American veterans return to scene of crime

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A group of American veterans on a visit to Vietnam in 2007. Dozens of US veterans who
fought in Vietnam will revisit the country next week to witness the aftereffects of the war.

Dozens of US veterans and their families will visit Vietnam next week to learn more about how the bombs their country dropped decades ago continue to kill and maim innocents.

Besides the veterans and their families, the delegation led by Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) will include other individuals whose loved ones came to Vietnam during the war. The group will focus its trip around a visit to Project RENEW, a program in which VVMF and Quang Tri Province authorities work to clear former battlefields of unexploded ordnance (UXO) leftover from the Vietnam War.

The US dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were dropped in the entirety of all theaters in World War II. Nearly 7.5 million Vietnamese were killed, wounded or went missing during the war, 4 million of which were civilians, according to government statistics released in 2008. Some 213,000 American soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing during the war, according to the US military.

Linda George, who will travel with the delegation, told Thanh Nien Weekly that Project Renew had motivated her to return to Vietnam a third time.

As the widow of a Vietnam veteran, George's strong link to Vietnam lies deep in the agony of war she and millions of Vietnamese victims now share.

"Agent Orange is a difficult subject for me to broach since my husband passed away 11 years ago from Agent Orange exposure," she said.

The defoliant used by the US in Vietnam to eliminate cover and food used by the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam left a legacy of suffering and disabilities that continues today, both for the Vietnamese communities sprayed and the US soldiers who did the spraying.

Between January 1965 and April 1970, an estimated 2.6 million US military personnel who served in Vietnam were potentially exposed to Agent Orange. Millions more Vietnamese were sprayed directly.

Asked about whether or not there had been sufficient remediation efforts on the part of the US in the Agent Orange issue, George was clear:

"Suffice it to say that I believe there can never be enough remuneration for the loss of life. How can anyone pay for my broken heart?" said George.

A US Congressional Research Service report authored last May by Michael F. Martin pointed out that official US government compensation earmarked for Vietnamese war victims had not been steered in the right direction.

According to the Department of State, the US provided US$40 million in support for "mine-action programs" from 1993 to 2007 and $43 million in disability assistance from 1989 to 2007 through the Leahy War Victims Fund, the report said. Funding for Agent Orange related projects up to 2007 amounted to $2 million, it added.

But "confidential sources report that all of these funds were expended by US government officials or their contractors - none of the funds went to the Vietnamese government or Vietnamese citizens," the report said.

In the central province of Quang Tri, George and the VVMF group will witness first-hand the fatal consequences of UXO leftover from the Vietnam War with a visit to Project RENEW (Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of War).

Quang Tri and its neighbor to the north Quang Binh Province have recorded the highest number of deaths and injuries caused by unexploded bombs and landmines in Vietnam, said a study released last summer by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) and the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense's Technology Center for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN).

Around 7,000 people in Quang Tri and some 6,000 in Quang Binh have been killed or injured due to leftover ordnance, the study said. UXO has killed some 40,000 across the country since the war ended.

The VVMF group will begin their trip on January 11 in Hanoi, where they will visit Hoa Lo Prison, known jokingly by imprisoned soldiers during the war as "The Hanoi Hilton."

They will also visit Hue and Da Nang near the former demilitarized zone (DMZ), which briefly divided the country while American soldiers replaced the French after the former colonizer's expulsion in 1956.

"Our purpose [in visiting] is to enrich contacts and the friendship of the American and Vietnamese people," said General Barry McCaffrey, leader of the delegation.

"We have a lot to learn from each other now in peace as well as by looking back at the war that caused such suffering to so many," McCaffrey told Thanh Nien Weekly.

The group will conclude its visit in Ho Chi Minh City on January 16.

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