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Secretary Clinton Presses Hanoi on Human Rights

During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent two-day visit to Hanoi, she met with Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem to mark the 15th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, and urged Vietnam to ease its human rights restrictions, citing the recent arrests of religious freedom advocates and Internet access restrictions. She also vowed to “increase cooperation in dealing with the legacy of the wartime herbicide Agent Orange.” Congress appropriated $3 million in 2007, and again in 2009, for dioxin removal and health care facilities in Da Nang.

It was in the summer of 1995, under then President Bill Clinton, that the United States and Vietnam formally normalized relations—a controversial decision at the time, because Hanoi had not fully accounted for missing U.S. troops.

With the theme of “Turning Vision into Action” for this diplomatic visit, while in Hanoi, Clinton participated in meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Vietnam is a member, and joined other ministers and delegates in signing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. “We discussed a number of urgent challenges, including North Korea and Burma,” said Clinton, who urged Asian nations to vigorously apply sanctions against North Korea and discussed the current challenges from China regarding maritime rights in the South China Sea.

At the conclusion of Clinton’s visit, she paid her respects at a repatriation ceremony at Noi Bai airport for the remains of three American servicemen missing in action during the Vietnam War and recovered in central and southern Vietnam by the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), which recently undertook its 100th Joint Field Activity in Vietnam.

Further highlighting warming relations between Washington and Hanoi, in August the U.S. nuclear supercarrier George Washington cruised off Vietnam’s China Sea coast to celebrate the anniversary of normalization—and to send a message to China that 35 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the former enemies are now partners.

Viet Vet Among Three Amputees to Conquer Kilimanjaro’s Summit

Vietnam veteran Sgt. Kirk Bauer, 62, who lost one leg in 1969 while serving in the 9th Infantry Division, was one of three disabled Army veterans to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in August. Other members of the climbing party, dubbed “Team Missing Parts in Action,” included double amputees Staff Sgt. Dan Nevins, 39, from the Iraq War, and Sgt. Neil Duncan, 27, from the Afghanistan War. Their climb, to help raise awareness and support to rebuild the lives of fellow disabled veterans, made Nevins and Duncan the first double amputees to reach the summit of Africa’s highest mountain. The effort was part of Disabled Sports USA’s Warfighter Sports Series, which helps disabled vets gain confidence and strength through participation in extreme sports.

Nixon Scapegoat Lavelle Cleared to Get Stars Back

A four-star general who was blamed for unauthorized airstrikes against North Vietnam defenses in 1972 and forced to retire a major general, may soon have his two stars returned posthumously. In light of newly released and declassified Nixon White House tapes and papers, Maj. Gen. John D. Lavelle, who died in 1979, has been exonerated of charges by the Air Force and has been nominated by President Barack Obama for advancement on the retired rolls to the rank of general. The Senate Armed Services Committee, the same committee that demoted Lavelle in 1972, is expected to endorse the president’s nomination.

The tapes reveal that Nixon issued an order for General Creighton Abrams to allow the airstrikes, and then instructed everyone to keep it secret “until we get back from China.”

General counsel of the committee during the investigation, R. James Woolsey, wrote in the New York Times recently that “had the committee known of Mr. Nixon’s action in 1972, it would have never voted to deny General Lavelle the honor of retiring at the four-star rank he in fact held.”

Lavelle maintained at the investigation that he had acted with military authorization, though he probably didn’t know it came from the president. On the tapes, Nixon lamented Lavelle’s being made a scapegoat, but his only public comment about Lavelle was, “It was proper for him to be relieved and retired.” Lavelle’s widow, Mary Jo, 91, said: “Jack was a good man, a good husband, a good father and a good officer. I wish he was alive to hear this news.”

Secret Laos Lima Site 85 Hero Etchberger Finally Gets MoH

Killed 42 years ago while holding off NVA who had overrun a clandestine radar site in Laos, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger was to be awarded the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony on September 21. On March 11, 1968, Etchberger single-handedly held off the enemy while directing airstrikes and calling for air rescue, saving the lives of several airmen. The Hamburg, Pa., native was nominated for the award in 2008. One of the three men Etchberger rescued, John G. Daniel, said: “He should have a 55-gallon drum full of medals. I wouldn’t be alive without him.”

PTSD Claim Process Speeds Up, Agent Orange Sprouts New Costs

New VA rules unveiled in July streamline the process for a veteran to receive health care and disability compensation for PTSD by reducing the evidence needed. While each claim will be evaluated and require confirmation by aVA psychiatrist or psychologist, the new process is expected to allow for faster and more accurate decisions.

If Congress approves the VA’s Final Regulation on Additional Diseases Related to Agent Orange, the agency anticipates as many as 100,000 Vietnam veterans will file claims in the next two years and estimates the costs to reach $42 million over 10 years. The VA also plans to review some 90,000 previously denied claims. The 1991 federal law on Agent Orange requires the VA to act without consideration to cost.

Vikki Carr and Grand Funk’s Farner Take VVA Arts Honors

Performers Vikki Carr and Mark Farner received this year’s Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, given to individuals who did not serve in Vietnam but have contributed to the lives of soldiers and veterans. Farner, formerly of Grand Funk Railroad, wrote and recorded many songs popular with GIs, and has been a strong supporter of veterans. Carr, whose songs hit the charts in the ’60s, was recognized for her show business career and for her 1966Vietnam tour with Danny Kaye.

Emmy-winner Michael Hirsh received the VVA’s Excellence in the Arts Award given to Vietnam veterans. Hirsh has written and produced several documentaries and specials, including HBO’s Welcome Home, Vietnam Vets. The Excellence in the Sciences Award went to Vietnam vet Dr. Michael B. Given for his work in combat casualty care, particularly QuikClot Combat Gauze for hemorrhage control, recognized by the Army as the greatest invention for 2009. Hirsh called the award “the ultimate welcome home.”

‘Circle of Warriors’ Helps Vets Shed War and Share Wisdom

An Ohio veterans group, Warriors Journey Home, has emerged as a national model to help veterans transfer their burdens to a community that shows physical, emotional and spiritual support. The Rev. John Schluep, a Vietnam-era vet, founded the group with help from psychotherapist Ed Tick, author of War and the Soul. Tick maintains that a key part of the healing process only occurs when the community welcomes a veteran home, and, says Tick, “The community carries that responsibility.” In a ceremony borrowed from Native American traditions, veterans and community members face each other in two circles. Following a ritual washing of hands, the veterans then share their war stories. “The veteran has a tremendous amount of wisdom and insight,” Schluep said.


Originally published in the December 2010 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.