US veteran tries to make amends in Vietnam

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American veteran Mike Boehm watches Tran Thi Danh in Quang Ngai make cakes, a business he started for poor local women.

Mike Boehm is the only man in the Quang Ngai Women's Association in central Vietnam.

The American veteran has become a friend of hundreds of woman in the war-devastated province after coming every March for the last 18 years to help poor women start small businesses like cow breeding, making fish sauce, and small eateries by giving them loans.

"I hope [it] can help ease the pain of war in Vietnam," Boehm, who arrived in Vietnam one week before the My Lai Massacre of March 1968 in Quang Ngai, said.

US troops killed 504 innocent people in the massacre.

He chose March to do the small things he could for a more peaceful world, Boehm told news website VnExpress.

He started with Vietnam. 

This year, as usual, he has a full schedule with visits throughout the province to give loans to women.

"He's so kind," Nguyen Thi Rac, who now owns three cows worth VND10 million two years after receiving VND5 million from him to buy one cow, says.

"He travels all the way from the US to visit us every year."

He returned to Vietnam for the first time in 1992 with eleven other veterans to build a small primary school in the south.

At that time he realized he still had unresolved issues from the war, and the two-month stay led to a lifelong commitment to humanitarian work in Vietnam.

In 1994 he established Madison Quakers, a non-governmental organization, to support poor people in Quang Ngai.

The first loan he gave of US$3,000 has increased fourfold since, lifting many women out of poverty. He has also raised money from friends and others to build houses for more than 100 very poor women.

The veteran has called for support for victims of Agent Orange in the province, sought to raise money for scholarships for poor children and donating equipment to local schools.

Boehm, 65, says that as long as he is alive, he will continue to visit Quang Ngai.

Pham Thi Thu Trang, chairperson of the Quang Ngai Women's Association, said the association has given him membership number 1.

"Mai," as he is called with a popular Vietnamese name for women, has been learning Vietnamese and laughs with joy at being referred to as "Mai the woman," short for Mike of the women's association.

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