This year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of U.S. combat operations in Vietnam. It is an important time to take stock of how far we have come together, but also a sobering reminder of the legacies of war in Vietnam that continue to affect thousands of individuals on a daily basis. I recently visited Vietnam, where I saw firsthand the devastating effects of unexploded ordnance and the efforts that the U.S. government is making to help end this terrible legacy.
Nearly every one of Vietnam’s 58 provinces and 5 municipalities face hazards from unexploded ordnance, including landmines, bombs, mortars, and artillery shells. I had the opportunity to visit Quang Binh and Quang Tri provinces in Central Vietnam, two areas of the country most affected by these hidden hazards. In each province I met with those working on the front lines to combat the threats of unexploded ordnance. I was struck by the professionalism and dedication of government officials and civilians working to prevent injuries and lay the groundwork for local economic development by clearing fields, roads, and villages.
One of the most inspiring moments of the trip was meeting a young man by the name of Nguyen Duc Huynh. As a child, Huynh and his twin brother suffered a horrific accident when a white phosphorous bomb accidentally exploded near them, leaving them both badly burned. Meeting Huynh today, you would barely know the pain and suffering that he and his brother experienced. Huynh is now a leader and advocate in his community working to find employment opportunities for survivors of accidents involving unexploded ordnance and other persons with disabilities. Huynh also started his own handicraft business called Goran & Folke Handicrafts that produces and sells bamboo dragonflies.
Through the support from our partners at the U.S. non-governmental organization Clear Path International, Huynh received assistance to launch a website for his business, opening the doors to a global market place. Huynh’s passion, vision, and desire to help others were evident from the moment we met. Each time I look at one of Huynh’s dragonflies on my desk, I think of his inspiring story and of how one person can truly make a difference.
The United States is committed to helping people like Huynh and continuing efforts to end devastating legacies of war. Since 1993, the United States has provided over $65 million for removal of unexploded ordnance, risk education, and survivor assistance programs in Vietnam. For more information please visit the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement website.
About the Author: U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Samuel Perez serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Plans, Programs, and Operations in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.