. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recently excavated the site she visited and ran various reports to see if they could find any evidence. This year the DPAA told her they found nothing conclusive. Margaret may have found new strength from the Vietnam trip: she got through the whole DPAA meeting without crying, a first. 

Ron Reyes embracing a boy whose father was killed in Iraq. 

Ron Reyes embracing a boy whose father was killed in Iraq. 

Ron Reyes has met a lot of new people this year. He attended a Gold Star Family event in his home state of California, and didn’t know that several members of his father’s side of the family whom he’d never met would be there, too. And at an LA Rams game, Ron met a son whose father was killed in Iraq when he was four weeks old. Ron told the boy he was the same age when his father was killed in Vietnam. The two talked, and gave each other a big hug. It was a moment they’ll both remember for a long time. 

Margot in the crater where her father's plane may have gone down. 

Margot in the crater where her father's plane may have gone down. 

I spent the year learning more about how people make and market films. But the most important lesson I learned is that going to the place you fear the most makes you the strongest. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of my father’s death. I used to look on the day with dread. This year I’ll mark it with a different attitude. I have walked into the crater where my father’s plane may have gone down, and walked out with a new purpose and direction. Loss has been transformed to good. I know my father is proud. I know all of our fathers are.  

What about those on the Vietnamese side? We’ve featured their stories throughout the year on this blog, including those of Nguyen Liem, Nguyen Thi Hong Diem, Pham Thi Thuy, Dang Thi Le Phi and Vu Ngoc Xiem. Meeting the other side changed them, too. The pain is still there, but the anger is not. The divide is closed. We have all started anew, together.  

Director Anthony Istrico and Cameraman Jared Groneman went everywhere and captured it all. 

Director Anthony Istrico and Cameraman Jared Groneman went everywhere and captured it all. 

And what about the documentary? Director Anthony Istrico and Cameraman Jared Groneman returned with 150 hours of footage covering all sides of the experience. Somehow, Editor Nora Kubach sifted through all that film and, supported by boxes of Kleenex, created a beautiful documentary about the 2 Sides Project. These wonderful and talented people are now in the process of applying to film festivals and finding a potential broadcast outlet to share the film with a bigger audience, so that its message about bridging differences and spreading healing reaches as many people as possible. Stay tuned for more about the film and a 2017 trip to Vietnam, the 2nd 2 Sides Project trip!

Time to go back! From left to right: Susan, Patty, Margaret, Ron and Mike. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions.

Time to go back! From left to right: Susan, Patty, Margaret, Ron and Mike. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions.

Margot

Margot Carlson Delogne
Founder, 2 Sides Project

In Conversation With Mr. Nguyen Liem

Mr. Liem shares his story at the first 2 Sides Project meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam.  Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions.

Mr. Liem shares his story at the first 2 Sides Project meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam.  Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions.

*** Vietnamese translation below

Nguyen Liem was one of the first Vietnamese sons and daughters we met on the 2 Sides Project inaugural trip. His story was unique, but similar in some ways. Mr. Liem's father left home after independence in 1947. The family expected he would come back after the elections, but they never took place, and Mr. Liem senior was forced to stay away for decades. First he fought the French, then he distributed medical supplies during the war with the Americans. Patty Young Loew was sitting next to Mr. Liem during the meeting, and when she heard that last part translated, the coincidence surprised her. Patty's own father, HM1 Jack Young (Navy), had been a medic during the war.

We recently asked Mr. Liem to share his thoughts about meeting sons and daughters on the other side. We’re providing the Vietnamese version of his responses below, and the English version as translated by our friend and Vietnam-USA Society collaborator Ms. Yen. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week in the U.S., we’re thankful we've met people like Mr. Liem. The experience taught us that we bring healing and hope when we connect with and listen to the other side. 
 

What was your first impression when you met the U.S. sons and daughters? 
I was very surprised because I didn’t think that I would be in such an exciting and significant meeting. It helped us become closer and more friendly. Through our conversation, we understood each other better, as we shared the pain and loss caused by the war. Our eyes and the joy of emotion expressed a message to the world that war brings only grief, anguish, separation and death. The war happened in our country. Our people had many losses and sacrifices. Villages were devastated and cities were destroyed. But as we faced such pain, many of your families also experienced separation. Only peace can bring prosperity for the country, and happiness and a fulfilled life for everyone. 

Patty Young Lowe with Mr. Liem after the historic meeting. Patty's father, HM1 Jack Young (Navy), was killed in Da Nang on March 11, 1969. Mr. Liem's father was killed in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions. 

Patty Young Lowe with Mr. Liem after the historic meeting. Patty's father, HM1 Jack Young (Navy), was killed in Da Nang on March 11, 1969. Mr. Liem's father was killed in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions. 

What did you think when you went home after the meeting? 
After saying goodbye, I thought and hoped that there would be such exchanges in the future. Through such meetings, the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. can develop strongly, creating more and more chances for the people of the two countries to be in contact with each other and learn more about our countries, the people, history, and culture.

Has anything changed for you since the meeting?
It confirmed my perception that the relations between Vietnam and the U.S. are increasingly developing, in line with the policy of integration of our country. We do not forget the pain of the past but we try to close the misfortune in the past and create more consensus, gradually reducing the differences between our two countries and our two peoples, so that we are good friends.

Sons and daughters on both sides of war meet formally for the first time in Hanoi. Mr. Liem is second from the right.  Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions.

Sons and daughters on both sides of war meet formally for the first time in Hanoi. Mr. Liem is second from the right.  Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions.

What would your father think of you meeting with the U.S. side? 
My father died during the war, and my mother also died after the war. My parents are in eternity. If they knew that the U.S. abolished the embargo against Vietnam and the two countries are now building a relationship of equality, my parents would feel very satisfied. Because that was their biggest dream and hope all their lives, as it was with other Vietnamese patriots. They dreamed of a completely independent and unified country where our people could live free, happy and fulfilled, and the Vietnamese people could join with other nations to protect peace for all the world. We, the Vietnamese people, always look forward to all peoples in the world, including the United States and the American people, jointly building peace and becoming good friends. 

Vietnamese Translation

ÔNG/ BÀ CÓ THỂ CHO BIẾT ẤN TƯỢNG ĐẦU TIÊN CỦA ÔNG/ BÀ KHI GẶP NHỮNG NGƯỜI CON CỦA LÍNH MỸ TỬ TRẬN TẠI VIỆT NAM?
Rất ấn tượng, rất bất ngờ. Tôi không nghĩ rằng mình được có mặt trong cuộc gặp gỡ đầy thú vị và bổ ích đó. Cuộc gặp gỡ đã để lại cho chúng ta tình thân thiện tốt hơn. Qua chuyện trò, chúng ta hiểu nhau hơn, cùng nhau chia sẻ những đau thương, mất mát do chiến tranh để lại. Những ánh mắt, niềm xúc cảm nói với mọi người trên thế giới rằng: Chiến tranh chỉ đem lại đau thương, nỗi thống khổ, cảnh ly biệt và chết chóc. Chiến tranh xảy ra trên đất nước chúng tôi, nhân dân chúng tôi bị mất mát, hy sinh; làng mạc bị tàn phá, nhiều thành phố bị phá hủy nặng nề đã đành, nhưng về phía các bạn cũng gặp tổn thất không nhỏ, nhiều gia đình trong cảnh kẻ mất người còn. Chỉ có hòa bình và hòa bình mới có được sự phồn vinh, thịnh vượng cho đất nước, mới có được cuộc sống đầy hạnh phúc, yên bình, no đủ cho mọi người. 

ÔNG/BÀ NGHĨ GÌ SAU BUỔI GẶP GỠ NÀY?
Chia tay các bạn, tôi nghĩ và hy vọng rằng: rồi đây, ở đất nước chúng tôi sẽ có nhiều cuộc tiếp xúc như thế này hoặc tương tự như thế này. BỞi rằng, khi quan hệ VIệt – Mỹ được mở cửa, nhân dân hai nướ chúng ta sẽ có nhu cầu tiếp xúc với nhau, tìm hiểu để biết thêm về đất nước, con người, lịch sử, văn hóa,... của nhau. 

CUỘC GẶP GỠ CÓ LÀM ÔNG/BÀ THAY ĐỔI GÌ KHÔNG?
Cuộc gặp gỡ này khẳng định thêm nhận thức của tôi rằng: Quan hệ Việt – Mỹ đang ngày càng mở rộng, phù hợp với chủ trương hội nhập của nước chúng tôi. Chúng tôi không quên những nỗi đau trong quá khứ nhưng cố gắng khép lại những bất hạnh trong quá khứ để tạo thêm nhiều đồng thuận, hạn chế dần sự khác biệt giữa hai nước, hai dân tộc, để cho nhân dân hai nước chúng ta là bạn tốt của nhau.

ÔNG/ BÀ NGHĨ CHA CỦA ÔNG / BÀ SẼ NGHĨ GÌ KHI ÔNG/ BÀ GẶP GỠ, GIAO LƯU VỚI NHỮNG NGƯỜI CON CỦA LÍNH MỸ ĐÃ TỪNG THAM CHIẾN VÀ TỬ TRẬN TẠI VIỆT NAM?
Cha tôi đã chết (trong chiến tranh) và mẹ tôi cũng đã mất (hậu chiến). Cha mẹ tôi đều đang ở cõi vĩnh hằng, nếu biết được việc Mỹ xóa bỏ cấm vận đối với Việt Nam và xây dựng mối quan hệ bình đẳng thì chắc rằng ông bà sẽ mãn nguyện lắm. Bởi đó là niềm mơ ước và hy vọng của ông bà trong cuộc đời, cũng như mơ ước của bao người Việt yêu nước khác. Ước mơ mong cho đất nước được hoàn toàn độc lập, giang sơn được thống nhất, toàn dân được sống và kiến thiết đất nước trong hòa bình để mọi người được sống tự do, hạnh phúc, no đủ; nhân dân Việt Nam được kề vai sát cánh với các dân tộc cùng nhau bảo vệ nền độc lập,, hòa bình. Mong cho các dân tộc cùng yêu chuộng hòa bình và cùng là bạn tốt của nhau, trong đó tất nhiên có cả nước Mỹ và nhân dân Mỹ.

               

 

Marking Veterans Day with Project RENEW Founder Chuck Searcy

** VIETNAMESE TRANSLATION BELOW

Chuck Searcy talks with Project RENEW team members after a UXO demolition. Photo courtesy Chuck Searcy. Ông Chuck trò chuyện với thành viên đội Project RENEW sau khi phá dỡ thành công bom mìn chưa nổ. (UXO)

Chuck Searcy talks with Project RENEW team members after a UXO demolition. Photo courtesy Chuck Searcy. Ông Chuck trò chuyện với thành viên đội Project RENEW sau khi phá dỡ thành công bom mìn chưa nổ. (UXO)

Chuck Searcy is a U.S. Army veteran living in Hanoi. Back in 1967, he worked in military intelligence as part of the 519th Battalion in Saigon. Today he’s an international advisor to Project RENEW, an organization he helped start in 2001 to work with the Vietnamese to clean up unexploded ordnance (UXO) and provide medical assistance, rehabilitation, and income generation for UXO victims.Their focus is on the Quang Tri province, where 97 percent of the villages were destroyed by bombs during the Vietnam War.

The 2 Sides Project got a preview of Project RENEW’s work while we were in Vietnam, but last minute travel plans didn’t allow us to meet Chuck in person. We recently caught up via Skype to talk about his work and get his reflections on Veterans Day. Chuck spoke from his home office in central Hanoi. His gentle southern accent (he hails from Athens, Georgia) mixed harmoniously with the bleeps from scooter horns on the street below as people made their way through the morning commute. It was the perfect blend of the American and Vietnamese that has been a hallmark of Chuck’s life for the last two decades. 

How long have you lived in Hanoi?
I initially came here with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF). They had a grant from the State Department to bring in equipment, technology and training to assist Vietnam in providing braces to children with diseases or birth defects, and they asked me to stay for a few years to set up the program. That was 20 years ago.

Were you one of the first veterans to go back?
There was an early, important delegation that came in 1981 headed by Bobby Muller, the founder of the VVAF, to meet with the Vietnamese and talk about initiatives and cooperation. That opened the door to tentative discussions about future relationships. I came back in 1992 as a tourist. Back then the situation was still quite chilled between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Yet you went back. Why?
I left Vietnam in 1968 angry and bitter because I felt the war was a tragic mistake, and that we had not been told the truth by the U.S. government. The reality I found in Vietnam during the war was very different from what we had been told. I had no anger or fear toward the Vietnamese. I thought they were innocent victims of something beyond their control. I left hoping to come back some day, in a time of peace. I didn’t know when or how, but I never abandoned that thought. In 1992 I met an Army friend for dinner and it turned out he had the same thoughts and desires. At the end of that dinner we’d decided we were going to Vietnam as tourists.

What was it like to return?
As we were flying into Saigon, we looked down and could see small villages turn into urban areas and then cities, and as we came closer we could recognize motor bikes and water buffalo and rice fields. And then we both had a panic attack. What were we doing? We were two former GIs, and we thought these people are going to hate us after what they went through. But within an hour after landing and being out on the streets in Saigon, we were astonished to find how warm and welcoming everyone was. There was no animosity or anger toward us, and that was the case over the next 30 days as we traveled throughout the country. There was never a harsh word or mean look, from anyone.

What impressed you most on that trip?
During the war I had been assigned to Saigon and couldn’t get out of there. But on this trip we went from Saigon to Hanoi and back again, and every place in between. I could see Vietnam was in dire straits. The roads, the electrical grid, the telephone connections, everything was in terrible shape. There were bomb craters all over country. The people were poor, and the embargo was still on. It was hard to see this beautiful country struggle. I thought about what I could do to come back and help with the recovery.

So you started with the VVAF program. What led to Project RENEW?
Over those years I spent working on the VVAF program, there were always questions about the nature of some of the deformities and mobility problems we saw in the Vietnamese, and what caused them. I was aware of the Agent Orange situation as a vet, but I realized we didn’t know much about it. And there were stories in the paper every week of kids getting blown up by cluster bombs. As I looked into it more, I learned that 100,000 children and adults had been killed by UXO since the end of the war. The Vietnamese didn’t push the issue. They were very circumspect and polite and said they were sure the U.S. would help at some point and do the right thing.

Various NGOs came in to work on the issue, but we weren’t coordinated, and in the end the Vietnamese asked that we come together with an integrated approach to deal with bombs and mines. That proved challenging. In 2000, a delegation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund came to Vietnam. At the end of their tour they asked if they could do something, and I suggested they focus on the Vietnamese request to coordinate, and to use the Quang Tri area as a testing ground. They agreed and raised $500,000 to get it started. That was the origin of Project RENEW. We worked with the provincial government and their staff, who still lead the program with our support and technical assistance.

Ron Reyes and Phu Nguyen, who works at Project RENEW. During a presentation about Project RENEW to the 2 Sides Project, Mr. Nguyen told Ron that his father was a guerrilla fighter and fought in Cam Lo, in the same place where Ron’s father fought for the other side. The moment had a big impact on both sons. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico. Anh Ron Reynes và Phú Nguyễn, người làm việc tại dự án Project RENEW. Trong một buổi thuyết trình về dự án Project RENEW cho dự án 2 Sides Project, anh Nguyễn đã nói với anh Ron rằng cha mình đã từng là du kích và chiến đấu ở Cẩm Lộ, nơi mà cha của anh Ron cũng từng chiến đấu cho phía bên kia. Khoảnh khắc đó đã có ảnh hưởng sâu sắc đến hai người con trai. 

Ron Reyes and Phu Nguyen, who works at Project RENEW. During a presentation about Project RENEW to the 2 Sides Project, Mr. Nguyen told Ron that his father was a guerrilla fighter and fought in Cam Lo, in the same place where Ron’s father fought for the other side. The moment had a big impact on both sons. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico. Anh Ron Reynes và Phú Nguyễn, người làm việc tại dự án Project RENEW. Trong một buổi thuyết trình về dự án Project RENEW cho dự án 2 Sides Project, anh Nguyễn đã nói với anh Ron rằng cha mình đã từng là du kích và chiến đấu ở Cẩm Lộ, nơi mà cha của anh Ron cũng từng chiến đấu cho phía bên kia. Khoảnh khắc đó đã có ảnh hưởng sâu sắc đến hai người con trai. 

What’s your mission today?
To make Quang Tri province safe. We’re doing that by using clearance teams, providing risk education to children and adults so they know how to be safe and report danger, and providing victim assistance, so helping people already injured with rehab, medical assistance, or educating them about how to generate an income.

What has been the effect of Project RENEW’s work?
The number of accidents in Quang Tri has gone down from 70-80 per year in 2001 to one accident in 2016. While 2016 is so far a record for the fewest accidents since 1975, it was unfortunately one of our team leaders who was killed clearing UXO. He was one of our best.   It was a real tragedy.

Is there one story that stands out over the years that shows the value of Project RENEW’s work?
We’ve provided about 1,200 prosthetic limbs for those who lost arms or legs in UXO accidents, and one of them was an ethnic minority woman in the mountains above Quang Tri. I went with the team as they delivered her new leg. She had grey hair and bronzed skin and this huge grin. She was smoking a pipe. I asked her how old she was. She didn’t know. I asked how she lost her leg. She told me it happened in 1971, and it was from the bombing from the planes. She said the planes were flying low and she could see the people in them. She shook her pipe at me and laughed and said “they looked like you!” I couldn’t believe how generous she was in her humor. She’d been using a crutch, and she got up and walked on two legs for the first time in more than 40 years. It was amazing.

After 40 years relying on crutches, Mr. Nguyen Van Truong, a 67-year-old bomb victim in Cam Lo District, walks with a new leg provided by Project RENEW's Prosthetic & Orthotic Mobile outreach program. Photo courtesy Project RENEW. Hình ảnh trong Ngày: Sau nhiều năm trên chiếc nạng, bác Nguyễn Văn Trường, nạn nhân bom mìn 67 tuổi ở Cam Lộ, đang đi lại với một chân giả cho chương trình phục hồi chức năng lưu động Dự án RENEW cấp phát. Đây là lần đầu tiên bác nhận được món quà để phục hồi khả năng đi lại của mình sau khi bị cụt chân do tai nạn bom mìn cách đấy 40 năm. 

After 40 years relying on crutches, Mr. Nguyen Van Truong, a 67-year-old bomb victim in Cam Lo District, walks with a new leg provided by Project RENEW's Prosthetic & Orthotic Mobile outreach program. Photo courtesy Project RENEW. Hình ảnh trong Ngày: Sau nhiều năm trên chiếc nạng, bác Nguyễn Văn Trường, nạn nhân bom mìn 67 tuổi ở Cam Lộ, đang đi lại với một chân giả cho chương trình phục hồi chức năng lưu động Dự án RENEW cấp phát. Đây là lần đầu tiên bác nhận được món quà để phục hồi khả năng đi lại của mình sau khi bị cụt chân do tai nạn bom mìn cách đấy 40 năm. 

You’ve lived with the Vietnamese for a long time. What have you learned from them?
I have this comparison that I sense all the time, about what it is that makes us different and what binds us together. I think the Vietnamese culture is distinct. It is incredible to me that there is this pervasive attitude among the Vietnamese of forgiveness and acceptance of things you cannot change, and a commitment to learn from those experiences and change things to make life better for future generations. They don’t see the usefulness of carrying anger or bitterness toward anyone. They believe that we have to accept the past no matter how painful, that it should not become a weapon against others or a detriment to our own lives. It is an attitude that is imbued in the life and culture of the people here. Ambassador Peterson, who was shot down and spent six years in the Hanoi Hilton and then later came to be the first U.S. Ambassador after the war’s end, knew something about this. I once asked him how he had managed to be so gracious in his attitude, how he had built up a remarkable rapport and friendship with the Vietnamese despite his awful experience. He said: “I could have stayed a prisoner for the rest of my life if I had remained angry and bitter. But the day I walked out of that prison I was a free person, and I intended to be free.” He understood something the Vietnamese seem to feel in their hearts and their bones.

Vietnamese army veteran Bui Trong Hong, National Technical Officer of Project RENEW, and Chuck Searcy at Project RENEW's central demolition site in Trieu Phong District. Cựu chiến binh Quân đội nhân dân Việt Nam Bùi Trọng Hồng, Cán bộ Kỹ thuật Quốc gia của Dự án RENEW, và cựu chiến binh Mỹ ông Chuck Searcy. Photo courtesy Project RENEW.

Vietnamese army veteran Bui Trong Hong, National Technical Officer of Project RENEW, and Chuck Searcy at Project RENEW's central demolition site in Trieu Phong District. Cựu chiến binh Quân đội nhân dân Việt Nam Bùi Trọng Hồng, Cán bộ Kỹ thuật Quốc gia của Dự án RENEW, và cựu chiến binh Mỹ ông Chuck Searcy. Photo courtesy Project RENEW.

Do you think you’ll stay in Hanoi for good?
Every year I think this is the year I’ll go back to Athens, Georgia. But I like what I’m doing. Project RENEW is coming closer to bringing closure to the UXO issue in terms of what can and ought to be done to make Vietnam safe. There’s another tragedy though, and that’s Agent Orange. We have to find ways to help those who are suffering at home. We have a moral obligation to bring comfort and end the suffering. We can do it. We have the means and the wherewithal. We just need the political and spiritual will to do it.

Do you have a message for other veterans on this Veterans Day?
I’ve reached a point in my life where I think my perspective about war and service and patriotism, love of country, and love of humankind, has matured at my ripe old age of 72. I no longer see any glorification in war. I only see tragedy and loss and pain. I think that veterans and families of veterans understand that better than anyone. Maybe this is a day to reflect on how we might more effectively tell others of the futility of war and do all we can to prevent future wars and diminish the population of war veterans.

To make a tax deductible donation to the nonprofit Project RENEW, visit http://landmines.org.vn/get-involved/donate-now/

Vietnamese Translation

Đánh dấu ngày cựu chiến binh với Chuck Searcy, cựu chiến binh và cũng là người sáng lập ra Dự án Renew

Chuck Searcy là một cựu chiến binh Mỹ đang sống tại Hà Nội. Vào năm 1967, ông đã làm việc trong tình báo quân đội Mỹ thuộc tiểu đoàn 519 tại Sài Gòn. Ngày nay, ông là một nhà cố vấn quốc tế cho Dự án RENEW. Đây là một tổ chức mà ông đã giúp lập ra vào năm 2001, nhằm dọn sạch các bom mìn chưa nổ ( UXO) cùng với người Việt, cung cấp hỗ trợ về y tế, khôi phục và tạo nguồn thu nhập cho các nạn nhân của bom mìn chưa nổ gây ra. Họ tập trung vào tỉnh Quảng Trị, nơi mà 97% làng mạc đã bị phá hủy bởi bom trong cuộc chiến tranh Việt Nam.

Dự án 2 Sides Projec đã được biết đến các việc làm của Dự Án RENEW khi chúng tôi ở Việt Nam, nhưng do những kế hoạch đi lại vào phút cuối đã khiến việc gặp trực tiếp ông Chuck đã không thể thực hiện được. Gần đây chúng tôi đã được trò chuyện với ông qua Skype để nói về công việc cũng như những suy ngẫm của ông về Ngày Cựu chiến binh. Chuck đã nói chuyện với chúng tôi từ văn phòng riêng của ông ở trung tâm thành phố Hà Nội. Tiếng còi xe máy từ dòng người đang hối hả trên đường đi làm việc đã hòa quện với giọng miền Nam nhẹ nhàng của Chuck ( ông đến từ Athens, bang Georgia). Đó là sựu hòa quyện hài hòa giữa người Mỹ và người Việt mà đã đánh dấu cuộc đời của ông Chuck trong hai thập kỷ qua.

Ông đã sống ở Hà Nội bao lâu rồi?
Ban đầu, tôi đã đến đây cùng với Cựu chiến binh Mỹ tại Việt Nam ( VVAF). Họ đã nhận được sự tài trợ từ Bộ ngoại giao để mang thiết bị, kỹ thuật và sự huấn luyện đến với Việt Nam để có thể giúp họ cung cấp niềng răng cho các cháu bị bệnh hay bị dị tật bẩm sinh. Và họ đã đề nghị tôi ở lại một vài năm để giúp sắp xếp chương trình. Đó đã là 20 năm trước.

Ông có phải là một trong những cựu chiến binh đầu tiên quay lại Việt Nam không?
Đã có một phái đoàn quan trọng tới Việt Nam từ sớm vào năm 1981, mà được dẫn đầu bởi ông Bobby Muller, người sáng lập ra VVAF. Họ đã đến gặp người Việt để thảo luận về sự khởi đầu và hợp tác. Điều đó đã mở ra cánh cửa cho các cuộc thảo luận dự kiến về các mối quan hệ trong tương lại. Tôi đã quay trở lại đây vào năm 1992 với tư cách là một khách du lịch. Vào thời điểm đó, tình hình giữa Hoa Kỳ và Việt Nam vẫn còn lạnh lùng.

Nhưng rồi ông quay lại. Tại sao vậy?
Tôi đã rời Việt Nam năm 1968 đầy căm hận và cay đắng bởi vì tôi đã cảm thấy cuộc chiến tranh này là một lỗi lầm bi đát, và chúng tôi đã không có được thông tin thực từ phía chính phủ Hoa Kỳ.  Thực tế mà tôi thấy tại Việt Nam trong cuộc chiến tranh khác xa với những gì mà chúng tôi đã được biết trước đó. Tôi đã không căm giận hay sợ hãi người Việt.  Tôi đã nghĩ rằng họ là những nạn nhân vô tội với những điều nằm ngoài tầm kiểm soát của họ. Tôi rời nơi đây với một hy vọng rằng một ngày nào đó, trong thời bình tôi sẽ quay lại. Tôi đã không biết được khi nào hay như thế nào, nhưng tôi đã không bao giờ từ bỏ ý nghĩ đó. Vào năm 1992, tôi đã gặp một người bạn trong quân đội của mình cho ăn tối và hóa ra ông ấy cũng có những ý nghĩ và ước muốn giống như tôi. Vào cuối bữa tối đó, chúng tôi đã quyết định trở về Việt Nam với tư cách là khách du lịch.

Ông đã cảm thấy như thế nào khi quay trở lại đây?
Khi chúng tôi đang bay vào Sài Gòn, chúng tôi đã nhìn xuống và có thể nhìn thấy rằng các ngôi làng nhỏ đã trở thành các vùng đô thị, thành phố và khi chúng tôi đến gần hơn, chúng tôi đã có thể nhận ra các xe máy, trâu và cánh đồng lúa. Và cả hai chúng tôi đã bị hoảng loạn. Chúng tôi đang làm gì? Chúng tôi là hai lính cũ của quân đội Hoa Kỳ, và chúng tôi đã nghĩ rằng những người này sẽ ghét chúng tôi vì những gì họ đã phải trải qua. Nhưng chỉ vài giờ sau khi hạ cánh và đi ra đường phố Sài Gòn, chúng tôi đã lấy làm kinh ngạc về sự nồng ấm và hiếu khách của tất cả mọi người. Đã không hề có sự thù oán hay căm giận đối với chúng tôi, và đó là tình hình chung trong 30 ngày mà chúng tôi đã đi du lịch xung quanh đất nước. Đã không có một ai nặng lời hay có cái nhìn ác cảm đối với chúng tôi.

Điều gì đã gây ấn tượng với ông nhất trong chuyến đi đó?
Trong cuộc chiến tranh tôi đã được giao nhiệm vụ ở Sài gòn và đã không thể ra khỏi nơi đó. Nhưng trong chuyến đi này chúng tôi đã đi từ Sài gòn đến Hà Nội và tất cả những địa điểm trên đường đi Tôi đã có thể thấy rằng Việt Nam đang ở trong tình cảnh eo hẹp. Đường xá, lưới điện, đường dây điện thoại, tất cả đang ở trong một tình trạng tồi tệ. Vẫn còn hố bom rải rác trên toàn đất nước. Người dân nghèo và lệnh cấm vận vẫn còn hiệu lực. Nhìn thấy đất nước tươi đẹp này vật lộn trong khó khăn là điều rất khó đối với tôi. Tôi đã suy nghĩ rằng làm thế nào để  mình có thể quay lại và giúp họ khôi phục.

Vậy là ông đã bắt đầu với chương trình của VVAF. Thế rồi điều gì đã đưa ông đến với dự án RENEW?
Trong những năm tôi làm việc với chương trình VVAF, tôi luôn có những câu hỏi về nguyên nhân của một số dị tật và khó khăn trong việc đi lại mà chúng tôi thấy ở người Việt và cái gì là nguyên nhân dẫn đến những vấn đề này. Tôi đã nhận thức được vấn đề về chất độc màu da cam với tư cách là một cựu chiến binh nhưng tôi cũng nhận ra là chúng tôi không biết nhiều về nó. Và hàng tuần có những câu chuyện trên báo chí về những đứa trẻ bị bom chùm bắn văng đi. Khi tôi tìm hiểu thêm về điều này, tôi đã được biết rằng kể từ sau khi chiến tranh kết thúc, đã có 100,000 trẻ em và người lớn bị giết bởi UXO (bom mìn chưa nổ) .

Người Việt đã không thúc bách trong chuyện này. Họ đã rất cẩn trọng và lịch sự và nói rằng họ đã chắc chắn rằng một lúc nào đó phía Hoa Kỳ sẽ làm điều đúng và đó là giúp đỡ họ.

Đã có nhiều tổ chức phi chính phủ đến để giải quyết vấn đề này, nhưng chúng tôi đã chưa hợp tác với nhau trong chuyện này. Cuối cùng thì chính phủ Việt Nam đã đề nghị chúng tôi làm việc cùng với nhau qua một phương pháp hội nhập để giải quyết vấn đề bom mìn. Điều đó đã đưa ra thách thức. Vào năm 2000, một phái đoàn của Quỹ tưởng niệm cựu chiến binh Việt Nam đã tới Việt Nam. Vào cuối chuyến thăm của họ, họ đã hỏi tôi rằng họ có thể làm được điều gì không? Tôi đã gợi ý với họ rằng họ có thể tập trung vào lời đề nghị của phía Việt Nam đó là hợp tác , và sử dụng vùng Quảng Trị như là một nơi thử nghiệm. Họ đã đồng ý và quyên góp được 500,000 đô la để bắt đầu. Đó là nguồn gốc của Dự án RENEW. Chúng tôi đã làm việc với chính quyền địa phương và nhân viên của họ, những người mà vẫn đang dẫn dắt dự án này với sự ủng hộ và giúp đỡ về kỹ thuật của chúng tôi.

Ngày nay nhiệm vụ của ông là gì ạ?
Để biến Quảng Trị trở thành một tỉnh an toàn, chúng tôi sử dụng các đội dọn bom, cung cấp chương trình giáo dục về nguy cơ rủi ro cho trẻ em và người lớn để họ có thể biết cách giữ an toàn, báo cáo các nguy cơ, cung cấp sự giúp đỡ cho các nạn nhân. Giúp đỡ những người đã bị thương hồi phục, giúp đỡ về y tế, hay giáo dục họ cách kiếm thu nhập.

Những hiệu quả việc làm của Dự án RENEW là gì?
Số tai nạn tại Quảng Trị đã giảm từ 70-80 vụ một năm vào năm 2001 đến một vụ vào năm 2016. Mặc dù 2016 được ghi nhận là có ít tai nạn xảy ra nhất từ năm 1975, không may là một trong những đội trưởng của chúng tôi đã mất trong khi tháo dỡ UXO (bom mìn chưa nổ) . Anh ấy là một trong những người tốt nhất của chúng tôi. Đó thực sự là một thảm kịch.

Trong những năm qua, có một câu chuyện nổi trội nào mà đã cho thấyđược giá trị việc làm của Dự án RENEW không ạ?
Chúng tôi đã cung cấp khoảng 1200 bộ tay chân giả cho những người bị mất chân tay trong tai nạn UXO (bom mìn chưa nổ) và trong số đó có một người phụ nữ dân tộc thiểu số sống trên vùng núi ở Quảng Trị. Tôi đã đi cùng đội khi họ mang chân mới đến cho cô ấy. Tôi đã hỏi cô ấy bao nhiêu tuổi? Cô ấy đã không biết. Tôi đã hỏi rằng cô ấy đã bị mất chân trong trường hợp nào. Cô ấy đã bảo tôi rằng việc đó xảy ra vào năm 1971 và do bom thả xuống từ máy bay. Cô ấy nói rằng các máy bay đã bay rất thấp và cô ấy có thể nhìn thấy người ở bên trong. Cô ấy chĩa cái tẩu về phía tôi, cười và nói rằng: “ Họ trông giống như ông vây.” Tôi đã không thể tin được cô ấy có thể hài hước như vậy. Cô ấy đã dùng nạng, và lần đầu tiên trong 40 năm cô ấy đã có thể đứng lên và đi bằng hai chân. Điều đó thật là tuyệt vời.

Ông đã sống với người Việt trong một thời gian dài. Ông đã học hỏi được điều gì từ họ?
Lúc nào tôi cũng cảm thấy một sự so sánh, so sánh về cái gì đã làm chúng ta khác nhau và cái gì đã gắn bó chúng ta lại với nhau. Tôi nghĩ rằng văn hóa Việt Nam là rất khác biệt. Điều đáng kinh ngạc đối với tôi đó là thái độ phổ biến chung của người Việt là sự tha thứ, và chấp nhận những điều mà bạn không thể thay đổi được, sự mong muốn học hỏi từ các kinh nghiệm đó và  mang lại sự thay đổi để các thế hệ sau có một tương lai tốt hơn. Họ không thấy được lợi ích gì mang lại từ sự tức giận và cay đắng đối với người khác cho bản thân mình. Họ tin tưởng rằng chúng ta phải chấp nhận quá khứ mặc dù cho nó có đau đớn đến nhường nào, nó cũng không nên được sử dụng làm vũ khí chống lại người khác hay làm thiệt hại đến chính cuộc sống của mình. Đó là thái độ đã ăn sâu vào cuộc sống và văn hóa của người dân ở đây. Ngài Đại Sứ Peterson, người đã bị bắn rơi và bị giam 6 năm trong nhà tù Hanoi Hilton và sau đó quay lại để trở thành Đại sứ Hoa Kỳ đầu tiên tại Việt Nam sau khi chiến tranh kết thúc, biết một vài thứ về điều này. Một lần tôi đã hỏi ông ấy là làm thế nào mà ông có thể luôn có một thái độ lịch thiệp, xây dựng một mối quan hệ đáng chú ý và tình bạn với người Việt Nam mặc dù ông đã trải qua những điều khủng khiếp trong quá khứ. Ông đã nói với tôi rằng: “ Tôi đã có thể là tù nhân trong suốt quãng đời còn lại của mình nếu như tôi vẫn tức giận và cay đắng. Nhưng cái ngày mà tôi bước ra khỏi cái nhà tù ấy, tôi đã là một người tự do và tôi có dự định giữ sự tự do ấy.”  Ông ấy đã hiểu một điều mà người Việt Nam có lẽ cảm thấy trong trái tim và xương cốt của mình.

Ông có nghĩ rằng mình sẽ sống ở Hà Nội mãi mãi không ạ?
Hàng năm tôi nghĩ rằng năm nay mình sẽ quay lại Athens, bang Georgia. Nhưng tôi yêu thích công việc của mình. Dự án RENEW đang tiến đến việc đóng lại vấn đề về UXO (bom mìn chưa nổ) trong khía cạnh những gì có thể và nên được làm để làm cho Việt Nam an toàn. Có một bi kịch khác, đó là chất độc màu da cam. Chúng ta phải tìm cách để giúp những người phải trải qua đau khổ ở nhà. Chúng ta có trách nhiệm đạo đức để mang đến sự an ủi và kết thúc sự đau khổ. Chúng ta có thể làm được điều đó. Chúng ta có đủ phương tiện và tiền bạc. Chúng ta chỉ cần ý chí về chính trị và tinh thần để làm điều đó.

Ông có lời nhắn nhủ gì đến các cựu chiến binh khác trong ngày Cựu chiến binh này không ạ?
Tôi đã đến thời điểm của cuộc đời khi mà góc nhìn của tôi về chiến tranh, nghĩa vụ và lòng yêu nước, tình yêu nước, và tình yêu cho đồng loại, đã được trưởng thành ở lứa tuổi chín muồi 72 của mình. Tôi không còn nhìn thấy hào quang trong chiến tranh nữa. Tôi chỉ nhìn thấy các bi kịch, sự mất mát và đau đớn. Tôi nghĩ rằng các cựu chiến binh và gia đình của họ hiểu điều này hơn ai hết. Tôi nghĩ rằng đây là một ngày để chúng ta suy ngẫm lại rằng làm thế nào để mình có thể nói cho người khác biết về sự vô ích của chiến tranh và làm mọi thứ chúng ta có thể để ngăn những cuộc chiến tranh trong tương lai và giảm đi số lượng cựu chiến binh chiến tranh.

Để đóng góp cho các dự án phi lợi nhuận của Dự án RENEW ( được trừ khấu thuế) hãy truy cập vào: http://landmines.org.vn/get-involved/donate-now/

 

 

 

 

"I Lost Two Boys When The War Passed Through My Village."

*** Vietnamese translation below

This Saturday in Vancouver, Washington, a new memorial will be dedicated to 59 Americans from the state’s Clark County who were lost during the Vietnam War. One of them was 21-year-old Daniel Bernard Cheney. The U.S. Army Lieutenant, a distinguished COBRA pilot, and his co-pilot were killed when their helicopter was shot down as they provided ground support to another downed helicopter pilot, who lived.

Since receiving news of his death, Dan’s family has been honoring his life by finding ways to look beyond their loss and give back to others. As soon as relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were normalized, Dan’s sister Jerilyn Brusseau and her late husband Danaan Parry started PeaceTrees Vietnam, a nonprofit organization that works in central Vietnam to clear the land of unexploded bombs and mines, plant trees in their place, and support the lives of local people. PeaceTrees has safely cleared 100,000 landmines and bombs, planted 64,000 trees, built 12 kindergartens, 11 libraries and 100 homes, provided mine risk education to 80,000 children and their family members, and hosted 60 “Citizen Diplomacy Delegations” to plant trees and grow friendships. 

Dan’s mother Rae, now 96 years old, has been a PeaceTrees volunteer from the start. She listened over the years as other volunteers talked about how going in Vietnam changed their lives. But she couldn’t imagine making the trip herself. All that changed in 2010 with an invitation to a special event. Rae boarded a flight in September and headed to Hanoi. A few days later, she found herself face to face with a Vietnamese mother whose two sons had died fighting for the other side. The 2 Sides Project recently spoke to Rae about what that moment was like, and what she’ll say as an honored speaker at the memorial this weekend. And that’s where we start, in Rae’s own words…

I’ve thought a lot about what to say on Saturday, how to put words together. The parents of the other soldiers lost will be there. I want to extend my love to them, but I also want to tell them how I was able to release the anger and the bitterness I felt. I never really pointed to the Vietnamese in that anger. I just pointed at life, because I knew something about war. My husband, Bun, spent three and a half years in the Pacific during World War II. We seldom heard from him. He came home safe, but the pain I suffer today sometimes surfaces because of the loneliness I felt when he was away.

Family photos of Dan Cheney, his fiancee Gail Garcelon and his parents, Rae and Bun Cheney. Photo courtesy Jerilyn Brusseau. Ảnh gia đình của Dan Cheney, hôn thê của anh Gail Garcelon, và cha mẹ của anh, bà Rae và ông Bun Cheney. 

Family photos of Dan Cheney, his fiancee Gail Garcelon and his parents, Rae and Bun Cheney. Photo courtesy Jerilyn Brusseau. Ảnh gia đình của Dan Cheney, hôn thê của anh Gail Garcelon, và cha mẹ của anh, bà Rae và ông Bun Cheney. 

So many friends and family were really a comfort to us as we struggled with our loss each day. As Jerilyn’s own family grew, she would bring her children to our home, and the conversation would always turn to Dan. She really wanted her kids to know about their uncle. She said one night that she would go to Vietnam one day. We knew she meant it.

Jerilyn and Danaan started PeaceTrees after Bun died. I moved to be closer to her, and went to the PeaceTrees office frequently. But I didn’t leave in peace and joy because the thought that kept coming to me was they are working where we lost Dan. I knew their mission well, but kept thinking, I have one more child going back to that country. Is that going to be ok with me? I really struggled with that. 

Jerilyn eventually asked if I would help write thank you cards to donors. One day, as I was writing these words of kindness, it suddenly came to me that there were many, many mothers who were suffering in Vietnam, the same as me. And with that thought in mind I began to feel some peace. I could recognize the fact that I wasn’t alone.

Year after year volunteers came back and talked about what they saw and how they felt, and how kind the Vietnamese were. No one ever said they felt insecure or unsafe, it was just so positive every step of the way. There was a moment when I thought ok, I can do this. I was at home one day and actually got my suitcase down, and then I thought about all the complications to get a visa. I put the bag back. I know now why I hesitated. It was beyond my fondest dream that I could ever go where Dan lost his life.

By early 2010, PeaceTrees had formed a board, and I was a member. At our meeting in January the director stood before we started and said he wanted to talk about something. He wanted to extend an invitation to me to cut the ribbons on a kindergarten and library in Vietnam that they wanted to build to honor Dan. Well, I had to go, didn’t I?

In September of that year, 19 people boarded the plane with me. They called themselves “Rae’s Merry Band.” We touched down in Hanoi. Our luggage was trapped in the hold, so we had just a moment to fluff ourselves up and go to our first official meeting. The senior-most members of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organization (VUFO) were there, and so were TV cameras. They were broadcasting live. Mr. Vu Xuan Hong, VUFO’s head, stood and spoke into the cameras. He announced that today it was his great honor to welcome “Mother Rae Cheney” and to present to me, on behalf of the President and the Prime Minister, The Medal for Peace and Friendship Among Nations, the highest honor given to a foreign citizen. They pinned the medal on me and then motioned for me to stand and speak. I recall expressing how long it had taken to make up my mind to come. I apologized for that, because I felt they were waiting for me.  

Rae Cheney with Madame Ho Thi Moan at their meeting in Khe Da Village, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. Photo courtesy Jerilyn Brusseau. Bà Rae Cheney cùng với bà Hồ Thị Moan tại buổi gặp mặt ở làng Khê Đà, tỉnh Quảng Trị, Việt Nam.

Rae Cheney with Madame Ho Thi Moan at their meeting in Khe Da Village, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. Photo courtesy Jerilyn Brusseau. Bà Rae Cheney cùng với bà Hồ Thị Moan tại buổi gặp mặt ở làng Khê Đà, tỉnh Quảng Trị, Việt Nam.

We left for Quang Tri a few days later, accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador and the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., to dedicate the Dan Cheney Kindergarten and the Mother’s Peace Library. I spoke first, under a pink canopy tent with fringe that swayed in the wind. Attending were veterans and press from all over the world, representatives from other NGOs, children dancing and playing. As I finished, the Women’s Union lifted up this tiny woman straight into my arms. At first, I didn’t know who she was, but we hugged each other and tears rolled down our cheeks. We held hands and started walking up toward the building to cut the ribbon. She touched my arm and said something. The translator turned to me and repeated her words.  

“I lost two boys when the war passed through my village.”

I was thunderstruck. I was just overcome with joy and peace and love for her. She’d suffered just like me. And I don’t like to say twice as much, but how else can you say it? I embraced her again. I wanted that feeling of love from that mother, and I know she did, too. We couldn’t let go. We’ll be friends for life.

Everywhere I went there were hands reaching out to me. I was full of gratitude for their love for me. Today, when I sit down to write thank you’s to our donors, I pick up that pen with a full heart, and extend our love and gratitude for their generosity. And what I’ll say to those gathered this weekend is that my heart is healed, thanks to my work with PeaceTrees, and a chance meeting with another mother whose loss I shared.

The Cheneys receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded posthumously to their son, US Army Helicopter Pilot Lt. Dan Cheney. Photo courtesy Jerilyn Brusseau. Gia đình Cheney nhận huân chương Distinguished Flying Cross (Huân chương bay xuất sắc) được trao tặng sau khi qua đời cho con trai của họ, phi công lái máy bay trực thăng của Quân đội Mỹ, Đại úy Dan Cheney. 

The Cheneys receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded posthumously to their son, US Army Helicopter Pilot Lt. Dan Cheney. Photo courtesy Jerilyn Brusseau. Gia đình Cheney nhận huân chương Distinguished Flying Cross (Huân chương bay xuất sắc) được trao tặng sau khi qua đời cho con trai của họ, phi công lái máy bay trực thăng của Quân đội Mỹ, Đại úy Dan Cheney. 

Rae and Jerilyn were interviewed by Vietnamese television during their visit to Vietnam. The full VTV interview is available here. For more information about their work, and ways to contribute to the PeaceTrees Vietnam mission, visit http://www.peacetreesvietnam.org

*** Vietnamese Translation

Con trai họ hy sinh khi chiến đấu trong chiến tranh. Với một cái ôm, sự tức giận của họ đã tan biến.

Một lễ tưởng niệm cho 59 người Mỹ từ quận Clark hy sinh trong cuộc chiến tranh Việt Nam sẽ diễn ra vào thứ bảy này tại Vancouver, Washington. Trong số đó đã là Daniel Bernard Cheney, 21 tuổi, Đại úy quân đội Mỹ, một phi công COBRA xuất sắc đã hy sinh cùng với đồng đội của mình khi trực thăng của họ bị bắn rơi trong khi đang hỗ trợ cho một phi công LOH ở mặt đất (người mà sau này sống sót). Kể từ khi nhận được tin anh mất, gia đình của Dan đã và đang tôn vinh cuộc đời anh bằng việc tìm cách vượt qua sự mất mát của mình và giúp đỡ những người khác. Ngay sau khi quan hệ Mỹ Việt được bình thường hóa, chị gái của Dan là Jerilyn Brusseau và người chồng quá cố của cô là Danaan Parry đã sáng lập ra PeaceTrees Vietnam, một tổ chức phi lợi nhuận tại miền Trung Việt Nam giúp dọn sạch bom, mìn chưa nổ , trồng cây thay vào đó và hỗ trợ cho cuộc sống của người dân địa phương. Sự cố gắng của PeaceTrees đã giúp an toàn dọn sạch 100,000 bom mìn, trồng 64,000 cây xanh, xây dựng 12 trường mẫu giáo, 11 thư viện và 100 ngôi nhà, giáo dục về các nguy cơ từ mìn cho 80,000 trẻ em và gia đình, và là chủ nhà cho 60 “ Phái đoàn công dân ngoại giao” đến để trồng cây và xây dựng tình bạn.

Bà Rae, mẹ của Dan bây giờ đã 96 tuổi và đã là tình nguyện viên cho PeaceTrees từ lúc ban đầu. Qua nhiều năm bà đã nghe bao nhiêu câu chuyện từ các tình nguyện viên khác về việc tới Việt Nam đã thay đổi cuộc sống của họ như thế nào. Nhưng bà đã không bao giờ tưởng tượng rằng có một ngày mình cũng lên đường tới đây. Tất cả điều đó thay đổi vào năm 2010 với một lời mời đến một sự kiện đặc biệt. Bà Rae đã lên máy bay tới Hà Nội vào tháng Chín. Vài ngày sau đó, bà đã gặp mặt một bà mẹ Việt Nam có hai con trai hy sinh khi chiến đấu cho phía bên kia. Mới đây dự án hai phía đã trò chuyện với bà về cảm giác của bà về thời điểm đó, và bà sẽ nói gì trên tư cách là khách mời vinh dự cho lễ tưởng niệm vào cuối tuần này. Chúng ta bắt đầu từ đây qua chính lời kể của bà Rae....

Tôi đã suy nghĩ rất nhiều về việc mình sẽ nói gì vào thứ bảy, làm thế nào để nói thành lời. Cha mẹ của những người lính hy sinh khác sẽ ở đó. Tôi muốn chia sẻ tình cảm của mình nhưng tôi cũng muốn nói với họ rằng làm thế nào mà tôi đã có thể giải tỏa được cảm giác tức giận và cay đắng mà tôi đã cảm thấy trước đây. Tôi chưa từng thực sự chĩa những cảm xúc đó vào người Việt. Tôi đã chỉ chĩa những điểm đó vào cuộc sống bởi vì tôi biết một điều về chiến tranh. Khi chồng tôi, ông Bun đã ở Thái Bình Dương ba năm rưỡi trong cuộc Chiến Tranh Thế Giới lần thứ II. Chúng tôi đã rất ít khi nhận được tin tức từ ông. Ông ấy đã an toàn trở về nhưng những nỗi đau mà tôi cảm thấy ngày hôm nay nổi lên là bởi vì sự cô đơn tôi đã cảm nhận khi ông ấy xa nhà.

Gia đình và nhiều bạn bè đã an ủi chúng tôi rất nhiều khi chúng tôi vật lộn với sự mất mát của mình hàng ngày. Khi gia đình của Jerilyn mở rộng, cô ấy mang con đến nhà tôi và cuộc trò chuyện luôn hướng tới Dan. Cô ấy rất muốn rằng con cái mình biết đến chú mình. Cô ấy nói rằng một ngày cô ấy sẽ tới Việt Nam. Chúng tôi đã biết rằng cô ấy nói thật.

Jerilyn và Danaan khởi lập ra PeaceTrees sau khi chồng tôi qua đời. Tôi đã chuyển nhà để gần con gái hơn và đã tới văn phòng của PeaceTrees thường xuyên hơn. Nhưng tôi đã không sống trong hòa bình và hạnh phúc bởi vì có một điều cứ ảm ảnh tôi mãi đó là các con tôi làm việc tại nơi mà chúng tôi mất Dan. Tôi đã biết rất rõ về sứ mệnh của họ nhưng vẫn nghĩ rằng, Tôi có một người con nữa quay lại đất nước đó. Điều đó có được không? Liệu điều đó có được đối với tôi không? Tôi đã thực sự vật lộn với điều đó.

Sau cùng Jerilyn đã hỏi tôi rằng nếu tôi có thể giúp con viết thiếp cám ơn cho những người tài trợ. Một ngày kia khi tôi đang viết những lời tốt đẹp đó thì bỗng nhiên tôi nhận ra rằng có rất , rất nhiều những bà mẹ đau khổ giống như tôi tại Việt Nam. Với suy nghĩ đó trong tâm trí mình, tôi đã bắt đầu tìm thấy sự yên bình. Tôi đã có thể nhận ra một thực tế rằng tôi không chỉ có một mình.

Qua nhiều năm, những người tình nguyện đã quay về và kể chuyện về những gì họ đã nhìn thấy, những gì mà họ đã cảm thấy và người Việt Nam tốt bụng như thế nào. Không một ai trong họ đã nói rằng họ đã cảm thấy không tự tin hay không an toàn. Mỗi bước đi của hành trình đều rất tích cực. Có một khoảnh khắc mà tôi đã nghĩ rằng được rồi, tôi có thể làm được điều này. Một ngày kia, tôi ở nhà và đã lấy va li xuống, nhưng rồi tôi nghĩ về những phức tạp trong quá trình xin visa. Tôi lại để lại vali vào chỗ cũ. Bây giờ thì tôi biết được rằng tại sao mà tôi đã ngần ngại. Đến nơi mà Dan qua đời là điều nằm ngoài giấc mơ thực sự nhất của tôi.

Đầu năm 2010, PeaceTrees đã thành lập một ủy ban và tôi là một thành viên. Tại cuộc họp của chúng tôi vào tháng Một, chủ tịch đã đứng lên trước khi chúng tôi bắt đầu và nói rằng ông ấy muốn nói một điều. Ông ấy đã muốn mời tôi đến cắt băng khánh thành tại một trường mẫu giáo và một thư viện tại Việt Nam mà họ muốn xây để tôn vinh Dan. Thế là tôi đã phải đi chứ? Vào tháng chín năm đó, 19 người đã lên máy bay cùng với tôi. Họ gọi mình là “ Ban nhạc của Rae Merry”. Khi chúng tôi hạ cánh xuống Hà Nội. Hành lý của chúng tôi đến chậm nên chúng tôi chỉ có một vài phút để chuẩn bị và đi đến cuộc gặp mặt chính thức đầu tiên. Các thành viên cấp cao của Liên hiệp các tổ chức hữu nghị Việt Nam (VUFO) đã có mặt, cũng như các camera truyền hình. Họ đã truyền hình trực tiếp. Ông Vũ Xuân Hồng, chủ tịch Liên hiệp các tổ chức hữu nghị Việt Nam đã phát biểu trước các máy quay phim. Ông ấy đã thông báo rằng hôm nay ông rất lấy làm hân hạnh được đón tiếp “ Mẹ Rae Cheney” và thay mặt Chủ tịch nước, Thủ tướng trao tặng cho bà Huy chương vì Hòa Bình và Hữu Nghị , danh hiệu cao nhất cho một công dân nước ngoài. Họ đã gắn huy chương cho tôi và mời tôi lên phát biểu. Tôi nhớ lại rằng đã mất rất lâu trước khi tôi quyết định tới đây. Tôi đã xin lỗi cho điều đó vì tôi cảm thấy rằng dường như họ đã chờ đợi tôi.

Vài ngày sau chúng tôi đã đi Quảng Trị cùng với Đại sứ Hoa Kỳ tại Việt Nam và Đại sứ Việt Nam tại Hoa Kỳ để trao tặng trường mẫu giáo Dan Cheney và thư viện Hòa Bình của Mẹ. Tôi đã phát biểu trước tiên dưới tán lều màu hồng với tua bay theo chiều gió. Đã có các cựu chiến binh và giới báo chí trên thế giới, đại diện của các tổ chức phi chính phủ khác, các cháu nhảy múa và chơi đùa. Khi tôi nói xong, Hội liên hiệp Phụ nữ đưa một người phụ nữ nhỏ bé vào ngay vòng tay tôi. Lúc đầu, tôi đã không biết bà ấy là ai nhưng chúng tôi đã ôm nhau với những giọt nước mắt lăn trên má. Chúng tôi nắm tay và bắt đầu đi tới tòa nhà để cắt băng khánh thành. Bà ấy đã chạm vào cánh tay tôi và nói một điều gì đó. Người phiên dịch quay sang phía tôi và nhắc lại lời của bà.

“Tôi mất hai người con trai khi chiến tranh đi qua làng tôi.”

Tôi đã rất sửng sốt. Tôi đã vượt qua với niềm vui, hòa bình và tình cảm tôi dành cho bà ấy. Bà ấy cũng chịu đau khổ như tôi. Tôi không thích nói rằng đau khổ gấp đôi nhưng bạn đâu có thể nói bằng một cách khác. Tôi ôm bà ấy một lần nữa. Tôi đã muốn cảm thấy tình thương từ bà mẹ đó và tôi biết rằng bà ấy cũng vậy. Chúng tôi đã không thể buông ra. Chúng tôi sẽ trở thành bạn cho suốt cuộc đời.

Bất kỳ nơi nào tôi đã đi tới cũng có những bàn tay hướng tới tôi. Tôi đã tràn đầy lòng biết ơn cho những tình cảm của họ dành cho mình. Ngày nay, khi tôi ngồi viết thư cám ơn cho những người tài trợ, tôi cầm bút lên với đầy nhiệt huyết trong trái tim, với tình yêu và sự biết ơn đối với lòng hảo tâm của họ. Trong cuộc gặp mặt vào cuối tuần này , tôi sẽ nói rằng trái tim tôi đã được hàn gắn nhờ việc làm của tôi với PeaceTrees và cơ hội được gặp mặt một người mẹ khác mà cũng chia sẻ sự mất mát giống như tôi.

Bà Rae và cô Jerilyn đã được Đài truyền hình Việt Nam mời phỏng vấn trong chuyến đi của họ tại Việt Nam. Cuộc phỏng vấn có thể xem tại đây. Để biết thêm thông tin về các hoạt động của họ và làm thế nào để đóng góp, xin vào thăm trang web http://www.peacetreesvietnam.org

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of the Missing: Fern Sumpter Winbush Talks About The Mission of the DPAA

Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, a day to honor Americans who were prisoners of war and to remember those who remain missing in action. It's also a day that Fern Sumpter Winbush will once again head into the office and get to work searching for new leads on our missing. Mrs. Winbush is the Acting Director for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). The agency began its work as the Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC) in 1966, and its mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel from past wars and conflicts to families and to the nation. It’s a new kind of mission for Mrs. Winbush. The Boston native spent more than 30 years in the Army commanding garrisons and running the business side of the armed forces in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Korea, the Netherlands and Afghanistan. But when she walked into her first day at the DPAA, she knew her new job would be life-changing. She told The 2 Sides Project all about it, and shared her thoughts on this very important day.

Fern Sumpter Winbush, right, looks toward a recovery site in Laos. Behind her is "the board," a standard practice at every recovery site that includes pictures of the missing and information about who was lost and the type of equipment they used. The crew working on a site assembles in front of the board every morning to remember why they are there. Photo courtesy DPAA.

Fern Sumpter Winbush, right, looks toward a recovery site in Laos. Behind her is "the board," a standard practice at every recovery site that includes pictures of the missing and information about who was lost and the type of equipment they used. The crew working on a site assembles in front of the board every morning to remember why they are there. Photo courtesy DPAA.

What was that first day like?
I spent four years commanding garrisons, and have directed smaller Army units where I had been very involved in taking care of families, so I knew I wanted this job. But when you’re on active duty, you’re focused on current wars and conflicts. You have a “right now” mentality, and you’re thinking about making sure that every man or woman gets home without making the ultimate sacrifice. I guess I never thought about past wars. I walked through the door that first day and thought I can’t believe I’m here, this is so incredible. I found out there are ~83,000 of our people still missing. About 50,000 of those are deep sea or catastrophic losses, so that leaves about 28,000 people that we are still trying to find and bring home. It’s a challenging mission, but a very noble one.

What is the work of the DPAA, and what have you been doing in Vietnam?
We’re focused on providing the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. We search for new leads on our missing so that we can bring them home as quickly as we can with the resources we have. Our ultimate goal is to fulfill our nation’s promise by bringing every service member home. So far this year we’ve conducted four Joint Field Activities in Vietnam. Joint Field Activities usually involve multiple sites at different stages of the recovery process, either investigation or actual recovery. In Vietnam we have ramped up operations. These are very tough cases. The acidic soil conditions, increased urbanization and weather all make things more challenging, so we can’t do more than a few areas in a year. It’s frustrating, but we’re restricted by elements that are out of our control.

Have you been in the field yourself?
I’ve been at DPAA for about a year now, and a few months in I got to go to Southeast Asia. I visited Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, all in about nine days. It was grueling, but I learned so much. At the time we didn’t have any ongoing operations in Vietnam, but we had three in Laos, and I visited one of them. It was in a very remote location. As we were approaching in a helicopter I could see a mountain and the pilot said “we’re going to land right there,” and I couldn’t see a “right there” anywhere! We landed literally on the edge of that mountain. I got out and met our DPAA team of civilians and military and host national personnel. It was hot, and buggy, and we were in the jungle in the middle of nowhere, but they were all there and had been there for a number of days, looking for a pilot and his sensor operator whose plane had gone down in 1966. They had already found a propeller that matched the type of plane the missing had flown.

The site where Mrs. Winbush landed in Laos. Remote locations and rugged terrain make many recovery operations extremely challenging. Photo courtesy DPAA.

The site where Mrs. Winbush landed in Laos. Remote locations and rugged terrain make many recovery operations extremely challenging. Photo courtesy DPAA.

What are some recent examples of MIAs you have located and returned?
It’s been a busy 2016. Our joint field activities helped us account for five Vietnam service members, who were located and identified from excavations in both Vietnam and Laos. Outside of Vietnam we completed the excavations of the USS Oklahoma unknown graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Hawaii and have identified 30 sailors and marines who were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Through our partnership with History Flight, Inc., a nongovernmental organization, we have been able to account for 27 sailors and marines missing from the battle of Tarawa in November 1943. And we continue to provide identifications on service members killed in the Korean War, many of whom were part of the K208, a group of caskets which were originally returned to the United States in the 1990s.

Can you tell us more about a specific case from Vietnam that the DPAA recently solved?
The remains of Air Force pilot Major Dean A. Klenda, killed in Vietnam in 1965, were identified and returned to his family. He was listed as KIA, body not recovered. His family had been waiting more than 50 years for news, and his nephew, Gavin Peters, recently visited our DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to receive his uncle’s remains. A funeral service for Major Klenda is scheduled for tomorrow, September 17, in Pilsen, Kansas. His nephew graciously authorized the photo essay we recently posted on our Facebook page. We also published his remarkable story on our website and produced a video about it. 

Gavin Peters visits the DPAA lab at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in September to receive his uncle's remains. Air Force pilot Major Dean A. Klenda, killed in Vietnam in 1965, will be laid to rest in Kansas tomorrow, September 17.  Photos courtesy DPAA.

Gavin Peters visits the DPAA lab at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in September to receive his uncle's remains. Air Force pilot Major Dean A. Klenda, killed in Vietnam in 1965, will be laid to rest in Kansas tomorrow, September 17.  Photos courtesy DPAA.

What is the situation today in Vietnam? How many people are still missing, and what kind of work continues to find them?
At the end of the Vietnam War, there were 2,646 missing, and as of today we have repatriated and identified 1,028. So that means we have 1,618 servicemen still missing from the war. In regard to ongoing Vietnam operations, investigators rotate into Hanoi on a continuous basis to pursue leads. Each of the four joint field activities currently underway in Vietnam involves approximately 95 U.S. personnel plus their Vietnamese counterparts. Together, they work on investigations and excavations throughout the country for about 30 days. Recovered remains believed to be those of Americans will be transferred to DPAA’s Central Identification Lab in Hawaii for identification by forensic anthropologists.

What are you most proud of in the work you do, or have done?
I’m part of an incredible team of professionals who are committed to this mission, to finding our missing and providing answers to their families. I have the privilege of attending Family Member Update (FMU) meetings that DPAA hosts approximately nine times each year in locations around the country and in Washington, D.C. That’s where we give families a briefing on the work that the DPAA does, and what we’ve done on their specific case. I hear so many moving stories. Last weekend at an FMU, I met the only daughter of Master Sergeant Hugh D. Whitacre who was killed in the Korean War, but his body has never been recovered. His daughter, Virginia, told me that she never met her father but that she’s been able to talk to the people who served with him. They say he was a great leader and mentor. One of them said that he still has his legs today thanks to her father, because Master Sergeant Whitacre trained his people and made sure they knew how to protect themselves and survive. Virginia told me her mother was in the Army, too. She was a truck driver but had to leave the Army when she got pregnant with Virginia, their only child. We joked that back then, if the Army wanted you to have a baby, they would have issued you one!

What keeps you going?
It’s meeting the families. I came to the DPAA all bright eyed and bushy tailed and so excited. Before I met a family member, the days seemed long and the work very daunting. Then I attended my first FMU meeting. The families are waiting for us to do herculean work. I could not have imagined how difficult this mission would be. It’s very challenging. We don’t always get the result we want, or that the families want. But knowing they are counting on us is what keeps me going. That’s why I love my work. I draw strength from the families and from their stories.

A sign from a recent Family Member Update meeting.  

A sign from a recent Family Member Update meeting.  

What message do you have for families who are still waiting for news?
Don’t give up hope. With advances in DNA technology, the development of new identification techniques, and the persistence of our researchers and historians, many remains we could not identify years ago—remains from the USS Oklahoma and the marines from Tarawa among them—are now being brought home to their families. I also just want to encourage family members to give us their input and support in finding their loved ones. Any information they can provide to our staff and their respective service casualty office has the potential to be the breakthrough we need in their case. Providing DNA Family Reference Samples to our partners, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, improves our ability to positively identify our missing. And if family members have questions or concerns, we are dedicated to finding an answer as quickly as possible. We owe those families answers, or at a minimum, we owe them what we know.

And what do you want to say to the American people on this important day?
This is a day to remember those who are still missing. While we have made tremendous strides in our accounting, there are still many thousands of service members who never made it home from past wars. We have not forgotten them. We will not forget them. And we will not end our mission until we bring our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen home.  

In Conversation with Nguyen Thi Hong Diem

*** See below for Vietnamese translation

We met Nguyen Thi Hong Diem in Ho Chi Minh City. She’s a young professional working with a local friendship organization that promotes positive relationships between Vietnam and other countries. We knew that she had lost her father in the Vietnam/American War, but we soon discovered that her loss was even greater. There were two soldiers in Ms. Diem’s family: her father and her mother. Two years after her father was killed, Ms. Diem’s mother was killed, too.

When we talked, Ms. Diem raised an important question. Since she knows many other Vietnamese sons and daughters who lost parents in the war, how could she learn from our experience and start connecting with them? Mike Burkett took the lead answering that question given his work as a board member of another nonprofit organization, Sons and Daughters in Touch. He has since exchanged information with Ms. Diem and hopes to support her further as she develops her ideas. 

Ms. Diem with Margaret Von Lienen at the 2 Sides Project meeting in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Ms. Diem with Margaret Von Lienen at the 2 Sides Project meeting in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

We recently asked Ms. Diem to share her impressions and thoughts about the 2 Sides Project meeting. We’re providing her responses in English and Vietnamese, as translated by our friend and Vietnam-USA Society collaborator Ms. Yen.

What were some of your impressions when you met with the sons and daughters of the U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam?
I felt a little bit curious, and shy at first. Then, I felt sympathetic. We have the same circumstance and the same pain caused by the war. I got emotional when sharing about the sacrifices of my parents and listening to the children of the U.S. soldiers killed in action in Vietnam as they talked about the deaths of their fathers.

What did you think after the meeting?
War caused losses to all sides. I hope that the U.S. sons and daughters I met, through this Vietnam trip and this meeting, will better understand the country and the people of Vietnam. We are compassionate, peace-loving, sympathetic, and sharing. We’ve overcome a lot of difficulties to build a better life.

Ms. Diem gets a hug after the meeting. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Ms. Diem gets a hug after the meeting. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Did the meeting make you change in any way?
I now have more new friends in the same situation, so we can share, exchange and support each other, to learn more about the war and together build a peaceful life for today and the future.

What would your parents think about you meeting and interacting with the US. sons and daughters?
Before the meeting, I burnt incense at the altar for my parents. I do this regularly because I have to communicate, to talk with my parents. I told them what I was doing and I felt that they agreed and were pleased that I was to participate in the meeting. My parents were soldiers fighting bravely with the enemy on the battlefield for patriotism and desiring a peaceful country. More than that, my parents were Vietnamese with traditional kindness and hospitality. If they had been alive, they would have been willing to meet, welcome and tell the children of American soldiers more information about the war. They would have said that they fought only to protect the country that belongs to the Vietnamese people.

Ms. Diem, far right, shares a laugh as Vietnamese sons and daughters write their thoughts on a keepsake scroll. Photo courtesy Jared Groneman. 

Ms. Diem, far right, shares a laugh as Vietnamese sons and daughters write their thoughts on a keepsake scroll. Photo courtesy Jared Groneman. 

Ấn tượng khi gặp những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam
Ban đầu có chút tò mò, e dè. Sau đó là sự cảm thông vì có cùng hoàn cảnh, cùng chịu những mất mát đau thương vì chiến tranh; xúc động khi chia sẻ về sự hy sinh của cha mẹ mình và lắng nghe sự chia sẻ của những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam về cái chết của cha mình.

Suy nghĩ sau cuộc gặp  
Chiến tranh chỉ gây ra mất mát đau thương dù ở phía nào. Mong rằng các bạn, những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam, qua chuyến đi Viêt Nam và những cuộc gặp gỡ nàysẽ hiểu hơn đất nước và người Việt Nam, luôn nhân hậu, yêu hòa bình,  biết cảm thông, chia sẻ, vượt khó khăn để xây dựng cuộc sống tốt đẹp hơn. 

Thay đổi sau cuộc gặp
Không có thay đổi nhiều. Có thêm những người bạn mới cùng hoàn cảnh với mình, có thể cùng trao đổi chia sẻ,  hỗ trợ nhau để hiểu thêm về cuộc chiến tranh đã qua và cùng xây dựng, vun đắp cho cuộc sống hòa bìnhtốt đẹp hơn cho hôm nay và tương lai mai sau.

Suy nghĩ của cha mẹ khi tôi tham gia cuộc gặp gỡ, giao lưu này
Trước khi tham gia cuộc gặp gỡ, giao lưu này tôi đã thắp hương trước bàn thờ cha mẹ để báo với ông bà (như một thói quenthường xuyên giao tiếp, trò chuyệnvới cha mẹ  mình) và tôi cảm nhận được rằng ông bà đồng ý và hài lòng cho tôi tham giacuộc gặp gỡ, giao lưu này. Bởi vì, cha mẹ tôi từng là người lính tham gia chiến tranh vì lòng yêu nước vớimong muốn hòa bình cho đất nước và quê hương mình, đã chiến đấu dũng cảm với kẻ thù trên chiến trường;  nhưngtrên hếtcha mẹ tôilà người Việt Nam với truyền thống nhân hậu và hiếu khách, nếu còn sống ông bà sẽ sẵn lòng gặp gỡ , đón tiếp và kể lại cho con của những người lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam biết nhiều hơn về cuộc chiến tranh bảo vệ tổ quốc của nhân dân Việt Nam.

 

Putting a Face on War: The Works of Wayne Karlin Cho chiến tranh một khuôn mặt: Các tác phẩm của Wayne Karlin

VIETNAMESE TRANSLATION BELOW

Author Wayne Karlin has done a lot of looking back this year. He just retired from the College of Southern Maryland, where he taught composition and comparative literature for more than 30 years. Now he’s searching the boxes in his attic to assemble the archives that will become part of the Vietnam World Literature Collection at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

Karlin’s papers will make a rich addition. The author of numerous novels and creative non-fiction works, Karlin has explored the many sides of war based on his own experience in the Marine Corps in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, as a journalist in Jerusalem covering the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, and in the lives of the characters he creates. Karlin’s most famous book, Wandering Souls, recounts one man’s real-life journey to confront the past and recover from the Vietnam War. But it was his work as an editor on The Other Side of Heaven, a collection of war stories from Vietnamese, American, and Vietnamese American writers, that helped him realize a fundamental truth: it is only when you put a face on war, and personalize it, that you can truly recover from it.

Karlin has just returned from Vietnam, where he presented his own and others’ works in literary talks that have become a fixture on his calendar since his first trip back to Vietnam in 1994. The 2 Sides Project was honored to talk to this pioneer about his long tradition of exploring all sides of war.

Wayne Karlin as a Marine Corps Gunner on a mission in Vietnam, 1967.  Wayne Karlin khi là tay súng của Thủy quân lục chiến khi tham chiến tại Việt Nam năm 1967.  

Wayne Karlin as a Marine Corps Gunner on a mission in Vietnam, 1967.  Wayne Karlin khi là tay súng của Thủy quân lục chiến khi tham chiến tại Việt Nam năm 1967.  

When did you start writing about your war experience?
When I returned to California in 1967, after my tour in Vietnam. I became a journalism major and editor of the college newspaper, and wrote about the veterans on campus. I then went to Israel as a freelance journalist and covered the 1973 war. But there was a moment when I decided to concentrate more on fiction than journalism. One day three men came over the border from Lebanon and killed a family. They later took hostages in a high school. The siege came to a head when the Israelis stormed the school and killed the men. Many students also died during the incident. As I watched the relatives taking the bodies out and photographed them, I felt like a vulture. It’s important to be a witness, but I realized then that the only way you can really get at the truth of things is, contradictorily enough, through fiction, when you can explore not just what happens, but what it’s like to be in someone else’s mind, to go beyond your own witness. I started working on my fiction more than journalism at that point.  

What was your first published piece?
It was a short story called Search and Destroy, which was included in one of the first published collections of stories by Vietnam Veterans called Free Fire Zone. I wrote it based on an actual experience. We were living in tents at Marble Mountain, and the tents were infested with rats. They were running over our bodies at night. In the story, the men hunt the rats with spears, but they’re always getting away. One night they trap a mother rat and her babies. Frustrated by war, by taking so many casualties, these men torture the rats to death, all the while calling them “gooks.” They’re in a trance as they do it. It wasn’t a traditional combat narrative, but it stood so much for the emotional truth of war. First Casualty Press published the book, and it received great reviews. I joined the press as its fiction editor but after a few years the press broke up due to lack of funding, and I decided to turn away from writing about the Vietnam War, and after my time in Israel and travels in Europe, particularly Yugoslavia, I wrote a spy novel set in Europe and the Middle East.

But you came eventually came back to the subject of the Vietnam War. How did that happen?
I was invited to a summer writer’s workshop at the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences in Boston. It was started by veterans, and other writers like Tim O’Brien and Phil Caputo were in it. This was back in 1988, and for the first time writers from Vietnam were invited to join. I had never met anyone who had been on the other side of the war. Three Vietnamese came, and they had similar backgrounds to us in that they had fought in the war and then became writers. It was a controversial meeting. This was well before normalization, and the Vietnamese American community did not want these guys in the U.S. We were going to hold an event at the Boston Public Library but there was going to be a riot. So we ended up meeting in the attic of a house. We were very curious about each other. It was an interesting dialogue, but we didn’t get very personal with them that year.

Le Minh Khue. As a teenager, she worked to clear the Ho Chi Minh trail for the North Vietnamese.  Lê Minh Khuê. Khi là thiếu niên, Khuê tham gia dọn đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh cho người Bắc Việt Nam.  

Le Minh Khue. As a teenager, she worked to clear the Ho Chi Minh trail for the North Vietnamese.  Lê Minh Khuê. Khi là thiếu niên, Khuê tham gia dọn đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh cho người Bắc Việt Nam.  

Did you get another chance to meet?
We did another workshop in 1993. This time two poets and a female short story writer came. The woman’s name was Le Minh Khue. When she was 15 years old, Khue was put on the Ho Chi Minh Trial as part of a female brigade. Their job was to diffuse or explode unexploded bombs, clear the trial, and guide the Northern Vietnamese soldiers south. They also took care of the dead. Khue did that for four years, and wrote a famous short story about it shortly after she became a war correspondent, and after the war a well-known fiction writer. I spent a lot of time with her during the workshop, and we showed each other pictures of our kids. One morning I asked her about the places where she had been. I remembered flying over that exact area and firing down on it. We were sitting across from each other at breakfast, and I looked at her face. I had this sensation of her being under those trees. I knew if I had seen her back then, I would have killed her, because she would have been a faceless menace. But what a loss it would have been had she been killed. She was looking at my face too, and later told me she was thinking about how terrified she had been of the helicopters, and how happy she would have been then had I been shot down. We talked about what stories can do, which is to show people faces that are not their own, to see our common humanity. In war it’s us and them. But in literature you can cross that divide and be empathetically in the minds and hearts of others.

Wayne Karlin (left), Ho Anh Thai (center), and Le Minh Khue (right), the editors of The Other Side of Heaven, at the book's launch in 1995.  Wayne Karlin (bên trái) Hồ Anh Thái (ở giữa) and Lê Minh Khuê (bên phải), những biên tập viên của The Other Side of Heaven ( Phía bên kia của thiên đường) tại lễ ra mắt cuốn sách vào năm 1995.  

Wayne Karlin (left), Ho Anh Thai (center), and Le Minh Khue (right), the editors of The Other Side of Heaven, at the book's launch in 1995.  Wayne Karlin (bên trái) Hồ Anh Thái (ở giữa) and Lê Minh Khuê (bên phải), những biên tập viên của The Other Side of Heaven ( Phía bên kia của thiên đường) tại lễ ra mắt cuốn sách vào năm 1995.  

Did you stay in touch with Khue?
We kept writing letters to each other after the workshop, talking about how great it would be if the Vietnamese could read the American stories and the Americans could read the Vietnamese stories. We realized too that the Vietnamese American experience should be represented, so we brought in Ho Anh Thai, another author and North Vietnamese veteran who spoke and wrote English well, and Truong Hong Son, a Vietnamese American editor, to include that side. You have to understand just how daring this idea was. This was still two years before normalization, and there were factions in the U.S. and Vietnam that didn’t want normalization to happen. It took me a long time to get a publisher in the U.S. because no one wanted to take it on. Curbstone Press finally did and organized a book tour for The Other Side of Heaven in 1995, the same year normalization was announced. There were big protests at every stop. It was pretty dramatic.

Wayne Karlin and Le Minh Khue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., 1993.  Wayne Karlin và Lê Minh Khuê tại bức tường tưởng niệm cựu chiến binh chiến tranh Việt Nam, ở Washington D.C., 1993

Wayne Karlin and Le Minh Khue at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., 1993.  Wayne Karlin và Lê Minh Khuê tại bức tường tưởng niệm cựu chiến binh chiến tranh Việt Nam, ở Washington D.C., 1993

What have you learned in writing about war?  
A lot of my writing has to do with the idea of the transformation that happens when we confront the need to erode divisions rather than create them. In war you have to bury your emotions, you have to numb them, to function. You can use the difference between you and “those people”—cultural, race, language differences—to dehumanize the enemy. But when you dehumanize like that, you’re really dehumanizing yourself. I think to recover from trauma, you need to bring out what you bury. In the moments when you see the connection with the other side, even though you may have tried to kill each other before, you find goodness and tremendous healing. That’s what I saw when I looked in Khue’s face.  

VIETNAMESE TRANSLATION

Cho chiến tranh một khuôn mặt: Các tác phẩm của Wayne Karlin

Tác giả Wayne Karlin đã nhìn lại quá khứ rất nhiều trong năm nay. Ông đã về hưu sau 30 năm giảng dạy bộ môn biên soạn và so sánh văn học ở trường College of Southern Maryland. Bây giờ ông tìm kiếm các tài liệu lưu trữ trong các hộp trên gác xép của mình để ghép chúnglại và sẽ đóng góp cho Bộ Sưu tập Thế giới Văn học Việt Nam tại trường Đại học La Salle ở Philadelphia.

Các tài liệu của Karlin sẽ là một sự đóng góp phong phú. Ông là tác giả của một số tiểu thuyết và các tác phẩm sáng tạo không hư cấu. Ông đã khám phá nhiều khía cạnh của chiến tranh dựa trên kinh nghiệm của chính bản thân mình khi ở trong quân đoàn thủy quân lục chiến tại Việt Nam ở giữa thập kỷ 60, và khi là phóng viên viết về cuộc chiến tranh Ả rập- Israel ở Jerusalem năm 1973, và cũng qua cuộc đời của các nhân vật mà ông sáng tạo ra. Cuốn sách nổi tiếng nhất của Karlin là Những tâm hồn lang thang (Wandering Souls), tác phẩm thuật lại hành trình có thật của một người đàn ông đối chất với quá khứ của mình và sự bình phục sau cuộc chiến tranh tại Việt Nam. Nhưng với chính công việc của ông với tư cách là biên tập viên cho The Other Side of Heaven (Phía bên kia của Thiên đường), một tập truyện chiến tranh ngắn từ các nhà văn Việt, Mỹ, và Việt Mỹ, đã giúp ông nhận ra nền tảng của sự thật. Đó là chỉ khi mà bạn cho chiến tranh một khuôn mặt, và cá nhân hóa nó, bạn có thể thực sự bình phục khỏi chiến tranh.

Karlin mới trở về từ Việt Nam, nơi mà ông đã giới thiệu các tác phẩm của mình cũng như của các tác giả khác, tại các cuộc nói chuyện về văn học, mà đã trở nên cố định trong lịch làm việc của mình, kể từ chuyến đi đầu tiên của ông trở lại Việt Nam, vào năm 1994.  2 Sides Project (Dự án hai phía) đã rất lấy làm hân hạnh khi được trò chuyện với người tiên phong này về truyền thống khám phá tất cả các khía cạnh của chiến tranh lâu đời của ông.

Ông đã bắt đầu viết về kinh nghiệm chiến tranh của mình từ bao giờ?
Khi tôi trở về bang California năm 1967, sau khi tham chiến tại Việt Nam. Tôi đã trở thành sinh viên báo chí và là biên tập viên của một tờ báo tại trường, viết về các cựu chiến binh trong khuôn viên trường. Sau đó tôi đi Israel với tư cách là một phóng viên tự do và viết về cuộc chiến tranh tại đây năm 1973. Nhưng đã có một khoảnh khắc khi tôi quyết định tập trung vào tiểu thuyết hơn là báo chí.

Một ngày kia, đã có ba người đàn ông đến biên giới từ Lebanon và giết chết một gia đình. Sau đó họ đã tới một trường trung học và bắt giữ con tin tại đó. Cuộc bắt giữ đã trở thành đối đầu khi người Israel xông vào trường và giết những người đàn ông này. Rất nhiều học sinh cũng đã chết trong vụ này. Khi tôi chứng kiến và chụp ảnh người nhà nạn nhân đến mang xác họ về, tôi đã cảm thấy mình như một con kền kền. Chứng kiến là điều quan trọng nhưng tôi đã nhận ra rằng cách duy nhất mà bạn có thể tiếp cận sự thực của vấn đề đó là, mâu thuẫn thay, qua tiểu thuyết, khi mà bạn có thể khám phá không những cái gì xảy ra mà những gì diễn ra trong tâm trí người khác, vượt qua giới hạn của sự chứng kiến của chính mình. Chính lúc đó, tôi bắt đầu làm tiểu thuyết nhiều hơn báo chí.

Tác phẩm nào của ông được xuất bản đầu tiên?
Đó là một truyện ngắn tên là Tìm kiếm và tiêu diệt mà cũng được chọn và đưa vào một trong những tập truyện ngắn đầu tiên được in bởi Cựu chiến binh Việt Nam tên là Vùng không nổ súng. Tôi đã viết truyện này dựa trên một kinh nghiệm thực của bản thân. Chúng tôi đã sống trong lều trại ở núi Ngũ Hành Sơn, chuột đã vào các lều. Chúng chạy trên người chúng tôi suốt đêm. Trong câu chuyện, những người đàn ông săn chuột với lao nhưng chúng luôn chạy thoát. Một đêm họ bẫy được một con chuột mẹ và con của nó. Bực bội bởi chiến tranh vì có quá nhiều thương vong, những người đàn ông này tra tấn các con chuột này đến chết, trong lúc đó gọi chúng là “da vàng”. Họ ở trong trạng thái ảo giác khi làm điều này. Đó không phải là câu chuyện chiến đấu truyền thống, nhưng nó miêu tả rất nhiều cảm xúc thực của chiến tranh. First Casualty Press xuất bản cuốn sách và truyện đã nhận được những nhận xét rất tốt. Tôi đã tham gia vào nhà xuất bản với tư cách là biên tập viên cho tiểu thuyết nhưng vài năm sau đó nhà xuất bản giải thể vì thiếu tài trợ, và tôi đã rời việc viết về cuộc chiến tranh ở Việt Nam và sau thời gian tôi ở Israel và du lịch ở Châu Âu, đặc biệt Yugoslavia, tôi đã viết một tiểu thuyết trinh thám với bối cảnh đặt ở Châu Âu và Trung Đông.

Nhưng rồi ông cũng quay trở lại với chủ đề của cuộc chiến tranh Việt Nam. Điều đó đã xảy ra như thế nào?
Tôi đã được mời tham gia vào một hội thảo mùa hè cho các nhà văn tại Viện nghiên cứu William Joiner về chiến tranh và các hậu quả xã hội tại Boston. Hội thảo này được khởi đầu bởi các cựu chiến binh và có các nhà văn khác như Tim O’Brien và Phil Caputo tham gia. Lúc đó là vào năm 1988 và lần đầu tiên các nhà văn Việt Nam đã được mời tham gia. Tôi đã chưa bao giờ gặp một ai từ phía bên kia của cuộc chiến.

Ba người Việt đã đến và họ có lý lịch giống như chúng tôi đó là họ đã chiến đấu trong cuộc chiến tranh và sau đó trở thành nhà văn. Đó là một cuộc gặp mặt gây nhiều tranh cãi. Đây là trước khi bình thường hóa quan hệ giữa hai quốc gia, và cộng đồng người Việt ở Mỹ không muốn những người này ở Mỹ. Chúng tôi đã dự định tổ chức một sự kiện ở Thư viện công cộng ở Boston, nhưng sẽ có một cuộc bạo loạn. Nên cuối cùng chúng tôi gặp mặt trên gác xép của một căn nhà. Chúng tôi đã rất tò mò về nhau. Đó là một cuộc đối thoại thú vị, nhưng chúng tôi chưa biết nhau ở mức độ cá nhân vào năm đó.

Các ông đã có cơ hội khác để gặp mặt nhau không?
Chúng tôi đã tổ chức một cuộc hội thảo khác vào năm 1993. Lần này có hai nhà thơ và một nhà văn nữ viết truyện ngắn đã tới. Người phụ nữ đó tên là Lê Minh Khuê. Khi 15 tuổi, cô ấy được đưa tới đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh như một thành viên của lữ đoàn nữ. Công việc của họ là tháo gỡ hay làm nổ những quả bom chưa nổ, dọn sạch đường, và dẫn bộ đội miền Bắc Việt Nam vào miền Nam. Họ cũng lo hậu sự cho người đã mất. Khuê làm công việc đó cho 4 năm, và đã viết một truyện ngắn nổi tiếng về công việc đó không lâu sau khi cô trở thành phóng viên chiến tranh, và sau chiến tranh cô đã trở thành một nhà văn tiểu thuyết được biết tới.

Tôi đã dành nhiều thời gian với cô ấy trong hội thảo, chúng tôi cho nhau xem ảnh con cái của mình. Vào một buổi sáng, tôi đã hỏi cô ấy về những nơi mà cô ấy đã từng đi qua. Tôi nhớ rằng mình đã bay qua chính vùng đó và bắn xuống. Chúng tôi đã ngồi đối diện nhau ở bàn ăn sáng, và tôi nhìn vào khuôn mặt cô ấy. Tôi cảm nhận thấy được sự hiện diện của cô ấy dưới những cái cây kia. Tôi biết rằng, nếu như tôi đã nhìn thấy cô ấy trước đây, tôi sẽ giết cô ấy, bởi vì lúc đó cô ấy có thể đã chỉ là một sự đe dọa không có khuôn mặt. Nhưng đó đã có thể là một sự mất mát lớn nếu như cô ấy bị giết. Cô ấy cũng nhìn mặt tôi, và sau đó cô ấy đã nói với tôi rằng cô ấy đã sợ máy bay trực thăng như thế nào và cô ấy đã có thể rất vui nếu tôi bị bắn rơi. Chúng tôi đã nói chuyện về các truyện có thể làm được gì, đó là cho thấy khuôn mặt của con người mà không phải là khuôn mặt của chính họ, để nhìn thấy được cái chung của nhân loại chúng ta. Trong chiến tranh đó là chúng ta và họ. Nhưng trong văn học bạn có thể vượt qua rào chắn đó và có được sự đồng cảm với những gì trong tâm trí và trái tim của người khác.

Ông đã có giữ liên lạc với cô Khuê không?
Chúng tôi vẫn viết thư cho nhau sau hội thảo, nói rằng sẽ thật là tuyệt nếu người Việt Nam có thể đọc các truyện của người Mỹ và người Mỹ có thể đọc các truyện của người Việt. Chúng tôi cũng đã nhận ra rằng các kinh nghiệm của người Mỹ gốc Việt nên được đưa ra, nên chúng tôi đã mời Hồ Anh Thái, một tác giả khác và là cựu chiến binh miền Bắc Việt Nam người nói và viết Tiếng Anh rất giỏi, và Trương Hồng Sơn, một biên tập viên người Mỹ gốc Việt, để gồm cả phía đó. 

Bạn phải hiểu rằng vào thời điểm đó ý tưởng này táo bạo đến thế nào. Đó là 2 năm trước khi sự bình thường hóa mối quan hệ giữa hai quốc gia diễn ra và đã có đảng phái ở Mỹ và Việt Nam không muốn điều đó. Tôi đã mất rất lâu để có thể tìm được một nhà xuất bản ở Mỹ vì không ai muốn đăng. Cuối cùng thì nhà xuất bản Curbstone Press cũng làm việc đó và đã tổ chức một chuyến đi giới thiệu sách cho quyển The Other Side of Heaven (Phía bên kia của thiên đường) vào năm 1995, cùng với năm mà bình thường hóa quan hệ giữa hai quốc gia được công bố. Đã có các cuộc biểu tình ở từng trạm dừng chân. Điều đó khá là ấn tượng.

Ông đã học hỏi được điều gì qua việc viết về chiến tranh?
Rất nhiều tác phẩm của tôi liên quan đến ý tưởng về sự chuyển biến diễn ra khi chúng ta đối diện với sự cần thiết của phá vỡ phân ly hơn là tạo ra chúng. Trong chiến tranh, bạn phải chôn vùi cảm xúc của mình, bạn phải làm chúng tê liệt để có thể hoạt động. Bạn có thể dùng sự khác biệt giữa bạn và “những người kia” về văn hóa, chủng tộc, khác biệt về ngôn ngữ- để biến kẻ thù thành đồ vật. Nhưng khi bạn làm mất đi tính con người của họ, bạn thực ra làm mất đi tính con người của chính mình. Tôi nghĩ rằng để vết thương bình phục, bạn cần lôi ra những gì mà bạn đã chôn vùi. Trong những thời khắc khi mà bạn có thể nhìn thấy sự kết nối giữa mình với phía kia, mặc dù bạn có thể phải cố gắng tiêu diệt nhau trước, bạn sẽ tìm thấy sự hồi phục tốt lành và to lớn. Đó là cái mà tôi thấy khi tôi nhìn vào khuôn mặt của cô Khuê. 

 

Happy Independence Day!

We’re celebrating Independence Day with a look back at one of the more patriotic events of the year. Susan Mitchell-Mattera, who went on the 2 Sides Project inaugural trip, was one of just a handful of Gold Star sons and daughters to receive an invitation to The White House on Memorial Day. She went as part of Sons and Daughters in Touch, an organization that provides support to the U.S. Gold Star children and other family members of those who died or remain missing as a result of the Vietnam War. She shared with us pictures and recollections of the day she visited “the People’s House” and met the President of the United States.

What were your first impressions of the White House?
We got through security and were directed down a hallway, which was filled with family photos. My first thought was this is so warm and welcoming. It felt like a home, just very comfortable. I was reminded of what Ambassador Osius said to us as he greeted us at his home in Hanoi. He said “this is the people’s house, and you are welcome here.” So it felt natural to be there, especially with my brothers and sisters from SDIT.

Susan outside the private guest entrance to The White House. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

Susan outside the private guest entrance to The White House. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

You got to meet the President and spend a few minutes with him. What stood out for you about that moment?
He was so tall! I remember his smile and his eyes. And he was so genuine. He gave each of us his full attention. I brought my Dad’s harmonica with me and he took it and looked at it. I told him it was one of the few things that came back with my Dad. I also had six dog tags that Jeanette Chervony had given us, with the names of the 2 Sides Project participants’ fathers on them. He looked at all of them and read our fathers’ names and I told him we’d been to Vietnam and met with the other side. Then he asked me what I did, and I told him I am a hospice nurse. He said "it takes a huge heart to do hospice, keep up the good work."

Susan in the Lincoln Room of The White House, where breakfast was held. Her father's harmonica, which was returned from Vietnam, is in her left hand. The dog tags she holds in her right hand, a gift from Jeanette Chervony, bear the names of the fathers of the first six who went on the 2 Sides Project trip to Vietnam. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

Susan in the Lincoln Room of The White House, where breakfast was held. Her father's harmonica, which was returned from Vietnam, is in her left hand. The dog tags she holds in her right hand, a gift from Jeanette Chervony, bear the names of the fathers of the first six who went on the 2 Sides Project trip to Vietnam. Photo courtesy Susan Mitchell-Mattera.

Given all you've done and seen over the last year, what’s on your mind this Independence Day?
I’ve always been patriotic. But over the last year there’s been one word that keeps coming to mind, and that word is gratitude. I’m so grateful for these last 12 months, for all that’s happened, for the people I’ve met. I met the President of the United States, veterans during Rolling Thunder, and the governor of California. And I met sons and daughters who lost fathers in the war fighting for the other side. I’ve been thinking about them a lot, about how much stronger we are as a group because we have bonds with people on the other side. I'm stronger now, too.  

In Conversation with Pham Thi Thuy

**See below for Vietnamese translation

We met Ms. Pham Thi Thuy in the Quang Tri Province in Central Vietnam. Her gentle demeanor was a stark contrast to the violent past she described as she recalled what happened to her family after her father was killed. Ms. Thuy was five years old back then. She vividly remembers the day the South Vietnamese came for her mother, who was imprisoned and tortured for being married to a North Vietnamese soldier. Her mother survived, but Ms. Thuy was forced to deny her heritage to avoid the same fate.

Ms. Thuy came to the 2 Sides Project meeting with a lot of hesitation, and a lot of questions. She walked away with answers, and a new understanding. She said to us then “I see that you have a lot of pain, and I do, too.”

We recently asked Ms. Thuy to share her impressions and thoughts about the meeting. We’re providing her responses in Vietnamese and in English, as translated by our friend and Vietnam-USA Society collaborator Ms. Yen.

Ms. Pham Thi Thuy, center. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Ms. Pham Thi Thuy, center. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Could you tell us about your first impressions when you met with the sons and daughters of the US soldiers killed in Vietnam?
I felt very surprised. I questioned why the children of the enemy – the enemy of my family, of my country – would come here. I say this because when my father died, when only my mother and I lived together, I hated Americans for such a long time. However, when I met the children of American soldiers who died in Vietnam, I felt their loss was like mine, and I wanted to know about why they had come to Vietnam.

Bà có thể cho biết ấn tượng đầu tiên của Bà khi gặp những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam?
Đầu tiên tôi cảm thấy rất ngạc nhiên, đặt câu hỏi rằng tại sao con của kẻ thù của gia đình tôi, của đất nước tôi lại tới đây? Tôi nói thế bởi vì khi cha tôi hy sinh, khi chỉ còn tôi và mẹ sống với nhau, tôi đã rất căm thù người Mỹ trong suốt một thời gian dài. Tuy nhiên, khi đã gặp những người con của lính Mỹ đã tử trận tại Việt Nam, tôi cũng cảm thấy sự mất mát của họ cũng giống như tôi lúc đó và tôi cũng muốn biết về việc tại sao họ lại tìm tới Việt Nam?

Margaret Von Lienen with Ms. Thuy. Both women were five years old when their fathers were killed. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Margaret Von Lienen with Ms. Thuy. Both women were five years old when their fathers were killed. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

What did you think after the meeting?
I understood that the fathers of the U.S. sons and daughters are also victims of the unjust war created by the United States at that time. After the meeting, we felt sympathy for each other, we felt much closer together, and we shared happy and sad memories about our parents, about our life, with the sentiments of sincere friends.

Bà nghĩ gì sau buổi gặp gỡ này?
Theo tôi, tôi đã hiểu thêm rằng Bố của những người bạn này cũng là nạn nhân của cuộc chiến tranh phi nghĩa do nước Mỹ tạo ra trong thời điểm đó. Sau khi gặp nhau chúng tôi thông cảm cho nhau hơn xích lại gần nhau hơn và chia sẻ những kỷ niệm vui buồn về cha mẹ của mình, về cuộc sống của mình bằng tình cảm của người bạn chân thành.

Ms. Thuy, standing on the right in front of the red flag, was one of nine Vietnamese sons and daughters who met with the 2 Sides Project group in Quang Tri. Photo courtesy Jared Groneman.

Ms. Thuy, standing on the right in front of the red flag, was one of nine Vietnamese sons and daughters who met with the 2 Sides Project group in Quang Tri. Photo courtesy Jared Groneman.

Did the meeting make you change in any way?
I found that we are not the only ones who suffered from the loss of spirit and material damage caused by the war but even them – children of American soldiers killed in Vietnam – also suffered from the devastating consequences of the war. Therefore, we must fight for a peaceful world, without war, without suffering and loss.

Cuộc gặp gỡ có làm Bà thay đổi gì không?
Sau cuộc gặp mặt, tôi cảm thấy rằng không phải chỉ có chúng tôi mới là những người gánh chịu những tổn thất về tinh thần và vật chất do cuộc chiến gây ra mà ngay cả họ - Những người con của lính Mỹ đã tử trận tại Việt Nam cũng phải gánh chịu hậu quả tàn khốc của cuộc chiến. Do vậy, chúng ta phải đấu tranh cho một nền hòa bình thế giới, không có chiến tranh, không có những đau thương mất mát xảy ra nữa.

What would your father think about you meeting and interacting with the US. sons and daughters?
I think in the other world, my father is also following the process of normalization and development of the Vietnam-U.S. relations after the war. He would like us to remove all the hatred of the past and work together towards a better future.

Bà nghĩ cha của Bà sẽ nghĩ gì khi bà gặp gỡ, giao lưu với những người con của lính Mỹ đã từng tham chiến và tử trận tại Việt Nam?
Tôi nghĩ rằng ở nơi chín suối, Cha của tôi cũng đang theo dõi những diễn biến hòa bình sau cuộc chiến. Ông cũng muốn chúng ta xóa bỏ mọi hận thù trong qua khứ để cùng nhau hợp tác hướng tới một tương lai tốt đẹp hơn.

In Conversation with Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis is a blues and R&B musician who has played with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Hornsby, and Bill Clinton. He’s also a black man who regularly talks to members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Why? Because since he first experienced racism at the age of 10, he’s had the same question for anyone who hates him because of his color: how can you hate me if you don’t even know me?

That question has opened up some interesting dialogue. Sometimes KKK members tell him they’re just superior, and say the Bible confirms it. Others realize they just don’t have a good answer. And some do the extraordinary: they tell him they’re going to leave the KKK. Often they’ll give Daryl their robes and hoods as a memento. He’s got about 25 of them hanging in storage bags in a secure location.

We met Daryl at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year where a feature documentary about him called Accidental Courtesy premiered. It was clear he was a pioneer in reaching out to the other side. We couldn’t wait to sit down and find out more about how he starts such challenging conversations, and what he’s discovered in the process.

Daryl Davis. left, and Scott Shepherd, right, with 2 Sides Project Founder Margot Carlson Delogne after the premiere of Accidental Courtesy at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. Scott is a former Grand Dragon in the KKK who at one time hated black people. Today he speaks out against racism and the KKK on his blog. Daryl and Scott are now good friends, and Daryl considers Scott a brother. 

Daryl Davis. left, and Scott Shepherd, right, with 2 Sides Project Founder Margot Carlson Delogne after the premiere of Accidental Courtesy at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. Scott is a former Grand Dragon in the KKK who at one time hated black people. Today he speaks out against racism and the KKK on his blog. Daryl and Scott are now good friends, and Daryl considers Scott a brother. 

What was your experience with racism growing up?
My parents were in the U.S. Foreign Service, so we moved every two years and lived in a lot of different places. My classes at school were like a little United Nations, filled with people from all over the world. I learned a lot about how to get along with others.

When we moved back to the U.S. in 1968, I was one of only two black kids in my school in Belmont, Massachusetts. I joined the Cub Scouts and became one of the only black scouts in the area. We were marching in a parade one day when some of the white spectators started to throw soda cans and rocks at us. I thought everyone was getting hit until my den mother and troop leaders gathered around me and hurried me along, protecting me with their bodies. When I got home my parents saw the scrapes and bruises and asked what happened. They bandaged me up and sat me down and told me what racism was. I had never heard the word before. My parents always told me the truth, but on that day, when they explained why I was the only one targeted, I thought they were lying. It made no sense to me whatsoever that someone who had never seen me or spoken to me and knew nothing about me would want to attack me because of the color of my skin. About a month later, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and riots broke out. That’s when I realized my parents were telling the truth.

Is that when your question first surfaced?
Yes. From that incident on, I read every book I could about the Nazis and the KKK. I couldn’t find the answer to my question there. Then, years later, I thought who better to ask than someone who would join an organization for people who hate? That’s when I sought out members of the KKK.

Weren’t you afraid?
No. And let me tell you why. I grew up around so many different kinds of cultures. In reality the KKK is just another kind of culture.

Daryl Davis with Roger, a Grand Dragon, who later left the KKK. 

Daryl Davis with Roger, a Grand Dragon, who later left the KKK. 

How does a black man reach out to members of the KKK? 
It was purely by chance. I was playing with a country music band at a lounge one night, the only black guy in the place. At the end of the set, I went over to sit at the band table and a white guy came up to me and said he really enjoyed the music. He said it was the first time he’d seen a black man play the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. I asked him if he knew that Jerry Lee Lewis got his style from blacks, playing black music. He didn’t believe me. Turns out he was a Klansman, and he started to come in regularly with other Klan members just to hear me play.

Some years later, I contacted that Klansman and asked him if he could put me in touch with the state Klan leader, called a Grand Dragon, to interview him for a book I wanted to write. He reluctantly gave me the Grand Dragon’s phone number on the condition that I not tell the him how I came to get it. He warned me not to go to the Grand Dragon’s house because he would kill me. The Grand Dragon’s name was Roger. I had my secretary call him and ask if I could interview him for a book, telling her not to reveal I am black. Roger agreed and came to see us with an armed bodyguard. They did a double take when they realized the interview was with a black man, but they sat down, and we ended up talking for a couple of hours.

What happened when you asked him your question?
Roger said I was simply inferior to him. He said black people have smaller brains, they’re less accomplished than whites. He said now that slavery was over, all black people should go back to Africa. I spoke freely, and I let him speak freely. Because when you’ve established dialogue, when two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting. If you spend just five minutes talking to someone, even your worst enemy, you’ll find you have something in common. If you spend ten minutes, you’ll find more. Over time you’ll find a lot in common and the things you had in contrast, like skin color, begin to matter less.

I started to get together with Roger after that. He never invited me to his house, but I’d call him and invite him to come on an errand with me, and Roger and his bodyguard would drive around with me. Later, Roger came alone to my house. When he was promoted to Imperial Wizard, which is a national leader, he started to invite me to his home and Klan rallies.

Why on earth was he doing all this?
At that point he had developed a respect for me. He believed he wanted to treat me fairly. And he was giving me the information he wanted to give me for my book.

Is he one of the ones who eventually left the KKK?
Yes. And he spoke out about his leaving publicly. But in the end he became reclusive. Whenever his employer saw in the media that he’d been a member of the KKK, he’d always lose his job.  

What has been your most difficult encounter?
Some people just won’t change. That’s hard. But I think it’s hardest when I meet their children. It’s sad to see what their kids are living with. I give about 60 lectures a year all over the country. Sometimes, when I’m packing up and answering final questions, I’ll see a student standing off to the side. I always know what’s up. He’s waiting for the crowd to go away and then he’ll approach. I play dumb, waiting for the moment when he tells me one of his parents is in the KKK, that he’s met more people at university and is dating a black or Jewish girl, or he’s friends with people from Pakistan. These students will tell me they can’t bring their friends home because their parents will disown them, and they can’t tell their friends about their background because they will lose them. So they’re harboring this secret and can’t let it out. They have to tell someone, and they tell me.

What have you learned from these encounters?
Kids are resilient. They’re raised a certain way and then they come to college with people from all over the world and realize these people are human beings and they have a lot in common. The same is true with the 2 Sides Project. You put these kids together and they think all they have in common is they lost a parent in war. But you have to get kids together earlier, kids who have lost parents senselessly due to recent wars. They have a lot of years ahead of them to change things, and they will.

We have that goal, to help any child from any war connect with the other side. But we wonder if it’s too early to do so.
Time heals wounds, but right now, while all the feelings are still present, it’s a good time to bring people together. The children of those who have been killed didn’t have any choice. They were thrown into it. They don’t have the animosity toward the other side as much as adults do. Kids get along better and they have better ideas about how to get along. They accept each other more readily than adults do. Bring these kids together and I guarantee you that as they grow older, they’ll make better decisions, and we’ll have less war. We may not live to see it, but you will have had an effect on them because they will have come to their senses earlier.

What I’ve learned is that ignorance breeds fear. If we don’t keep that fear in check, it will breed hatred. If we don’t keep the hatred in check, it will breed destruction. So we have to talk. When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting. They may be yelling and screaming and beating their fists on the table, but at least they are talking. It’s when the talking ceases, that the ground becomes fertile for violence. So let’s keep the conversation going.

 

 

 

 

The Long, Long Aftermath of War

A bunker at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo by Anthony Istrico.

A bunker at the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo by Anthony Istrico.

A week from today, President Obama will be in Vietnam. Everything we’re reading says he’ll focus on the future rather than the past. This forward-looking perspective is, of course, vital, but we know firsthand that the shadow of war is inescapable. Every battle starts in the past, and history directs where the first shot in the next war should land. Every conflict extends into the future, echoing in the minds, bodies and spirits of those who live on, long after their dead are gone.

We’ve met so many people who are living in the aftermath of the Vietnam/American War. There are the sons and daughters on both sides who never knew their fathers, but only feel that presence in the hole left in their families. There are the children born with defects, their bodies carrying forward the awful legacy of Agent Orange/dioxin. And there are the veterans on both sides who can never forget what they did, what happened to them, and who they left behind.

It’s this idea about the aftermath of war that got us thinking we should write a letter to the President. We had no idea how we’d get it into his hands. But sometimes a path just magically appears. Late last week, our contacts at the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) said that National Security Advisor Susan Rice was looking for any letters from citizens that the President should see before his trip. They brought our letter forward. We learned this weekend that it’s been included in the briefing book that the President will read on his way to Vietnam.

The hope is our message, that a future with Vietnam must be guided by the past, will resonate with the President. It’s an idea expressed eloquently on the Hiroshima War Memorial, which Obama will also visit later in the week: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”

May 2016

Dear Mr. President,

We are a group of sons and daughters who lost fathers in the Vietnam War, and we recently traveled to Vietnam with two aims: to visit the sites where our fathers were killed, and to meet the other side—Vietnamese sons and daughters whose fathers died fighting ours. After living in the shadow of the war for nearly 50 years and hearing only one side of the story, it was time to hear the other.

These were unprecedented meetings. We were nervous we’d receive a cool reception or encounter animosity. But some of the strongest encouragement for the idea came from the Vietnamese side. Dr. Hoang at the Embassy of Vietnam in Washington D.C. said that over the years, our countries had come together, “but our people have not, and your project can help.”

This people-to-people connection is what we sought in Vietnam, and it’s what we found. We were warmly welcomed by more than 20 sons and daughters throughout the country. We shared experiences, comforted each other, and found common ground. We agreed that our fathers would have been proud that we had come together. Our trip, which was featured on the front page of The New York Times on Christmas Day, was organized by the Vietnam USA Society, a group founded at the end of World War II as the first bilateral friendship organization for the people of Vietnam and the U.S. Their leaders have since become our partners, and our friends.

We know that part of your mission in going to Vietnam is to discuss ways to advance cooperation across many areas, including people-to-people cooperation. We’d love to share more about our experiences with you and Mrs. Obama on your return, and find out how we can extend this important effort in the future to others affected by the Vietnam War, and eventually to any child from any war. 

We also hope that your focus for Vietnam includes action on the matter of Agent Orange/dioxin. It wasn’t until we went to Vietnam that we understood the killing continues today. Agent Orange/dioxin still causes birth defects and premature death among children, and kills those who were exposed to the chemicals during the war. While clean up has been underway for years, the U.S. has never truly finished the job. A future with Vietnam that doesn’t acknowledge the past or our own responsibility to help strengthen the country from the ground up will never be stable. Our hope is that you will commit the time and resources needed to help the Vietnamese finally clean the land of its poison, and create the strongest foundation for its future.

Before our visit, we knew only that Vietnam was the place where our fathers died. Now we know it’s so much more. May you too find it to be a place of great beauty, charm, and endless possibility.

Respectfully yours,

Margot Carlson Delogne, Daughter of Air Force Captain John W. Carlson, KIA (BNR, MIA) December 7, 1966 and founder of the 2 Sides Project. Contact details below.


Mike Burkett, son of Army SP4 Curtis Earl Burkett, killed on February 19, 1971 in Quang Ngai Province.

Patty Young Loew, daughter of HM1 Jack Young, Navy, killed near Da Nang on March 11, 1969. 

Susan Mitchell-Mattera, daughter of James C. Mitchell Jr., killed near Cao Lanh City on January 8, 1970.

Ron Reyes, son of PFC Ronald Reyes (USMC 1st battalion / 9th Marines), killed at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968.


Margaret Von Lienen, daughter of Navy pilot Robert Saavedra (MIA), shot down over the province of Ha Tinh on April 28, 1968.

 

1 Picture, 2 Sides: The Story of Margaret's Site Visit

Margaret’s father, Navy pilot and Commander Robert Saavedra, was shot down over the province of Ha Tinh 48 years ago today, April 28, 1968. He is still listed as MIA because his remains have never been found. The U.S. government recently excavated a site and found evidence, including a piece of cord. They told Margaret and her family that they’d have to test it to see what it was, and if it came from the right kind of plane. The tests couldn’t be done for months, long after Margaret’s visit to Vietnam. She went anyway, armed with maps of that site, knowing the unknown.

We had to meet with province officials before we could travel to the site. Five of them were waiting for us at a local office. We spent what felt like hours going over maps, arguing about the exact location. In the end we realized they were trying to steer Margaret to another spot entirely. They said if she wanted to go to the place on her personal maps, she’d have to get permission from another official in another province. By this time it was late afternoon. The light was quickly fading and we were still a good drive away. We called the other province office, got no answer, and took off.

We were forced to stop with just six miles to go. The dirt road ahead was filled with deep ruts, and the locals told us our bus would never make it. We flagged down a van and bartered with the driver to take us. We finally reached the area at dusk and climbed up a steep hill to get closer. The GPS said the actual spot was just beyond, in a tangle of trees that was impossible to walk through. So we stood in a nearby clearing to honor Robert Saavedra. Margaret and photographer Anthony Istrico talk more about the whole experience below.

Things got a little scary just after we left. A few miles away, several people stood in the middle of the road to block our way. The official we’d tried to call was one of them. He was so angry that we had passed through his area without permission that he had an official escort us to the police station to explain ourselves. As we pulled into a small courtyard framed by government buildings, the escort closed and locked the gate behind us. Our trip leader was led into an office. We were left in the van. The engine was off, and it was pitch dark. Guards ambled up to check us out. One flashed his light into the van, looking at our faces. Villagers started to gather behind us, peering through the gate, their voices either nervous or just giddy that something interesting was happening.

After a while, Ron and Mike got out of the car and smoked cigarettes with the guards. That relaxed everyone a bit. Later, we were invited to have a drink with the officials and to surrender our passports for inspection. We apologized for having come without permission. They apologized for stopping us. They wanted to make sure we knew it had nothing to do with the war. They handed us our passports and told us we could go. We got back in the van and got the hell out of there.  

Margaret just received an update from the U.S. government on that piece of cord. They couldn’t place it to anything a pilot would have had in his plane or on his person. They confirmed the site was an A4 crash site, but are still unsure of the model. They also said that they had heard from a villager who thinks the crash site might be on the other side of the road. The government has promised to do a site survey there, but nothing has been scheduled.

On this day, we’re honoring Margaret’s father, and acknowledging the unknown that hangs over her family. We hope they get closure soon, and that her father can finally return home. Until then, we’ll remember that site visit, and its adventures, for a long time to come.

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Margaret: This man was one of the officials we met in the province office. They had a very long, robust conversation about my site. I didn’t know what they were talking about until Ms. Yen told us that we were still far away, and that the place they were pointing to had plane wreckage. I knew from the reports that wasn’t true of my dad’s site, so with Ron’s help, we put our foot down. We told them where we going, and left.

Anthony: He struck me as someone who wasn’t used to people disagreeing with him. As the other officials talked and argued, he just stood there at the head of the table commanding things. This was the first time we were at odds with our hosts. It was the first time that things were in disarray. And it was the first time I really saw that, as advanced as this country was, the government still reigned, no matter what. The bars framed the situation perfectly.

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Anthony: I don’t often think kids are cute, but this little one was awesome. Here we were, a small group with this enormous bus, with all this candy for the kids, and he was just watching us, going to town on an ear of corn. He had corn all over his chest when someone came up to him and offered a couple of Tootsie pops. He stuffed that ear of corn in his shirt (see it hanging down over his shorts?) and took just one pop. I posted this picture when we got back and someone pointed out that his flip flops had the American flag on them. I hadn’t noticed that before. This is by far the most popular picture we’ve posted.

Margaret: I stayed in the office the whole time but looked out and saw that Susan and Patty were giving out candy. All these children were so adorable, and they were fascinated by us. I remember feeling super tall next to them. I’m 5’10” and was like an Amazon woman there. 

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Anthony: After the adventure to get here, Margaret looks so calm and angelic, lit by the burning offering. She looks like she’s completely let go. But I remember that she seemed to have such a vivid picture of this place that swallowed her father. I had the feeling it wasn’t what she imagined. That kind of broke my heart.

Margaret: I knew it would be difficult to talk. I had a poem that I wanted to read, and I wanted to say the full rosary, but I was so conscious of the day we’d had, how overwhelming it had been to get there, so I said a few prayers and sprinkled holy water toward the location through the trees. Later, Ron took me aside and said he wanted to show me something. We walked to the ridge and looked out in the distance. The sun had gone down but there was still some light over the mountains. It was beautiful and very peaceful. That was comforting. I think it’s a little easier to put it into my heart and into my mind. It doesn’t hurt quite as bad now.

In Conversation with Dang Thi Le Phi

**See below for Vietnamese translation

Da Nang has a distinct place in the history of the Vietnam War. Back in 1965, the first American ground forces landed there to secure the airfield. Soon after, China Beach became a prime R&R spot for the troops. It’s easy to see why. The 20 mile arc of sand along the East Sea frames a postcard-worthy picture of the sparkling bay and high mountains beyond. Fishing boats, drying in the sun, lay on the beach like overturned bowls. It’s hard to imagine that this place bore the brunt of some of the worst battles of the war.

Da Nang was also a unique stop on the 2 Sides Project journey. It was here that Patty’s father died, and we’d come to honor his memory. But it was also the site of our most intimate meeting with Vietnamese sons and daughters, in one of the most surprising venues. Three daughters and a small contingent of Vietnamese veterans from Da Nang met us in the local veterans hall. A huge bust of Ho Chi Minh anchored the room, and banners and icons of the Communist Party were pinned to every wall.

Two of the women introduced themselves and told us a little about their fathers. They were too overwhelmed to say more. We tried to keep the conversation going by asking if they had any pictures. They shook their heads no. The third woman, Ms. Le Phi, spoke on the group’s behalf. She directed her comments to Patty. She said that in the past, their fathers were not on the same side, but that neither intended to cause any pain, fear or loss. She acknowledged that she shared with Patty “a hard childhood without the caring, the shielding, the covering of a loving father.” Now that we were together, Ms. Le Phi said that she wished us all peace.

We recently asked Ms. Le Phi to share her impressions and thoughts about the meeting. We’re providing the Vietnamese version of her responses below, and the English version as translated by our friend and Vietnam-USA Society collaborator Ms. Yen.

Ms. Dang Thi Le Phi speaks to the group, December 14, 2015. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Ms. Dang Thi Le Phi speaks to the group, December 14, 2015. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

What was your first impression when you met the U.S. side?
I felt nervous to be in contact with people from a country that is a leading civilization in the world, to be with these children of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam who have had many differences with my people. I had some preconceived notions. But when I met them, these thoughts suddenly vanished, because they were very close, friendly, and sympathetic. They paid attention to my speech and listened in the meeting that day. More special, they shed tears when they talked about their beloved fathers. That's what impressed me most, because it showed the close affinity between human beings and humans coming together. 

What did you think when you went home after the meeting?
The war has been over, far away, for a long time. People throughout the world want peace. Nobody wants war and bloodshed. Moreover, leaders of countries including Vietnam and the U.S. look forward to a future to jointly develop a peaceful society. Since that meeting, I have thought about the role of the citizen in thinking together and joining hands to make every nation in the world move toward a peaceful and prosperous life.

After the meeting, the daughters exchanged pins in front of a bust of Ho Chi Minh in the Da Nang Veterans Hall. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions. 

After the meeting, the daughters exchanged pins in front of a bust of Ho Chi Minh in the Da Nang Veterans Hall. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions. 

Has anything changed for you since you met the U.S. sons and daughters?
Indeed, there were a lot of changes, especially when the group commented that they didn’t expect the children of martyrs of Vietnam to have such emotional statements. I felt proud of the Vietnamese people about that. Even though the economy of our country is still tough, we are not inferior to others in terms of awareness. To me, a clear change is that I felt a sentiment that was built by the friendship and warmth of the children of U.S. soldiers who were killed in Vietnam.

What would your father think of you meeting with the U.S. side? 
I thought about yin and yang and how they are isolated (i.e. no interference), so my father cannot know about this meeting. If he knew about the meeting, he probably would not completely agree with it, because my father's death was caused by American bombs.

But if my father were still alive, he would have thought that such was war, and nothing more could be done! He would have thought that his fellow humans would never have killed each other because such action was inhumane. So he would have thought that death was just beyond our desire, he would have sympathized and accepted somewhat. But that is only a thought, and I am just assuming.

I think the most important thing is that through this project, we sons and daughters of the two sides now understand each other, we share together the pain of losing our loved ones. We have the same plight. We need to stand together to built a better future.

Ms. Dang Thi Le Phi (center) with Margot Carlson Delogne (left) and Patty Loew (right)

Ms. Dang Thi Le Phi (center) with Margot Carlson Delogne (left) and Patty Loew (right)

Vietnamese Translation 

Là lần đầu tiếp xúc với những con người bằng xương bằng thịt của một đất nước có nền văn minh hàng đầu thế giới, những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam, có nhiều khác biệt với con người Việt Nam nên tôi cũng có chút lo lắng và suy nghĩ về họ. Nhưng khi gặp họ, thì bổng chốc những suy nghĩ lo lắng trong tôi như tan biến, bởi phong cáchhọ rất dễ gần và tỏ ra thân thiện, đồng cảm và họ rất chú ý lắng nghe lời phát biểu của tôi trong cuộc gặp hôm đó. Và đặc biệt hơn là họ cũng rơi nước mắt khi nói đến người cha thân yêu của mình.  Đó là điều tôi ấn tượng nhất, thể hiện sự thân thiết gần gủi giữa con người với con người với nhau.

Dẫu sao thì cuộc chiến tranh cũng đã xa rồi, nhân dân cả thế giới đều mong muốn hòa bình, không ai muốn có chiến tranh và đổ máu…Hơn nữa lãnh đạo các nước trong đó có Việt Nam và Hoa kỳ cũng hướng tới một tương lai hòa bình để cùng phát triển, xây dựng đời sống xã hội an bình. Từ đó cá nhân tôi (sau cuộc gặp gỡ đó) cũng nhận thấy rõ vai trò của một công dân hãy cùng chung suy nghĩ, chung tay làm cho mọi dân tộc trên thế giới (có cả VN và Hoa kỳ) hướng tới cuộc sống hòa bình, thịnh vượng.

Quả thật là có thay đổi rất nhiều, đặc biệt là khi Đoàn 2SP nhận xét: “không ngờ  nhữngngườicon  củaliệtsĩ Việt nam có lời phát biểu nhiều cảm xúc ”, từ nhận xét đó tôi thấy tự hào thay cho con người VN mặc dầu nền kinh tế còn khó khăn nhưng không thua kém về nhận thức. Một sự thay đổi khá rõ trong tôi là đã cảm nhận được một tình nghĩa được phát sinh bởi sự thân thiện, niềm nở, nồng ấm những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam.

Trả lời: Tôi nghĩ rằng: Âm, dương là cách biệt (tức là không có giao thoa) cho nên có thể cha tôi hẳn sẽ không biết chuyện gặp gỡ đó. Giá như cha tôi mà biết chuyện gặp gỡ đó thì có lẽ cha tôi cũng không hoàn toàn đồng ý, bởi vì cái chết của cha tôi do đạn bom của Mỹ gây nên.

Nhưng nếu còn sống thì cha vẫn có thể nghĩ rằng cuộc chiến tranh là vậy, không thể nào khác hơn! Cha cũng có thể nghĩ rằng cùng đồng loại do tạo hóa tạo thành thì cũng chẳng ai tìm cách giết hại lẫn nhau, vì hành động đó là vô nhân tính…cho nên cha cũng sẽ nghĩ lại sự chết chóc đó cũng chỉ là ngoài ý muốn của con người chúng ta, từ đó ông sẽ cảm thông và chấp nhận phần nào! Nhưng đó là suy nghĩ trong giả định mà thôi.

Tôi thiết nghĩ: điều quý nhất là những người con như chúng ta nay hiểu được điều đó thông qua cuộc gặp gỡ (đã qua) để rồi sẻ chia với nhau cảnh thiếu vắng người thân yêu nhất trong mỗi gia đình của những người cùng cảnh ngộ, ngày càng xích lại gần nhau hơn thì mớimong tương lai sẽ tốt đẹp hơn./.

 

 

 

 

 

In Conversation with Mr. Vu Ngoc Xiem

We’ve been featuring the stories of the six Americans who traveled to Vietnam on the inaugural 2 Sides Project trip. Now it’s time to feature the other side. And there’s no better person to start with than Mr. Vu Ngoc Xiem.

We met Mr. Xiem in Ho Chi Minh City, in the last of our meetings with Vietnamese sons and daughters. By that time we’d already met 15 people on the other side. We’d cried, shared pictures of our families, and been welcomed in a land that to us, just days before, had represented only war and death. What we feared—that we would be scorned given our history—hadn’t happened. But when I saw Mr. Xiem sitting at the table, watching us as we walked in, I thought all that might change. His lips were pressed tightly together as he gave us a quick nod, then looked down at the table. He kept his hands busy by leafing through the pages of a small notebook. As the others went around the table and introduced themselves, Mr. Xiem rocked back and forth, rubbing his forehead with his fingertips. Then it came his time to speak. He stood. He looked so angry, I thought he might shout.

He introduced himself and told us how his father had died, what happened to him afterward, and how anger against the Americans fueled much of his life. And then he said something incredible: he wanted to let that anger go. He acknowledged that we were all victims. He asked that we help clean up what had been left after the war. Then he said thank you, and sat down. His face had softened. Later, as we took pictures with the American side, he smiled.  

We recently asked Mr. Xiem to tell us about his memory of that moment, and what he’s been thinking about since. A military man for most of his life, Mr. Xiem talks honestly about his feelings. He uses words that might make some wince. We are grateful to the venerable Ms. Yen of the Vietnam USA Society (VUS), our guide in Vietnam, who translated his responses into English. Both the English and Vietnamese versions are below. We have reached out to ask others we met to share their thoughts. We’ll feature their stories as we get their responses.

If there’s no better person to start with than Mr. Xiem, there’s no better time. It’s April 4, 2016, and today is the 51st anniversary of the death of Mr. Xiem’s father.  

**SEE BELOW FOR FULL VIETNAMESE TRANSLATION

 

Mr. Xiem at the 2 Sides Project meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, December 2015. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Mr. Xiem at the 2 Sides Project meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, December 2015. Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico.

Tell us a bit about your father, and how you grew up.
My father was killed by American bombs while fighting in the Ham Rong protection campaign on April 4, 1965. This was the second day the U.S. imperialists used aircraft to bomb North Vietnam. The pain of losing my father had not even passed when, on October 10, 1967,  my class – Class 9B- Y Yen High School, Nam Ha (now Nam Dinh Province) – was bombed by American aircraft, killing 33 students and one teacher. I survived, along with seven other friends.

We felt deep anger and hatred for the U.S. invaders, not only for us, but also for the people of Vietnam and peace-loving people around the world. We were just kids sitting in school. Why did the American troops bomb us? The feud remained in our hearts and we vowed that the U.S. was our archenemy. The hatred stayed in me the whole time I served the campaign of fighting to liberate the South and reunify the whole country.

What was your reaction to being invited to meet the other side?
When I was informed that I would meet with the 2 Sides Project and interact with children of U.S. soldiers killed in the Vietnam War, I began to think a lot. My feelings gradually changed from hatred and resentment to empathy and pity for the children of American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. When I came to the meeting, I saw the lack of confidence, the anxiety on their faces (unlike the American or European travelers/tourists in Vietnam). I witnessed their tears. And at that moment my hatred seemed to melt away, leaving only sympathy. I understood that you, and your fathers, were also victims of the war caused by the American war addiction of warmongers in the U.S. government and U.S. military.

I am thankful to the 2 Sides Project. I also express my gratitude to all at the Vietnam-USA Society (VUS) and Union of Friendship Organizations of Ho Chi Minh City (HUFO) for connecting and organizing the meeting between the children of Vietnamese war martyrs and American sons and daughters. I consider the get-together a historical one. The sons and daughters of both sides are witnesses to history, children of those once enemies in the war, and now it is 40 years after the fighting between the soldiers defending the Fatherland and the invaders who also died by the war.
 

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions

What have been your impressions since you met the Americans?
Hatred is only hatred. Our lives should be directed forward. If we always look back, we will stumble. I remember in 1995, when the U.S. removed the embargo against Vietnam, the heads of state of the two countries shook hands, and the President of Vietnam said: “Let us close the past and look forward to the future.” Therefore, the meeting between Vietnamese and American sons and daughters is really significant. We are the generation with a historical connection between the two peoples of Vietnam and the United States. We have witnessed the war, the confrontation of the previous generation, directly. We have a responsibility to erase the images of the unjust war, to usher in a brighter future, for our generation and for future generations.

The meeting between children of Vietnamese revolutionary war-martyrs and American soldiers killed in Vietnam makes me more confident in a future of harmony and solidarity between our two peoples. We are the most affected, the most lost, and the most disadvantaged because of our fathers’ deaths. (the meanings of their deaths are different, though).

From this meeting, not just people like us, but also the peoples of the two countries, Vietnam and the United States, need to hold hands to continue the path of making harmony, solidarity, and peace.

Do you think you father would have approved of such a meeting?
As a child, my parents often taught that man is born basically good, but life has innumerable difficulties. If you want to be alive, you need to be self-controlled to forget your illness, your old age and your hatred. Only thus will you have a peaceful and happy life. They also taught that the Vietnamese people have a tradition of being kind-hearted, and are a generous, loving people who love peace. Surely my father will smile now, as his loving child obeys him.

Mr. Xiem with Ron Reyes after the meeting. Mr. Xiem wears the 2 Sides Project lapel pin, as does Ron Reyes, along with his Gold Star pin. Ron also wears a red flower pin. It was made by victims of Agent Orange. Mr Xiem gave each of us a flower pin. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Mr. Xiem with Ron Reyes after the meeting. Mr. Xiem wears the 2 Sides Project lapel pin, as does Ron Reyes, along with his Gold Star pin. Ron also wears a red flower pin. It was made by victims of Agent Orange. Mr Xiem gave each of us a flower pin. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Vietnamese translation of Mr. Xiem's Interview

Ngày 04/4/1965 (ngày thứ hai đế quốc Mỹ đem máy bay ném bom xuống miền Bắc Việt Nam), trong khi chiến đấu bảo vệ cầu Hàm Rồng (Thanh Hóa), cha tôi đã bị bom Mỹ sát hại.

Nỗi đau mất cha chưa nguôi, thì ngày 10/10/1067, lớp học của tôi (Lớp 9B- Trường cấp 3 Ý Yên-Nam Định (lúc đó là Nam Hà), đã bị máy bay Mỹ ném bom, sát hại 33 học sinh và 01 giáo viên, tôi được sống sót cùng với 7 bạn khác.

Lòng uất hận, căm thù bọn Mỹ xâm lược, không chỉ đối với chúng tôi, mà đối với cả dân tộc Việt Nam và nhân dân yêu chuộng hòa bình trên toàn thế giới: Vì lý do gì, chúng tôi chỉ là những đứa trẻ còn ngồi trên ghế nhà trường “ăn chưa no, lo chưa tới”, mà họ (bọn Mỹ) lại đem bom dội xuống đầu chúng tôi ? Mối thù hận đã đặt trong tim chúng tôi và chúng tôi thề rằng : Không đội trời chung với bọn Mỹ xâm lược. Mối căm thù ấy (đã nung nấuý chí trả thù) đã theo tôi đi suốt chặng đường tham gia chiến đấu giải phóng miền Nam, thống nhất đất nước.

Từ khi tôi được thông báo là sẽ gắp gỡ, giao lưu với Đoàn “Giao lưu song phương” những người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam, tôi đã suy nghĩ rất nhiều: Từ căm thù, uất hận, đến chua xót, thông cảm và có cảm nghĩ đáng thương cho những đứa trẻ - những người con của những lính Mỹ đã tử trận tại Việt Nam.

Đặc biệt, khi tiếp xúc, tôi đã nhìn thấy những khuôn mặt không được tự tin của các bạn (có phần lo âu- không giống như gương mặt của những người Mỹ đi dulịch tại Việt Nam), được chứng kiến những giọt nước mắt của bà Mc Gớt (có thể chưa chính xác tên của bà) là đoàn trưởng (cũng là người sáng lập Đoàn “Giao lưu song phương”) và các thành viên khác trong đoàn… thì lúc đó, lòng thù hận trong tôi như bị tan biến hết, chỉ còn lại sự cảm thông. Bởi vì chính họ cũng là nạn nhân (kể cả cha của họ) cũng là nạn nhân của cuộc chiến tranh, do những kẻ hiếu chiến cầm đầu trong chính quyền và giới quân phiệt Mỹ.                                                                                          

Tôi rất cảm ơn bà McGớt(hãy tạm gọi tên bà đoàn trưởng như vậy), đã có suy nghĩ và thành lập ra Đoàn “Giao lưu song phương” của con em lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam. Tôi củng rất cảm ơn Hội Việt- Mỹ và Liên hiệp các Tổ chức Hữu nghị TP.Hồ Chí Minh, đã kết nối, tổ chức cuộc gặp gỡ đối với những người con Liệt sỹ quân Cách mạng Việt Nam và những người con em lính Mỹ đã tử trận tại Việt Nam. Tôi cho rằng đây là cuộc gặp mặt lịch sử, những người con là nhân chứng lịch sử, của chính cha họ ở hai phía của cuộc chiến tranh, sau hơn 40 năm cuộc chiến đấu giữa những người chiến sỹ bảo vệ Tổ quốc với quân xâm lược, đã lùi lại phía sau.

Trong suốt hơn 40 năm qua, cùng với sự phát triển trên mọi mặt của xã hội (cả về Kinh tế - Chính trị - Xã hội – Quốc phòng, an ninh...). Những người từ hai phía đã hiểu nhau hơn. Đã có biết bao cuộc tiếpxúc, giaolưu,  tìm hiểuvà gắn kết. Đặc biệt, quan hệ giữa hai nước Việt Nam và Hoa kỳ cũng đã thay đổi (từ từng phần, đến toàn diện). và đã trở thành đối tác chiến lược quan trọng.

“Hận thù” chỉ là “thù hận”, mà cuộc sống của chúng ta cần hướng đến phía trước, nếu chúng ta luôn ngoảnh lại phía sau, thì sẽ bị vấp ngã. Tôi nhớ rắng: Năm 1995, khi Hoa kỳ xóa bỏ chính sách cấm vận đối với Việt Nam, Nguyên thủ hai quốc gia đã bắt tay và Chủ tịch Nước Việt Nam đã nói rằng: “Chúng ta hãy khép lại quá khứ, để hướng tới tương lai”. Vì vậy, cuộc gặp gỡ của những người con Liệt sĩ Cách mạng Việt Nam với những người con lính Mỹ tử nạn tại Việt Nam, là một cuộc gặp gỡ đầy ý nghĩa. Vì chúng tôi là những người của thế hệ kết nối lịch sử, giữa hai dân tộcViệt Nam và Hoa kỳ. Chúng tôi đã trực tiếp chứng kiến cuộc chiến tranh, cuộc đối đấu của thế hệ trước. Chúng tôi có trách nhiệm phải xóa đi những hình ảnh phi nghĩa ấy, để mở ra một khung trời tươi sáng hơn, cho thế hệ chúng tôi và cho thế hệ mai sau.

Từ cuộc gặp mặt này, không chỉ những người như chúng tôi, mà cả dân tộc hai nước Việt Nam và Hoa kỳ cần nắmtay nhau, để đi tiếp con đường hòa hợp, con đường xây dựng mối tình đoàn kết, xây dựng cuộc sống hòa bình.

Cuộc gặp gỡ giữa những người con Liệt sĩ Cách mạng Việt Nam và người con của lính Mỹ tử trận tại Việt Nam, càng làm cho tôi vững tin hơn vào tương lai củatình hòa hợp, đoàn kết giữa hai dân tộc Việt Nam – Hoa kỳ. Chúng tôi là những người chịu ảnh hưởng nhiều nhất, bị mất mát và thiệt thòi nhiều nhất, từ tình cảm thiêng liêng người cha của mình, đã    ngã xuống trên chiến trường (mặc dù ý nghĩa khác nhau).

Tôi nghĩ rằng, các bạn đã đến đây, chứng tỏ các bạn đã có niềm tin, và niềm tin của các bạn đã được củng cố, và chắc chắn đã có thêm được niềm tin khi tiếp xúc với những người con Liệt sỹ Cách mạng Việt Nam. Và, chúng tôi chờ những bước đi của các bạn, trên đất nước các bạn, và cả trên đất nước chúng tôi – Các bạn hãy tin tưởng vào chúng tôi, tin tưởng vào dân tộc Việt Nam, mong các bạn sẽ bước đi vững vàng trên hai đất nướcchúng ta.

Khi còn nhỏ, tôi thường được cha mẹ dạy rằng: “Con người sinh ra vốn bổn thiện, nhưng cuộc sống muôn vàn khó khăn.  Con muốn đứng vững trên đời này, thì cần phải làm chủ được mình, đó là: Biết quên đi bệnh tật, biết quên đi tuổi già và biết quên đi thù hận. Như vậy, con người mới thanh thản mà sống vui vẻ”.

Và cha mẹ chúng tôi cũng thường xuyên giáo dục chúng tôi rằng: Dân tộc Việt Nam có truyền thống, bản chất nhân hậu, bao dung, luôn thương yêu nhân loại và luôn yêu chuộng hòa bình.

Chắc chắn cha tôi sẽ mỉm cười, khi đứa con yêu của cha đã biết nghe lời cha.


1 Picture, 2 Sides: The Story of Ron's Site Visit

Ron’s father, PFC Ronald Reyes (USMC 1st battalion/9th Marines), was killed 48 years ago today on a hill overlooking Khe Sanh. Back then—March 30, 1968—the Tet Offensive was raging. Ron was just a few weeks oldHis father died knowing Ron had been born, but he had only seen his son in pictures. 

As we prepared to go to the site a few months ago, Ron reflected on the fact that the fighting had left the land bare. He said he wanted “to see the foliage as it should be.” He got his wish when we arrived at this impossibly lush place. The trees were wide and so full they crowded into each other. The coffee plants were bursting with huge, shiny berries. The earth was a deeper, richer red than anywhere on earth. Everything was alive in this place that had seen so much death.

On this day we honor Ron and his father with never-before-seen pictures from the site visit, and with reflections from Ron and photographer Anthony Istrico on what they saw and how they felt that day. You’ll get the full story about this site visit and the 2 Sides Project trip in a documentary from Istrico Productions, coming in 2016. 

Ron arrives at the site where his father died. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Ron arrives at the site where his father died. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Anthony: Ron was always concerned that people were getting to their sites, getting the experience they needed. This was Ron's day. He got there and let go. The space just overwhelmed him, and pulled him down. This was the closest Ron would be to his dad.

Ron: I don’t know how I ended up on the ground. I was just completely overwhelmed. I had so much energy going into getting to this place, and finally, I was there. I was just completely flooded with emotion: happiness, sadness, completion, everything all at once. It was years and years of feeling that hit at the same time. I just dropped there and stayed.  

 

Ron walking away from his father's site. Read below about the palm trees on the left. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Ron walking away from his father's site. Read below about the palm trees on the left. Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Ron: I see that picture in complete color. I can visualize how bright the greens are and how red that dirt is. We went through a coffee plantation and then came to the top of a hill where we could look down on this valley. Originally I wanted to climb up the hill ahead, but as we walked down and got into the valley, I felt the spot where I needed to be, in front of that shack, and we stopped there. I re-ran the coordinates this weekend and discovered something new. See that set of palm trees on the left? That’s actually where my father died. The map zoomed right down to them. And my dad’s friends who survived that day’s fighting drew diagrams showing what happened where. Those drawings match up to that place, too. So, I was in the right spot. That happened to many of us on this trip. We knew where we wanted to go because we had the coordinates. But we didn’t know exactly where to stand until we got there. We just felt it.

Anthony: I’ve talked before about how Vietnam has 50 shades of green. It’s such a vibrant, alive place, and I felt what we saw in color was an unfair representation of what this place was, a place of immeasurable death where one of the bloodiest battles of the war took place. Making it black and white reminds us it wasn’t always this beautiful. And a broad view like this made Ron the center of the shot. It shows the scale of the place.

 

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Photo courtesy Istrico Productions.

Anthony: Ron and I were making our way back to the bus after the site visit, and I asked if he would let me take a portrait. He was about to compose himself, and I took this at the moment before he did, when it was clear he was drained and he was letting go of all his emotions. I’m so glad I caught him in this moment. Ron had to be “on” the whole trip: he was helping people get to their sites, working all the maps, directing the driver to the exact spot. In this picture he’s not “on” but simply himself, taking in where he's just been.  

Ron: I didn’t want to leave. Before we got there it was so frenetic, trying to find this exact spot. And when we did, I found it was quiet and beautiful. I was at complete peace. I just wanted to breath it all in. 

Talk About a Trailer

Anthony Istrico is the director of The 2 Sides Project, a feature length documentary about the inaugural 2 Sides Project trip to Vietnam in December 2015 and the six Americans who went on it. He’s been working with his team, comprised of director of photography and animator Jared Groneman, post-production assistant Marco Duran, and film editor/writer Nora Kubach, as Nora sifts through 150 hours of footage to weave together the story about the journey. The just-released trailer became the thesis of the film as they continue to uncover the greater themes. Here, Anthony and Nora discuss the film’s story and how working on it has had a lasting effect.

Tell us a bit about this trailer.

Anthony: We thought as filmmakers going into this project, focused on the idea of two sides, that the most significant thing would be the sons and daughters meetings. It turns out that there were so many other dimensions of the two sides at play. You had Americans in Vietnam, you had the Vietnam we knew only from war movies and the Vietnam we actually saw - which was crazy and vibrant and colorful and beautiful and dirty all at the same time. In the end, the meetings between the sons and daughters were really important, and feature prominently in the film, but the most important meeting turned out to be the one everyone had with the country itself. I hope that’s what you see in the trailer, the entirety of the two sides idea.

Nora: The story is still unfolding in front of us, but the trailer shows the film is about a journey to peace and understanding, and about the bigger meeting of the two sides—America and Vietnam. In going across the world to visit the sites where their fathers died and to meet the people on the other side, these six Americans were able to find answers, get closure (for some), and to learn a little more about themselves along the way. It was an adventure, but more than anything it was an emotional journey. I wanted it to feel personal, and chose particular scenes that show we are about to embark on a journey, but I didn’t want to give too much away.

Did you know what kind of documentary you wanted to make before you started filming?

Anthony: One thing I didn’t want to do is make a travelogue. I wanted to show the transformative journey these sons and daughters went on, which is really the culmination of a journey they’ve been on their entire lives. It’s incredible to think of how long the aftermath of war endures. Each person on this trip has lived with their loss for 40 or 50 years. Most had never been to Vietnam, and didn’t even have the desire to go until they heard of this project. They were just ready for it. But they didn’t know what to expect, or what they would feel. In the end I think they found something they’d searched for all along: their fathers, and themselves.

What approach did you take with the actual filming?

Anthony: Much of the work I do is scripted, so doing this documentary was both refreshing and frightening. Jared and I had to be cognizant of what was happening because the story was unfolding before us. My biggest struggle was how do I stay focused on the message I am getting while not tuning out the other things that are happening around me, which can be just as significant. In the end Vietnam was a character, and the largest variable to try to manage. The framing of that character was really important. So, of the two cameras we had with us, one took a macro view, the wide scene, and the other a micro view. It was the outside looking in, and the inside looking out, so we could show the two sides of what was happening.

What is one scene that really stands out that is central to the film?

Nora: One of my favorite scenes is one leading up to the VTV interview. Margot and Patty are about to be interviewed on national television in Vietnam. We watch these two American women entering a Vietnamese TV studio, we hear Vietnamese being spoken, and at this point in the film we’re wondering why they’re in Vietnam, what’s this interview going to be? We see inside the control room. There is awkwardness on both sides and a sense of tension, and it’s really quite sweet and perfect. We are in their environment; they are trying to communicate together. We are watching the efforts of both sides to connect. It has a “Lost in Translation” feel. I love it because it sets the mood.

Anthony: That’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child, so I’d just like to go on record and say that every shot is special, every frame we captured added to the story. When you capture as much footage as we did, what really happens is that you start crafting your story from the second you hit record. Even if a particular shot doesn’t make it into the film, it has impacted the film and the way in which we look at subjects, scenes and story lines. There are two shots that replay in my mind over and over again. The first one was at the last meeting we held between the sons and daughters on both sides. We had been to three meetings before that and felt we knew what to expect. All of a sudden a Vietnamese son, with anger, passion and fear in his eyes, clenched his fists, stood up and basically broke down. He explained that he had come here and was ready to hate, but he realized he was more similar than different to those who sat across from him. The second clip that plays over and over is when we were at the site where Margot’s father’s plane crashed. The site visits were generally in wide open spaces, with valleys and vistas that went on for days, and usually both Jared and I were filming. But on this day we had to split up in order to cover two unique sites, so I was alone. As soon as we arrived at Margot’s site, my eye was drawn not to the grandeur of the place, but the intimacy of it. Many of my shots from that day are macro style shots, a very narrow view. There is one image where Margot, kneeling in a depression in the earth where her father’s plane may have crashed, begins to dig into the soil with her fingers as she makes her peace. I’ll never forget that image. 

Anthony, you said before we started out that you thought this trip would change you. Has it?

Anthony: I was really hoping to lose a few pounds, but we ate so well, that didn’t happen. I thought the trip would slow me down, make me appreciate life more, because I was surrounded by people who had lost so much. I mean I’m always running around, busy, doing all kinds of things and going everywhere. What is did for me was, as cliché as it sounds, it forced me to slow down. I find that whenever I have a camera in my hands, I look at things differently, and this trip has given me pause about everything I see now. I take nothing for granted and I appreciate the simplicity and beauty of everything, things I didn’t even notice before. Traveling with the first six and encountering so many warm and welcoming people, people who in the face of such struggle do nothing but smile, it reiterated our belief that when you are fortunate, you should give back, which is why we are donating our time to such a worthy project.

Nora, you didn’t go on the trip, but you have the responsibility to tell the story. That’s such pressure!

Nora: When everyone was in Vietnam, I was terrified. I ordered all these books and maps, and started doing all this research, because I thought I didn’t know enough about the history of the war and the place. It was giving me a lot of anxiety. I thought, “Can I learn all I need to know to be able to tell this story?” It all clicked when I got the footage. I do know how to tell this story, and it hasn’t yet been told. This is a side of the war people need to see. The children, their moms, the parents - they all have a story too. That was very freeing for me. I initially felt a big responsibility to make it a historical piece, but really it’s personal piece, a human story, in the context of history.

When I think about stories, the ones that stay with you are the ones that hold the mirror back at you. As a viewer, you’re always trying to find that something to relate to. I know that people watching this will be able to relate somehow. Maybe it will make them think about what judgments they have in their lives about anybody or any thing on another side. The film shows us that we are all connected; we all have the same emotions, we all have moms and dads, we all have families and experience loss. It forces us to take a look at our own prejudices. To think about what might be missing in our own lives, and perhaps inspire us to seek our own answers. I hope this film will help people do that.

 

 

1 Picture, 2 Sides: The Story of Patty’s Site Visit

Patty Loew's father, HM1 Jack Young, was killed near Da Nang on March 11, 1969. Patty was just two years old. The only memories she has of her father are from her siblings and her mother.

We went on foot to Patty’s father’s site, hiking up an old dirt road until we reached a point that overlooked the sprawling city and the long, smooth curve of China Beach. We stood in the spot where Mr. Young’s hospital unit had been based. We knew it was the place because the gates were still there. The paint had peeled away, but ivy, wrapped around the pillars, still flourished.

Just one hour earlier we had met with three daughters from Da Nang. Their fathers had been killed in the war too, fighting for the other side. When they spoke to us, they addressed their comments to Patty. They knew she was the daughter whose father had been killed in their home city. They wanted her to know that they were especially sad for her.

On this day, 47 years on, Patty and photographer Anthony Istrico share their thoughts about the visit. You’ll get the full story about this site visit and the 2 Sides Project trip in a documentary from Istrico Productions, coming in 2016. Stay tuned for a sneak preview, coming soon!
 

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Anthony: I was trying to focus on Patty’s bracelet. It was so black against her pale skin, and her father’s name just jumped out at me. It struck me that, until this moment, the bracelet was the closest tie she had had to her dad. Patty, who had never been out of country before, was standing in a spot that couldn’t have been further from home, but there, she was closer to her dad than she had ever been.

Patty: I have a habit of not wanting to miss anything, so I’m always snapping pictures. But I know I'm never fully in any moment because I'm too busy looking through the lens. I remember wanting to be fully there at the site, but I wanted to make sure I captured that view looking down on Da Nang. It was so beautiful. I know it would have looked different in dad’s time, but the sea and the mountains were there when he was. That was his last view. I wanted to keep it forever. 
 

Photo courtesy Jared Groneman

Photo courtesy Jared Groneman

Patty: It was so odd, yet so appropriate, that the cemetery was there. Appropriate because somewhere along the path that edged the cemetery was where my father probably died. He was shot on the grounds of the medical unit at the top of the hill, and they transported him down that path so they could treat him at the bigger hospital in the city. What we know is he didn’t die instantly, but did during his journey to the other hospital. How ironic is it that all these years later, there are these beautiful graves along the same path where my dad probably left this life. A few of us found playing cards along this path. One of the cards was the Jack of Hearts. When I saw it, I knew I had been directed to this place. There was no doubt my dad was there with me.

Anthony: This photo captures the eerie beauty of the place, and was taken by Jared Groneman. I walked with him back down the hill and read some of the dates on the tombstones. A lot of the people died in the late 1970s, after the war was over. I thought it was odd for the cemetery to be in this place. In the U.S., a hill overlooking a gorgeous view of the sea would be a prime place for expensive houses. 
 

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico

Anthony: This is one of my favorite shots. In the shadow of this cemetery, where people are laid to rest, in the shadow where this war took place, there is a simple grid system of streets and people living their lives. Maybe they have no idea what happened in the hills just behind them. For Patty it is hallowed ground; for this mother and child, it is home. So much of the country was a war zone. People just had to pick up and move on. To me this picture shows strength. It reminds me of the resilience of the Vietnamese people.

Patty: I loved seeing the families and the homes in this village. They may have been torn apart by the war, but grandparents and parents and children were all now living together under one roof. That’s the one thing the war didn’t change, those connections. I thought of my own family, how scattered we were, and the longing that created in me. Just this week I saw, for the very first time, a picture of my grandparents, my father’s parents. I just started bawling. Now, after all these years, I’m connecting with my own family again. 

1 Picture, 2 Sides: The Story of Mike’s Site Visit

Mike Burkett's father, Army SP4 Curtis Earl Burkett, was killed 45 years ago today, February 19, 1971. As his unit prepared to attack a group of Viet Cong sunbathing on the other side of a river, Curtis Burkett stepped into the water and was caught in a swift undertow. He was found downstream 30 minutes later. Mike was nearly five years old when his father died, and his funeral is Mike’s very first memory.

Mike honored his father in a visit to the site where he was killed in December 2015, part of the 2 Sides Project inaugural trip. It took us four hours to journey 27 miles from Quang Nghi City to get to the edge of the river. Anthony Istrico and Jared Groneman documented what happened that day. Here, Mike and Anthony give their side of the story behind these pictures.

You’ll get the full story about this site visit, and the 2 Sides Project trip, in a documentary from Istrico Productions, coming in 2016. 

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Mike: I should explain the shirt and the hat. I was going to wear something nicer, dressier. I thought about how my dad liked music. I’m not sure if he loved the Rolling Stones, but I was willing to believe he did. And I put on a Texas A&M hat because, like I say all the time, I’m just a dumb ‘ole Aggie. I just wanted to go as who I am.
Anthony: Mike was in the moment, really absorbing it. But then he did something that made me realize he wasn’t just thinking about himself. He asked us to pause and think about a friend we knew who has brain cancer and wasn’t doing well. That really touched me. When he should have been selfish, he was thinking of others, someone who was in need. That summed up Mike for me. It was never only about him.
 

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Anthony: I knew the story of that day, how Mike’s father and his group had spotted Viet Cong on the other side of the river. That scene was in my head as I looked across and saw people on the other side. At first there were two, then three, then a small group gathered. It’s what Mike’s dad would have seen with his own eyes.  
 

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Mike: I can honestly say I’ve never been to a more peaceful place. You could go get your fishing pole or bring a picnic and sit on the side of the river all day. It was just an absolute place of peace. It wasn’t that way on February 19, 1971. Then, it was an absolute disaster.
Anthony: Driving to Mike’s site, I saw the Vietnam I knew from movies: the rice paddies, the terraced fields, the many shades of green. But Vietnam changes so quickly, anything can happen. One minute it looked fine, and the next it looked like the sky was going to open up and we’d get soaked. It thought a lot about how we have no control over anything. That was true for Mike’s dad. He was looking at this calm river, thinking “I’ve got this,” and then he stepped in, and in an instant, he was gone.
 

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Photo courtesy Anthony Istrico, Istrico Productions

Anthony: Everyone had gone back to the bus, and Mike and I were the only ones left. Mike was looking upriver in the direction where his dad fell in. When he turned back to me, his gaze had changed. I saw life in his eyes. It was like a whole new Mike.
Mike: This trip provided me closure I didn’t know I needed. We’re all adults now, and our dads have been gone a long time. We’ve had to deal with death through the years. I thought I’d dealt with it, and I had. But seeing the actual place where it ended for him, that changed me. This year, the anniversary of his death will be totally different. I’ll still miss him, and I’ll think about him, but there is a peace I found from being at that spot.