A crew member aboard an Air Force C-5 cradles one of the Vietnamese orphans who was being flown out of Saigon during Operation Babylift. The babylift plane’s 1975 crash, which killed 138 people, including 78 orphans, remains the worst crash in the aircraft’s history. Courtesy of John W. Leland, Air Mobility Command historian

By Elizabeth Redden, Delaware State NewsDOVER – Open arms greeted the children who boarded the first flight of Operation Babylift in Saigon 31 years ago.

A rapidly advancing North Vietnamese army, closing in on an enemy near the end of a war that has forever lacked closure, prompted the United States to launch a last-minute effort to airlift thousands of orphaned children out of South Vietnam for adoption.

The children were handed up a ladder to a colossal Air Force C-5’s troop compartment from person to person, rung to rung.

Medical crews strapped them into chairs – six across each grouping of three seats – filling up the plane’s top level before securing the rest of the children along a ledge in the cargo hold below.

The ones upstairs in the troop compartment – most of whom would benefit from a gruesome stroke of luck – didn’t cry at the explosion, Col. Regina Aune, chief of the flight’s medical crew, remembers.

They were too young to see the shining South China Sea out of where the back of the plane should have been.

But for Col. Aune, it was a vista too perilous to want to see once, too unforgettable to not see again and again.

Monday’s C-5 crash near Dover Air Force Base stirred memories of the most famous – and fatal – C-5 accident in the history of the military’s largest plane.

Four C-5s have crashed since the cargo fleet went airborne in 1968.

Thirteen of 17 aboard died in a 1990 crash at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, while all 17 passengers and crew survived the Dover crash.

The passengers in a 1974 crash in Oklahoma were even luckier, with nary an injury, according to aircraft historian John W. Leland’s account of the disaster.

But the April 4, 1975, crash of the C-5, lined with its cargo of infants, stands out.

John Nance, an aviation analyst for ABC News, said Monday’s crash bears some resemblance to the one 31 years ago near Saigon.

Both planes crash-landed short of runways during emergency returns, and Mr. Nance suggested the possibility that both crashes resulted in part from disabled flight controls.

The South Vietnam crash occurred more than two years after the signing of the Paris Peace Accord in January 1973, as the United States struggled to deal with a war “over, but not finished,” as political scientist and historian Dr. Samuel B. Hoff said.

By April 1975, North Vietnamese troops had violated the conditions of the accord and were rapidly moving south.

In the face of an impending communist takeover, President Gerald R. Ford called for the immediate airlift of 2,000 orphans out of South Vietnam, said Dr. Hoff, a professor at Delaware State University.

Some would challenge the mission, saying it was a tool to garner support for the sitting South Vietnamese government or squeeze more military aid out of Congress, Dr. Hoff said.

Others charged that airlifting the children perpetuated notions of American cultural supremacy or constituted a last-ditch effort to gain sympathy for the war.

History would show that many of the youngsters likely were not orphans, Dr. Hoff said, and were in fact children of South Vietnamese officials who feared for their offspring’s lives after a communist takeover.

“Either way, it was a humanitarian mission,” Dr. Hoff said.

“It had good intentions.”

A survivor’s story

Col. Aune, then a 30-year-old first lieutenant and newlywed stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, had only recently returned to duty from a honeymoon that skipped along the California coast, from Carmel to Monterey to San Francisco.

A member of the 10th Air Medical Evacuation Squadron, she was told early April 4 she’d be leading a medical crew on a flight that afternoon.

The crew flew from Clark Air Base, in the Philippines, to Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon, where they filled the plane with children.

The Air Force reports that 145 orphans and seven attendants were strapped into the troop compartment and 102 orphans and 47 others lined a ledge in the cargo hold downstairs.

Some children were only days old.

Col. Aune said she was based downstairs in the cargo compartment, but had climbed the ladder to get some medication.

While there, just a few minutes into the flight, the Air Force reports that an explosion blew off the plane’s pressure door, center cargo door and loading ramp.

Decompression filled the fuselage with fog and dust.

Most of the babies, Col. Aune reported, continued to sleep.

Air Force records said that Capt. Dennis “Bud” Traynor immediately turned back toward Saigon, where a crash landing in a rice paddy crushed the cargo deck, killing nearly everyone in that section.

A total of 138 aboard the doomed flight died, including 78 orphans.

With much of the impact absorbed by the cargo hold, the top of the plane skidded on the paddy “like a speedboat,” Col. Aune remembered.

“We were getting stung by the mud as we zipped through the rice paddies,” she said in a Thursday interview.

When it came to a stop, Col. Aune sprang into action, oblivious to the injuries she’d suffered.

Looking around, she saw a dead baby and a dead adult attendant, but almost everyone else was alive.

She helped carry 149 children to safety, according to the Air Force, and became the first woman to receive the Cheney Award, which recognizes a valorous act “in a humanitarian interest performed in connection with aircraft.”

It was only after grabbing a toddler by the seat of his pants to stop him from stumbling into the muddy water that she realized she couldn’t stand.

She said she can’t remember asking to be relieved of duty.

Col. Aune later learned that she had suffered a compressed vertebra in her back, a hole in her left leg, deep lacerations in her right arm, a broken right foot and lots of minor cuts and bruises.

Cut off from her seat in the doomed cargo hold after the explosion severed the ladder, she had to brace herself on the floor before the crash.

The impact threw her from one side of the compartment to the other end.

The crash stirred a vat of tensions during an already tense time.

“A lot of people said that kind of symbolized the futility of the war and the horror of the war,” Dr. Hoff said.

“A lot of people were assuming that everything was done in January 1973 when we signed the Paris Peace Accord and here we were again, seeing death and tragedy involving children.”

The building evidence that many of the children were never orphans led to a firestorm.

In material accompanying a film on the topic, “Daughter from Danang,” the Public Broadcasting Corp. reported that a class action lawsuit, ultimately dismissed, claimed the United States had an obligation to return the children to their families, many of whom had sent their young away under the duress of wartime.

“You often wonder whether the loss of life of the crewmembers and the children – was it worth it, in a way, was it a big mistake?” Col. Aune asked.

“I didn’t look at it that way. I’ve always believed the crewmembers that died didn’t give their lives in vain,” said Col. Aune, who now serves as chair of the Department of International Expeditionary Education and Training at Brooks City-Base in San Antonio.

About six years ago, she attended a reunion in Baltimore sponsored by three of the adoption agencies that handled the orphans.

She met three people who had survived the crash as children.

“Despite whatever obstacles they had to overcome, whatever difficulties they had to deal with as adoptees, it was their sense of hopefulness, their sense of gratitude to just have a chance to live a happy life or just have a chance of living at all,” she said.

“It confirmed for me that, indeed, as tragic as that event was, there was a lot of good that came from it.”

South Vietnam fell to communism April 30, 1975, just 26 days after the C-5 crash.

North Vietnamese troops overran the presidential palace in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.

“The good news, if there is any, is there were apparently 29 more flights over the next week and a half,” Dr. Hoff said.

“They ended around April 14, and in fact, instead of President Ford’s target of 2,000, there were around 2,700 children that came to the U.S. Apparently 1,300 more were sent to Canada, various parts of Europe and Australia, for a total of 4,000 Vietnamese children.”

Post comments on this issue at newszapforums.com/forum4

Staff writer Elizabeth Redden can be reached at 741-8247 or eredden@newszap.com

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New edition of Dang Thuy Tram’s diary released
14:52′ 19/06/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – A new edition of the diary of Dang Thuy Tram – a female Vietnamese doctor who worked on the front lines and died in southern battlefield during the Vietnam War – has been released.

The 27 th edition was corrected and complemented following closely the original copy, offering readers a better understanding of the life of Tram, 24, who was working at the battlefield hospital in Quang Ngai Province for two years until she was killed by the US troops.

The diary is a vivid proof of the war in which the young girl lived and struggled in the hardship months of one of the fiercest wars in the 20th century. The book is also a song of hopes and love for life.

After coming to light in 2006, the diary became a media sensation in Vietnam. It was a Vietnamese best seller and a cultural phenomenon – appearing as excerpts in newspapers and inspiring a documentary film.

More than 450,000 copies of the diary have been sold in Vietnam and the book has been translated into 12 languages around the world.

The diary was found by an American soldier and returned some 30 years later to Tram’s family in Hanoi.

(Source: VNA)

Vietnam vet reunites with pilot he shot down in ’72

By JIM GAINES, The Daily News, jgaines@bgdailynews.com
Saturday, April 12, 2008 9:45 PM CDT

John Fleck/Special to the Daily News
Former Vietnam War adversaries Dan Cherry (left) of Bowling Green and Hong My of Vietnam meet for the first time earlier this month in Vietnam.


Click here to purchase reprints of photos featured in the Daily News.


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On April 6, Dan Cherry and Nguyen Hong My were back in the air near Hanoi, capital of Vietnam.

Almost 36 years before – on April 16, 1972 – Cherry shot down My’s MiG-21 fighter in the same area.

My parachuted as his plane crashed, breaking his arms in the process; and now Cherry’s plane, an F4D Phantom II, is restored to its wartime colors and parked in the Aviation Heritage Park on Three Springs Road.

Last week, the two men flew together past the scene of their earlier encounter, chatting in the comfortable seats of a jetliner on their way to My’s home.

“It was, I guess, the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my lifetime,” Cherry said.

Cherry volunteered for combat duty in Southeast Asia in 1966, then for a second tour in 1971. He flew 295 missions, most of them over North Vietnam. He retired as a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force and went on to a career in Kentucky state government and managing the Kentucky TriModal Transpark.

But, Cherry said, he often wondered what happened to the pilot he shot down. When the Aviation Heritage Park was in its planning stages 2 1/2 years ago, one of its local backers half-jokingly suggested trying to find the MiG pilot.

Cherry worked through friends to contact a reunion show on Vietnamese TV, which worked through the Ministry of Defense to identify Nguyen Hung My.

In December, a producer of the show – called “As If We Never Parted” – e-mailed Cherry with the news and asked if he’d appear on the show .

After flying to Vietnam for his first visit since the war, he went to the TV studio April 5. According to Cherry, the show’s host introduced him and told the audience about his life. After showing pictures of Cherry’s family, she introduced My.

Cherry said he was nervous, wondering how he’d be received. But My smiled as he came out and shook Cherry’s hand. Through an interpreter, My said he was glad to meet Cherry. The anchor told about My’s life, his four years of flight training in the Soviet Union and his war service.

Thanh Nien News, a major newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City which publishes in Vietnamese and English, reported on the pilots’ meeting. According to that story, My said he’d never thought about looking for the pilot who once shot him down. After the war, he studied English and finance, and worked for an insurance company, the paper said.

My flew for two more years after recovering from his bail-out injuries, speaks Chinese and Russian, has a great sense of humor, and is obviously highly respected by friends and family, Cherry said.

After the show, the two sat down backstage and talked about flying and their respective families.

“We hit it off really well,” Cherry said.

Later, they and the TV staff went to a rooftop restaurant in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Over dinner, My asked if Cherry would visit his home in Hanoi. Cherry – already planning to go to Hanoi the next day as a tourist – thought My meant some indefinite time in the future; it turned out he meant the next day. When Cherry agreed, My changed his own travel schedule so they could be on the same flight.

My’s house, it turned out, was within walking distance of Cherry’s hotel. That night he and his friends Larry Bailey and John Fleck made their way to My’s house along streets teeming with motor scooters, Cherry said.

They had dinner with My’s family, and Cherry got to hold his former opponent’s 1-year-old grandson, he said.

“It was just a tremendous experience to be welcomed so completely,” Cherry said. “I’ve made a good friend in Mr. Hong My.”

In return, he gave My a bottle of bourbon and invited him to visit Bowling Green, perhaps later this year, he said.

My offered to guide them around the city the next day, showing up at 8 a.m. in a car with his son-in-law and friend. He took them to one site after another, including a number of military museums that ordinary tourists wouldn’t get to see, Cherry said. They saw past displays of Soviet-built fighter planes, including MiG-21s like the one My flew in 1972, he said.

Cherry also visited the “Hanoi Hilton” – the building made notorious as a prison for American pilots shot down over North Vietnam. It’s now a museum. Most of the exhibits, though, are devoted to the Vietnamese who were held there during the decades of French rule, Cherry said; there’s only one small room describing its time as a prison for American.

The overall impression he had of Vietnam is that what the Vietnamese call the “American War” has been put far behind them, he said.

“They’re moving on to the future. They don’t hold any grudges,” Cherry said.

My also asked for help with one task: He shot down an American plane, too, but believes that pilot was killed, Cherry said. So he asked if Cherry could help him find that pilot’s family. He would like to express his respect and condolences, Cherry said.

By Ben Voth

Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam.  These are words we here with some regularity in today’s media.  The metaphorical lens through which all contemporary military conflicts must be viewed is Vietnam.  For anyone championing a notion of American defeat, this metaphor is indispensable.  Vietnam is taken to be a case study in American military failure.  It is interesting to carefully examine this metaphor’s relationship to current conflicts.

In 1975, the United States Congress voted to cut off funding to the democratic government of South Vietnam.  The political decision of the Congress constituted the final renunciation of the war in Vietnam for which 58,000 Americans and thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers gave their lives in a decade long struggle.  Images of the American choppers lifting off from Saigon have become emblematic of war the US could never win, even though the military never lost a battle on the ground of Vietnam.

Congress accomplished with its vote to end funding of the South Vietnam government what Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnamese communist had been unable to accomplish on the battlefield– the end of democratic governance in Vietnam. 
The Congressional vote in 1975 signaled the North Vietnamese government that it was finally safe to launch an overwhelming military attack on the young democratic government of South Vietnam.  What ensued in Vietnam was cataclysmic.  Close to one million people in Vietnam were executed in “re-education camps” instituted by the now unified Communist government.  These killings did not go unnoticed in Vietnam and elsewhere.  The unified Communist government sought to kill anyone deemed a traitor by their cooperation with the American power that previously sustained the democratic government of South Vietnam.

These drastic measures unleashed a panicked migration from Vietnam that sent hundreds of thousands of people out into the ocean in feeble crafts.  Sparking this migration were desperate hopes of reaching America– the former ally that had sustained their hopes in the former homeland.  Thousands of Vietnamese people died at sea trying to cross the South China Sea.  Perhaps their drowning in that ocean of ‘peace’ was a fitting end to the disingenuous rhetoric that sent them there.  Tens of thousands did successfully emigrate to the United States and found sanctuary from the violence of the North Vietnamese.
Next door in Cambodia, a man by the name of Pol Pot capitalized on the vacuum of America’s abrupt military withdrawal and precipitous rejection of funding for democratic governance.  Pol Pot instituted one of the most vicious and swift genocides of the modern era.  Killing as many as 3 million people, Cambodia instituted one of the most bizarre spectacles of human hatred, wherein even children were forced to perform the execution of their own parents under the supervision of the Khmer Rouge state.  Though American and international media provided front row seats to the carnage, the outcry for international action was easily subdued by political movements for “peace” in Southeast Asia and an end to “American imperialism.” The American left helped seal the deal on yet another dark chapter of brother abandoning brother into the outrageous public celebrations of human hatred immortalized by the Khmer Rouge. 
And so today, many of us are still wondering what academics and intellectuals are speaking of when they say the magical word of ‘Vietnam.’  Is this the world that you speak of?  When you speak of “peace” and the end of “imperialism,” do you mean to confirm the world of abandonment and unmitigated ethnic hatred ?   Is the world that looks less like Bagdad, a world that looks more like Rwanda or Darfur?  What do your words mean?  I would really like to know.
Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication at Miami University, specializing in argumentation and rhetoric studies.

Monday, March 19, 2007

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sfgate_get_fprefs(); The Father of All Things

A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam

By Tom Bissell

PANTHEON BOOKS; 407 PAGES; $25


Tom Bissell’s wandering journey through Vietnam, “The Father of All Things,” within the context of the Vietnam War and his unresolved relationship with his father, does not lead to an epiphany, nor a holy grail. Instead, Bissell’s account, in tandem with his father’s recollections, offers a fresh and comprehensive look at the Vietnam era.In 1967, after being wounded in Vietnam, Capt. John Bissell resigned his Marine commission and moved his young bride to his hometown of Escanaba, Mich. The younger Bissell imagines his father’s thoughts as he watches televised accounts of Saigon’s fall. At the same time, the marriage between a traumatized John and his wife, Muff, the author’s mother, is unraveling. John is incapable of sharing his deepest feelings with her and finds solace in alcohol:

“Of course you know that if you keep behaving this way you are going to lose Muff forever … You honestly don’t know what you would do, or where you would be, without her. … Yet running contiguous to this certainty are rivers of far inkier thought. They flow through the black, treeless landscape of your mind and feed into your heart, changing its electricity, coarsening it … And your mouth is so dry. You need a drink. You pacify yourself by thinking of that drink, the way the scotch-soaked slivers of ice will melt against your teeth.” It is in passages like this the author finds his most expressive voice.

In other places Bissell defines the reasons we continually retrace our most difficult moments:

“Why do disasters demand such constant revisitation? Perhaps the first human being to delineate yesterday from today was not acting upon any natural observation but was instead seeking to commemorate some previously unthinkable event. Where were you when? Do you remember? We employ so many signifiers to hallow our larger, shared disasters that memory itself collapses beneath the weight. I was there. I remember. But all one truly remembers of most disasters is having forgotten what existence was like before they occurred. …

“On April 29th, 1975, my father was losing something of himself. He was losing what was at that time possibly the largest part of himself. This was his certainty that what he had suffered in Vietnam was necessary. In other words, he was losing his past and future all at once. He would lose much more. We all would. We would lose so much we would forget, perhaps, what it was we had lost.”

In the book’s second part, as father and son traverse Vietnam, the author continuously prods John Bissell to talk about his memories. This veteran is not a particularly revealing person. Pulling stories out of him is hard work, and it shows. At the same time, the son occasionally mines some gems, as in this exchange with a former South Vietnamese soldier.

” ‘The bad memories,’ my father said, ‘like this.’ He then pantomimed taking his brain out of his head, slipped the imaginary brain into his shirt pocket, and slyly patted it.”

Bissell’s extensive description of the grisly My Lai massacre and its aftermath, the harrowing attempted evacuation of Saigon and Da Nang, and the atrocities committed by both sides during the course of the war, offer proof of his astonishing skill. The reader desperately wishes to look away from the heartbreaking narrative of death and destruction, but Bissell’s powerful writing forces one to open one’s eyes and take in the enormity of the moral abyss.

Similarities to the war in Iraq can be found on every page, but Bissell does not spell them out. Simply put, technological advances do not assure victory, and leaders do not always tell the truth, no matter which side they are on. The line between combatants and civilians is consistently blurred.

After a visit to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, Bissell describes a display that honors all the journalists killed in wartime, especially relevant at this moment in time. He also generously pays tribute to fellow writers on Vietnam: Philip Caputo, Tim O’Brien, Neil Sheehan and Tobias Wolff, among others.

Bissell reads so much about the Vietnam War that he seems to know more about it than his father.

” ‘I read somewhere,’ I told my father, ‘that the National Liberation Front was so effective using booby traps because they knew which trails you’d take. They knew American soldiers would always take the easiest, driest-looking path.’

” ‘I’m sorry to say,’ my father admitted, ‘that what you read is probably true.’ ”

In his author’s notes, he asks, “More than thirty thousand books on Vietnam are currently in print. Why another?” The answer is not difficult. Bissell looks at the war through the lens of a generation not yet born when America pulled out of Vietnam. He scrutinizes the oft-repeated historical facts and holds them up to the light, illuminating them in the process. The complexities inherent in the Vietnam War are difficult to understand. And, although Bissell obviously loves his father, their relationship is fraught with sadness and uncertainty. “The Father of All Things” displays the kind of hard-won comprehension and insight that develops only over time and with much thought. In a nation’s history, and a family’s saga, this understanding is both painful and necessary.

Patricia Conover is a writer and editor who lives in Paris.

This article appeared on page E – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

vietnam video

October 12, 2006

_decorate(_ge(‘photo_notes’), _ge(‘photoImgDiv266927245’), 266927245, ‘http://static.flickr.com/89/266927245_d3487018ba_t.jpg&#8217;, ‘1.5’);

clarkson-Vietnam 2006 Well worth watching; <a href="http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6979378667063705340&amp;q=vietnam">video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6979378667063705340&amp…</a&gt; For a look back at Vietnamese traffic not SO long ago. From <a href="http://www.noodlepie.com">www.noodlepie.com</a&gt; noodlepie noodlepie

–>

Well worth watching;

video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6979378667063705340&amp…

For a look back at Vietnamese traffic not SO long ago. From www.noodlepie.com

[April 10, 2006]

COLUMN: Stories of ‘American War’ put history into perspective

(Comtex Community Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., Apr 10, 2006 (Daily Collegian, U-WIRE via COMTEX) –Editor’s Note: Collegian staff member Dana Mathews will chronicle her Semester at Sea experience in weekly columns that will appear Mondays in the Opinion section. She will also maintain a travel blog that can be accessed through her columns online in the Opinion section online at http://www.collegian.psu.edu.

———————————————————————

While most Penn State students were enjoying last week’s warm temperatures, I spent much of the week learning about a subject most Americans are only taught about briefly in high school history courses — the Vietnam War.

Only this time, the lesson was different than anything I had ever learned in my life because I was half a world away — in the village of Cuchi, two hours outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Learning about the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnamese call it, the “American War,” from an opposing view was fascinating. The signs that read “American War” rightfully vilified the Americans, something I wasn’t used to seeing.

I learned about the Vietnam War in a high school history class devoted specifically to the war. What I saw in Vietnam wasn’t found in the pages of my history book. I had the opportunity to hear stories of those who fell victim to U.S. military action from a second-hand source.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the Museum of War Remnants is testimony to the atrocities of the American War and the unnecessary loss of thousands of civilian lives.

When I was there, I met Le Minh Thu, the woman in charge of facilitating one of the most important interactions after the war. Thu arranges for Vietnamese veterans to meet American veterans and acts as their translator.

“They meet each other just like friends, and they talk about the war and the past,” she said.

Thu said the interactions can get emotional, and veterans often hug and cry together.

“The mission of the museum, we want to talk about the atrocity of the U.S. soldiers and their unjust treatment of the Vietnamese,” she said. “We want to support peace.”

Thu said she wants everyone to understand the various aspects of the war. Her smile disappeared when she said, “I fear that America hasn’t learned, this is happening again in Iraq.”

I told her I was against the war in Iraq. She nodded her head, and her eyes became serious. “Your president and [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair came to see this museum and these pictures — they obviously did not affect them,” Thu said.

Going to the museum gave me the same feeling I had when I went to Dachau, a concentration camp near Munich, Germany. Seeing the pictures in Vietnam of an American soldier laughing and carrying a torn body brought me back to when I was standing in a Nazi gas chamber. As I looked at the Vietnam artifacts in the museum, I realized how similar the acts committed by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War were to those committed by German soldiers during the Holocaust.

Horrifying pictures of people who fell victim to bombing attacks, their faces diced and boiled, stood not too far from a picture of woman, who appeared to be talking mid-sentence while someone held a gun to her head. The pictures may have been hard to stomach, but they showed a side of war the American government did not want its people to see — a side that showed that many of the victims were innocent Vietnamese civilians.

I felt the adrenaline rush through my bloodstream. It suddenly all hit me: I was ashamed of my own country’s military actions, both 30 years ago and today.

My mom grew up with images and news reports of the Vietnam War covering her television screen. And now I’m growing up with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have truly learned nothing about the errors of our ways just three decades ago.

I knew that if I were Thu, or anyone else from Vietnam who remembered the war, I would be bitter toward the United States. I asked her why the Vietnamese people are not bitter.

“The Vietnam War has happened; we don’t forget the past,” she said. “We don’t hate each other; we want to look for a bright future.”

She looked up at the picture hanging above us of a white dove, and took my hand. “We can forgive but we can’t forget.”

Her words echoed with me throughout the rest of the day. The next day, I decided to get a more hands-on look at the war with a group of Semester at Sea students. We toured the Cuchi tunnels, where at one point during the war, 16,000 Viet Cong forces lived. It was difficult for me to fathom that so many people lived in these tunnels, as I could barely fit through the narrow passageways.

The tunnel network of Cuchi facilitated the Viet Cong’s control of a large rural area outside of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels also allowed the Viet Cong to mount surprise attacks wherever the tunnels went, even within the perimeters of the U.S. military base at Dong Du.

Looking at the tunnels from the outside, one would never know that to this day, Cuchi is still the most bombed, napalmed, defoliated and devastated area in the history of global warfare.

Over 30 years later, the forest’s thick vegetation grew back into a flourishing jungle. The only pieces of evidence of the war are the occasional craters left from B-52 bombers. To comprehend what happened, you have to dig deep into the ground.

Before the entrance to a tunnel, there is a sign that reads, “All the prosperous lands of Cuchi were destroyed by the bombs of Washington, D.C.”

After our group crawled through the tunnels, we watched a video about them. “Americans wanted to turn Cuchi into a dead land,” the video said. “Cuchi will never die. And although day after day, the Americans wanted to take over, they were defeated.”

The time I spent in Vietnam gave me a unique perspective from which to see the atrocities of an unnecessary war. And I will not soon forget about the important lessons I learned while I was there.

For the rest of my life, the same six words that almost every visitor wrote in the museum’s guest book will linger in my mind: “When will the U.S. ever learn?”