Vietnam Flash, a monthly, not-all-serious news report on Vietnam today
Communist Party of Vietnam
Itís VISA for Victory at Vietcong Parade |
US Troops in Iraq into Kinky Stuff |
Vietnam War Memorial in Westminster a Reflection of America's Strengths |
Aussie Women Ready for Combat Role in Afghanistan |
Women who Served in Vietnam Reunite |
Poem: Sharon Lane, the All-American Girl |
Itís VISA for Victory at Vietcong Parade
The London Times
May 1, 2005
The only tank was made of plywood and pretty girls brandished giant plastic Visa cards in a victory parade yesterday that showed just how far Vietnam has come since Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon, fell to communist forces 30 years ago.
While venerable Vietnamese soldiers proudly wore their medals, mobbed by crowds of admiring youths, a handful of American veterans visiting the city could hardly hold back their tears as they reflected on the losses of the past three decades.
Three of them spoke with emotion of how they had been welcomed on former battlefields and in cities where US forces once fought insurgents in a war that divided America and brought millions of protesters onto streets around the world.
"We were warmly embraced, from the smallest child to the most grizzled veteran," said Robert Wagner, 63, who landed with the US Marine Corps at Da Nang in 1965.
If it was a day for the grizzled veterans as far as Vietnamís communist rulers were concerned, it was also a chance for the regime to put its new capitalist credentials on display.
No veteran could enjoy higher mythical status than General Vo Nguyen Giap, now 94, who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu and routed the South Vietnamese two decades later. He sat under shady awnings with Raul Castro, 74, younger brother and heir to Cubaís dictator, Fidel Castro, to review a parade that started as if waxworks had come to life in a museum of communism.
They watched hundreds of soldiers, sailors and airmen stamp down Le Duan Boulevard in the tracks of Tank 390, which smashed through the gates of the presidential palace on April 30, 1975, to take the surrender of the government of South Vietnam.
But yesterday the soldiers followed only a model tank and even the girls who followed them ó dressed in slinky black pyjamas as Vietcong commandos ó looked more like fashion plates than urban guerrillas.
There was plenty of authentic communist authoritarianism on show. Flak units were deployed to guard Tan Son Nhut airport against who knows what enemy, the authorities sealed off the city centre and the police shoved away anyone without a pass to attend the "spontaneous" celebrations.
But many of the boys and girls were carrying symbols of commerce, not war, as they mustered in line outside the old US embassy, next to a shrine where joss sticks burnt in a blue pot and flowers were scattered to honour a suicide squad of Vietcong who died attacking the fortified compound in the Tet offensive of 1968.
Few gave it a glance as they flirted and chatted while waiting to march in the searing sun. And military display was soon replaced by something much more revolutionary ó corporate sponsorship.
The hard-hatted stalwarts of socialist labour were outnumbered by a troupe of girls pushing supermarket trolleys. Two girls in shimmering green ao dai, the traditional clinging dress, carried giant Visa cards on a float modelled in the shape of a cash machine. Ho Chi Minhís visage beamed down from a float promoting tourism.
The original US embassy building, so familiar from countless news photographs, was torn down in the late 1990s and was replaced by a low-rise consulate protected by a thick anti-terrorist wall. Its guards leant over in relaxed style to watch the show. Michael Marine, the American ambassador, was among the official guests on the reviewing stand. And despite a torrent of party rhetoric, nobody mentioned US imperialism, George W Bush or Iraq.
It was all a bit confusing for the old men wearing badges that proclaimed them "anh hung" (hero).
"Many of my friends died," said Tran Van Nho, 69, an infantryman in the 4th Regiment of the North Vietnamese army, who was a soldier for 11 years.
"My wife, son and mother were all killed in the American bombing of the north. But now I look around Ho Chi Minh City and everything is growing again, everythingís changing."
Left on the stand when Giap and the party elders had gone was Lieutenant-General Le Van Tuong, 87, who sounded concerned about Vietnamís future. "Our young people must keep up the strong spirit of the old people," he said, sitting amid some young admirers.
If some Vietnamese felt mixed emotions yesterday, the Americans said that it was hard to confront the reality of death and destruction in the country.
"Here the liberators were honoured. When we went home the people opposed to the war called us baby killers and the old salts called us wimps," said Wagner.
With US troops serving in a controversial war in Iraq, the veterans said that they felt uncomfortable echoes of history on their return to Vietnam.
"Have we learnt from the past?" asked Al Bergstrom, a retired colonel. "Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. Many of those anti-war protesters did a great disservice to the Vietnamese people and to the American people, too, many years ago."
Giapís own campaign memoirs reveal that North Vietnam never intended to abide by the 1973 Paris peace accords, for which Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho shared the Nobel peace prize (although Le declined it).
In articles to be published by the Peopleís Army Newspaper, a Vietnam journal, General Le Huu Duc is to outline how staff officers began planning the 1975 assault on Saigon within two months of the agreement.
Nonetheless, Robert Olson, 67, who served two tours in Vietnam, said that the American government had not told its people the truth then or now, and its soldiers had paid the price.
"It is just inconceivable to me that our leadership would go into Iraq without a thought about what happened afterwards," he said.
Wagner, Bergstrom and Olson are from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, which helps to clear mines, rehabilitate victims and educate children about the dangers of explosives left from Vietnamís wars.
"I guess the thing that strikes me most," said Olson, "is the lack of animosity."
US Troops in Iraq into Kinky Stuff
The San Francisco Chronicle
May 2, 2003
Conquering a foreign country is hard, stressful work. But some of our men and women overseas made sure they'd be as loose and tension-free as possible.
Two San Francisco companies specializing in adult merchandise -- Good Vibrations and MyPleasure -- saw online orders from military personnel abroad surge during both the troop buildup in the Persian Gulf and the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq.
MyPleasure said it normally receives a couple of orders a week from military personnel. But between November, when the troop buildup began in earnest, and this week, it said shipments to military addresses abroad climbed to several a day.
Good Vibrations said it usually sends a few dozen shipments to military addresses each month. But after combat erupted in March, orders from overseas soared, including a 900 percent increase in condom sales and a 600 percent jump in sales of naughty videos.
"These people were doing a difficult job, and, like anyone else, they wanted to take care of themselves," said Thomas Roche, marketing manager of Good Vibrations. "They clearly wanted a little pleasure while off-duty."
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment.
But Sandor Gardos, president of MyPleasure, said it's obvious to him that our military leaders are more sexually savvy now than they've been in past wars.
"In World War I," he noted, "more U.S. soldiers contracted venereal disease than died in combat. We were the only nation that didn't give our soldiers condoms."
This time, Gardos said, military authorities apparently had no problem with shipments from his firm even though the contents of each package were spelled out on shipping forms.
It also helped that U.S. forces were calling the shots. In the first Gulf War, some soldiers in the Middle East complained that they were deprived of down-home satisfactions, such as the latest copy of Playboy.
James Garcia, MyPleasure's inventory and distribution manager, took a close look at his records and determined that the vast majority of orders from military personnel in the Gulf involved "solitary enjoyment."
"It wasn't for couples," he said. "No games. No role-playing stuff. These were pretty much all things for self-pleasure."
OK, this is a family newspaper, and we don't need to get much more graphic than that. For what it's worth, though, the online market for adult entertainment is valued at almost $2 billion.
Garcia said that nearly two-thirds of the military orders to MyPleasure were placed by women. (Good Vibrations said most of its orders were from men.)
Garcia also observed that while people on the front lines were most interested in self-gratification, there were occasional purchases of more exotic wares.
Several orders were placed for ankle and wrist cuffs, Garcia said, and a few requests were made for what he called "spankers."
One can assume that either some of our soldiers were getting a little kinky out there in the desert or that Saddam Hussein is in for one heck of a surprise when we finally track him down.
Interestingly, MyPleasure saw orders from military personnel drop off precipitously as soon as hostilities began in March. "I suppose their time was suddenly taken up with other things," Garcia speculated.
On the other hand, Good Vibrations saw its military orders spike sharply higher once war broke out.
Between Nov. 20 and March 20, for example, the company shipped 50 packs of its best-selling condoms to military addresses abroad. After March 20, when the bombing of Baghdad began, Good Vibrations received orders for 500 packs.
Since many soldiers use government-issued condoms to protect the muzzles of their rifles in dusty regions, it's possible that some required additional supplies for personal use.
Good Vibrations sold just 30 naughty videos to the troops between Nov. 20 and March 20. After the bombs started falling, it sold 210 videos.
"What's perhaps most surprising," said Roche, the marketing manager, "is that they have access to VCRs over there."
His hunch is that most of the wartime sales were to support personnel backing up the front-line forces. "I guess they were pretty stressed, had some extra time on their hands and wanted to loosen up," Roche said.
That is, if the orders were delivered in a timely fashion. For many soldiers in and around Iraq, waiting for mail call was an exercise in patience.
Then again, at least they had something to look forward to.
Both Good Vibrations and MyPleasure are privately held. MyPleasure's Gardos would not discuss his company's finances except to say that it's profitable. Roche at Good Vibrations said his firm sees annual sales of about $15 million.
The two companies position themselves as upscale, nonpornographic purveyors of adult toys and goodies. Neither ever expected to become a supplier to the military.
"It's quite a surprise," Gardos said, laughing.
"It's something we never dreamed would happen," said Roche.
Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers in past wars won over local civilians by passing out American chocolate and cigarettes. What about this time?
"Let's hope some of the soldiers are handing out our stuff," said Roche. "That's a market we otherwise wouldn't be able to reach."
Vietnam War Memorial in Westminster a Reflection of America's Strengths
Quang X. Pham
The Orange County Register
Sunday, April 27, 2003
A Marine helicopter pilot in the 1991 Gulf War and a member of the Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Committee, Quang X. Pham is an executive with an Orange County healthcare company.
I wish my dad was going to be here today. He died in 2000, just eight short years after he left Vietnam, where, as a former South Vietnamese Air Force lieutenant colonel, he spent a dozen years in communist re-education camps following Saigon's fall in 1975. For all that - and despite the fact that he sometimes had felt betrayed by the Americans who taught him to fly and whose soldiers he supported from the air for years - he wouldn't have missed today's ceremony dedicating the Vietnam War Memorial in Westminster for anything.
If war and prison back home and freedom in a strange new land taught him anything, it was tolerance. And the memorial being unveiled today is surely a testament to tolerance.
Such memorials serve as reminders of the human toll in wars. It has been said that the strengths and weaknesses of a society are demonstrated in war, and memorials to those wars often mirror those qualities. Those who survived wars have a duty to remember those who served - especially those who fell.
Seven years ago, then-Mayor Frank Fry of Westminster, where the Vietnamese community known as Little Saigon is located, proposed to build the Vietnam War Memorial to honor and commemorate American and South Vietnamese soldiers. To judge proposed memorial designs that had been solicited in a national contest, Mayor Fry enlisted the assistance of a panel comprised of former generals.
The panel selected sculptor Tuan Nguyen to design and produce two 11-foot bronze statues of two soldiers, a slightly taller American and a South Vietnamese, representing the joint efforts of the servicemen during the war. The American flag and the yellow with red stripes flag of the former Republic of Vietnam would fly directly above them. Surrounding the sculpture would be a black marble wall.
Nearly 3 million Americans served in Vietnam from 1959 to 1975. Some paid the ultimate price - the 58,229 dead whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. According to The New York Times and Vietnam War historians, the armed forces of South Vietnam lost 275,000 killed in action. Military author Lewis Sorley wrote last year that 65,000 others were executed by their self-proclaimed liberators and as many as 250,000 more perished in the brutal re-education camps. Plans for Westminster's Vietnam War memorial include a computer kiosk that will list the names of those who died in the war.
Private donors, mostly Vietnamese-Americans, raised over $1 million, and the city of Westminster helped with the ambitious project. The effort has not been without controversy, starting with the memorial's original depiction. When a model of the sculpture was first unveiled, community leaders and veterans wanted it changed to better portray the fighting. The sculptor refused. Some residents opposed the use of city property for a foreign memorial. Accusations of fraud and shady handling of donations also surfaced. The Vietnamese consul general in San Francisco even wrote a letter of protest, stating that the memorial would only cause more division in relations between the United States and Vietnam.
Three thousand miles away, Vietnam veteran Jan C. Scruggs shared his sentiment: "Those honored fought for freedom and truly deserve the recognition that will flow from this overdue memorial." As the founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (the Wall), the most visited monument in Washington, D.C., he faced similar obstacles in the late 1970s despite receiving help from influential senators and securing a prominent location on federal property. Many initially opposed the design of Yale student Maya Lin, an American by birth whose work was chosen from about 1,400 entries. In the end, Scruggs and key volunteers, including Ross Perot and Sandy Fauriol, raised over $8 million and saw the memorial completed in two years. Since its dedication in 1982, more than 40 million people have visited the Wall.
Now, nearly 30 years after Saigon fell, a grateful Vietnamese American community now honors America's Vietnam veterans as well as its own soldiers.
Only in America.
No matter how you viewed the Vietnam War, many lost loved ones in it, including some 3 million Vietnamese. The memorial marks one step closer to healing the wounds of that war on both sides. Let's hope at least some of the 40 million people who have visited the Wall will come to Westminster to see the Vietnam War Memorial.
I know one man who would have been there: Lt. Col. Pham Van Hoa. Hoa binh (Peace), Dad.
Aussie Women Ready for Combat Role in Afghanistan
The Herald Sun
October 22, 2001
More Australian women could see combat in the fight against terrorism than during any of the nation's other wartime operations.
Up to 150 women, mostly from the navy, could be deployed, according to the executive director of the Australia Defence Association, Michael O'Connor.
Seven women were in combat roles in the 1991 Gulf War.
No longer relegated to the support roles of driving, communications, nursing and catering, women are crew members on four ships sent to fight the war against terrorism.
But women will miss front-line action on the ground because government rules ban them from face-to-face combat roles, including the SAS and the Navy Clearance Diving unit.
They are also banned from infantry, artillery and armoured roles.
About 10 per cent of Australia's peacekeeping troops in East Timor are women.
Women make up about 13 per cent of the Australian Defence Force's 52,000 full-time staff. Most serve in the air force and navy.
The US, Canada and Norway allow women at the frontline.
Australian women are also trained as pilots and navigators on helicopters and the deployed P3 surveillance planes, but it is not known if they will be called up.
A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter Reith said 95 per cent of ADF jobs were now open to women.
But he said the exact number of female troops would not be known until the roll call had been announced.
It was not likely their number would exceed the 500 women who went to East Timor.
A defence review on women in combat is to be submitted to Federal Cabinet.
The Defence Department yesterday would not comment on the deployment of women for "operational and intelligence reasons".
But Mr O'Connor said women were crew members on every Australian navy ship.
"(Women) will do whatever their unit does. If the navy gets into a shooting war, the women are not going to say we want to get off, and the Government certainly is not going to say, stop the ship to get the women off," Mr O'Connor said.
"In the navy and air force, women can be sent just about anywhere, including submarines, except for the clearance diving teams.
"In the air force there are no restrictions, it's just that numbers are still low." Mr O'Connor said brave women were in the frontline in World War II as nurses.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, women played support roles in communications and catering, and as nurses, drivers and clerical staff. But since in 1992, most military jobs have been open to women.
Women who Served in Vietnam Reunite
Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer
September 30, 2001
They were roommates who stretched out on the floor of their barracks to exercise, cooked spaghetti on a hot plate and talked for hours because as war raged in Vietnam, there weren't many places for two female soldiers to go. Lee Wilson of Apex, N.C., claimed the top bunk. Marilyn Roth of Melbourne, Fla., took the bottom.
Wilson was assigned to engineer headquarters, where she ordered supplies for bridge-building and airstrip maintenance; Roth was a typist who tapped out messages in code to helicopter pilots. Women were scarce, so the two, both in their 20s, banded together, finding solidarity in each other's company.
``We were like sisters,'' said Wilson, who touched down amid fiery explosions the night of the Tet offensive in 1968.
The two last saw each other in 1969, at their base in Long Binh, 30 miles southeast of Saigon. Until this week, when Wilson and Roth reunited in San Antonio at the second national convention of the Vietnam Women Veterans, a fairly recent splash of femininity amid the overwhelmingly male experience and memory of the Vietnam War. The group, which began about four years ago, represents enlisted women -- not nurses, who were not soldiers -- who served in Vietnam.
``The men have got their memorials and their this and their that, but enlisted women want to be recognized, too,'' said Wilson, who makes hydraulic hoses at Raleigh-Durham Rubber & Gasket Co. ``We didn't have blood and guts, but we were over there, too.''
Many people aren't aware of that. The numbers are small. The Pentagon says about 1,200 enlisted women served in the Vietnam War, none of whom died.
Claire Starnes, president of Vietnam Women Veterans, thinks there were more. ``We've been kind of keeping quiet for 30 years,'' she said. ``We all just kind of went about our lives.''
Starnes was 23 when she landed in Vietnam in 1969 for duty as a photojournalist. She spent two years there, capturing images of fighting and medical missions for a weekly military newspaper.
When she returned to a job at Fort Monroe, Va., as head of public affairs, she felt lost. ``There was a captain there who had been a helicopter pilot. He was severely burned in Vietnam, and he didn't want to talk about it,'' she said. ``So it was like, OK, there were two years of my life. It was like a dream."
' For Starnes, the dream never faded. Three years ago, she began searching for other women who shared her experience. She has tracked down more than 700 women since then.
She found inspiration at a dedication of a memorial outside Arlington National Cemetery to female veterans through the years. At the ceremony in 1997, she reunited with several female Vietnam vets, including Roth, and together they decided to search for others.
They started by compiling a list of all the names they could recall. To help them remember, they dug out old pictures to see whether there were names written on the back. They did Internet searches, wrote letters and made phone calls, looking for women who understood what they had experienced.
``The men share the bond of being out in the field, and true, we didn't have that bond, but we share other bonds,'' said Starnes, who lives near Baltimore. Many male veterans don't get it, she said.
``The men's thinking is, 'Oh, you guys had it made. You slept on clean sheets; you didn't have what we went through. You cannot relate. Hah, what do you have to talk about?' ``
Wilson, 54, and Roth, 58, have been talking nonstop since their recent reunion.
Over the years, they had fallen out of touch. Then one night about a year ago, Wilson sat in front of her new computer, pulled up a search engine and plugged in ``women'' and ``veterans'' and ``Vietnam.'' Up popped the Vietnam Women Veterans Web site and a link called ``Sister Search.''
Wilson clicked on it and saw her name. Her sisters in service were looking for her.
She pounded out an e-mail message, wondering whether anyone had ever heard of Marilyn Roth or knew what had happened to her. ``Of course,'' was the response. ``And here's her number.''
Wilson dialed. Roth picked up. ``She was flabbergasted,'' Wilson said.
Since then, they have communicated constantly on their computers, reliving memories. The smell: a caustic scent of gunpowder, red clay dirt and blood from the adjacent hospital mixed with diesel fuel burning human waste. The land: green and lush but pockmarked from bombing. The men, who were everywhere. Finding a date was never easier. And the emotions: everything from stark terror to hilarity.
``You get a warped sense of humor,'' Wilson said. ``You were scared to death most of the time, then something silly would happen, and it would seem absolutely hilarious.''
Over the years, Wilson has not lost her sense of humor. At the San Antonio airport, she hid behind a column and surprised Roth as she walked by. Wilson recognized Roth immediately: She was thinner but had the same hairdo -- and the same saucy attitude. ``She's got a mouth on her,'' Wilson said.
``I'm surprised we didn't cry,'' Roth said. ``I'm just so happy and relieved. I guess there's no need for tears.''
Then, together, they checked into their hotel. Just one room, they requested. After more than 30 years, they became roommates again.
Poem: Sharon Lane, the All-American Girl
August 27, 2001
[Lt. Sharon Lane was the only nurse killed in combat in Vietnam.]
She came to Vietnam not to fight or warrior to be
but to serve a higher purpose across the sea.
She knew the hurt, the pain, the dying
Sharon came to heal them and to stop the crying.
With purpose in her steps she made her rounds
To give hope to soldier and to turn his frown upside down.
Whether it be the boy from back home or the Viet Cong
She did her job with care--she knew this is where she belonged.
She was cut down in the middle of the night
A piece of flying metal took her life.
She died alone
So far from home.
Her life was taken from us
Sharon's presence we still miss.
Let us never forget that freedom has a cost
Sharon became our hero-our hearts are empty by her loss.
Sharon was the All-American girl
She was perfection in an imperfect world.
Doc Pardue © 2001