Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Bare Feet, Iron Will"
Obsessions of an American veteran who comes to VN 50 times

From VietNamNet BridgeWithin 17 years, James G. Zumwalt, former lieutenant-colonel of the US Marines who participated in the Vietnam War, has come to Vietnam over 50 times. He has interviewed over 200 people to seek solutions for dealing with Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Zumwalt, his father and his brother in Vietnam

In his 51st visit to Vietnam, the US veteran recalled his memory in a quiet room in Saigon.

Zumwalt was born into a family with military career tradition. At the age of 20, he followed his father , Admiral Elmo Russell Zumwalt, to Vietnam. The Admiral was looking for solutions to destroy bushy brushwood along rivers. After his son came, the Admiral commanded his soldiers to use a kind of chemical to make woods along rivers in the adjacent areas of Saigon to shed leaves.

At that time, the father and his son believed that the chemical was a weeding substance, which was harmless to humans as the producer committed. Many years later, they knew that the chemical was Agent Orange, a carcinogen substance. Many American soldiers were infected by that toxic chemical. In 1988, Zumwalt’s elder brother died of this chemical.

After the death of his son, Admiral Zumwalt began convincing the US government to admit of the impacts of AO on human health and compensate infected American veterans.

In 1994, Zumwalt and his father came to Vietnam for the first time after the Vietnam War, to see Vietnamese veterans and to cooperate with the Vietnamese government to research and seek ways to solve AO consequences. In the last 17 years, Zumwalt has come to Vietnam over 50 times and interviewed over 200 veterans. His awareness of the Vietnam War has changed.

Zumwalt in his 51st visit to Vietnam

“When my father told me to go to Vietnam with him for the first time, I persistently refused because my heart was deeply resent because of the death of my brother. But he persuaded me to go to Vietnam to learn of people over the front line. Meetings with them have made me change completely,” Zumwalt said.

He said that doctor, major-general Nguyen Huy Phan, and doctor Le Cao Dai, were the ones who turned his animosity into sympathy. They have tragedies like him. His pain of losing his elder brother is similar to doctor Phan’s pain of losing his younger brother.

“I’m luckier than doctor Phan because I saw my brother before he left. It took doctor Phan 17 years to find the remains of his brother,” Zumwalt said.

Zumwalt and his father paid a visit to a charity center where takes care of disabled people, victims of war. Seeing many people who lost their limbs because of bombs and mines, the former Admiral decided to provide artificial limbs and assistant devices to Vietnamese veterans.

Zumwalt was very moved when he recalled his meeting with Vietnamese Heroic Mother Bui Thi Me.

“I’ve never seen a woman like her. Her kind face seemed to be contrast with tragedies in her heart. The pain of losing three sons and part of body of the fourth son didn’t created a smoldering hatred against the American man who stood in front of her…”

“Where is justice for this mother when she suffers so much of pain and losses?” Zumwalt thought at that moment.

The US veteran has met over 200 Vietnamese veterans and he was most impressed by the meeting with major-general Tran Hai Phung.

He said that the first time he met general Phung to learn about the operation and structure of the Cu Chi tunnel (HCM City). In the meeting, the general revealed that he was assigned to assassinate his father in 1969, which failed.

“I was sitting face to face with the one who sought to kill my father in the war. But I shook his hand in friendship. After the meeting with general Phung, I returned to the hotel and called my father to tell him about this,” Zumwalt recalled.

From changes in awareness of the Vietnam War, from the difference in viewpoints and conflict in political view, Zumwalt has partly understood the nature of war. He decided to write a memoir about the Vietnam War to help America have more objective view of the war.

“Bare Feet, Iron Will” was published in the US in 2010, and was introduced in Vietnam on April 21, 2011. The book is about Vietnamese soldiers in the Vietnam War. The day the book was launched in Vietnam, he presented $1,000 to Vietnamese AO victims.

Zumwalt planned to make a documentary about the Vietnam War, in cooperation with Florentine film studio. If the documentary is produced, he hoped that it will be an important voice in the process to claim justice for AO victims.


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