The US continues to address war legacies in a new initiative that will help account for Vietnamese soldiers missing in action (VMIA) nearly 50 years after the end of the war.

 Participants at the conference on August 4. Photos: Baoquocte

The US government will soon launch the Vietnamese Wartime Accounting Initiative following decades of Vietnamese cooperation to conduct the fullest possible accounting of missing US personnel, according to the US Institute of Peace (USIP).

The new project will promote greater dialogue both in and between the US and Vietnam on war legacy issues and reconciliation and how it fits into broader efforts to overcome legacies of war.

In the latest move, US and Vietnamese officials showed how the new initiative will enhance Vietnam’s wartime accounting capacity and deepen trust between the two countries at the video conference titled “Addressing the Legacies of the Vietnam War: The Next Step Forward.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. 

Speaking at the conference, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said searching for Vietnamese missing in action (VMIA) may be the most difficult and the most meaningful as it enables the two governments to carry out a better future together.

Explaining the meaning of the initiative, Leahy said: “For more than 40 years, the government of Vietnam has advocated hundreds of American soldiers were missing in action (MIA) from the war. They did it even during the years the US maintained an economic embargo against Vietnam.”

“That support has not only provided closure for many American families who lost fathers, sons, brothers, it also contributed greatly to building trust and improving relations between our two countries.”

“And now we’re taking the first step to reciprocate for those many years of cooperation on American MIA,” Leahy said, noting that it’s the first time the UN has embarked an official multi-year effort jointly with the government of Vietnam to locate and identify some of Vietnam’s wartime MIA.

According to the senator, the number of those could be hundreds of thousands together with many Vietnamese civilians “whose fate remains unknown.”

He appreciated the efforts by the US Defense State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in making progress in bilateral relations over the past years.

Leahy emphasized that “we’re going to do what we can to provide whatever archival information and technical expertise we have to enable the government of Vietnam to carry out the support.”

He said the move helps the two countries set an example for other former enemies around the world. “They can learn from what we’re doing today,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ambassador George Moose, USIP Board of Directors, said he was impressed with how destructive the war was and how the people of Vietnam continued to live with its consequences when he and his wife visited Vietnam in a week-long trip from the north to the south in 2014.

The War Remembrance Museum in Ho Chi Minh City showed “the tonnage of ordinance and bombs dropped on Vietnam far exceeded what was dropped during the World War II and the Korean War combined,” Moose said.

But throughout their visit, what struck them most was the fact that in no place and at no time were they ever made to feel unwelcome or unwanted. “It was a remarkable testimony to the spirit of forgiveness of the people of Vietnam” and it’s what gives him both encouragement and hope regarding the efforts the two countries are making together to address the legacies of the war.

 Ambassador of Vietnam to the US Ha Kim Ngoc. 

Vietnamese Ambassador to the US Ha Kim Ngoc stressed that the remains of over 200,000 cases of VMIA have yet to be found and more than 300,000 recovered cases remained unidentified.

Therefore, the US government’s accounting initiative represents its most sincere, profound, and humane form.

Ngoc emphasized that people in Vietnam have set aside the past, look into the future, and foster a new relationship with the US. He hopes that the USAID will earmark additional resources to establish a center of excellence in Vietnam for the hi-tech identification of VMIA soldiers.

Christopher Klein, Chargé d’Affaires, US Embassy in Vietnam said the VMIA accounting initiative fits very well with the US’s years-long cooperation with Vietnam to reconcile and address the tragic effects of the war.

According to him, former US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink reiterated that the common accounting efforts and their work to confront the legacies of the war form the foundation for the countries’ current flourishing relationship from growing security ties to the tremendous trade and development opportunities.

Klein affirmed that none of it would be possible without US-Vietnam cooperation over decades on war legacy issues. It’s the heart vision and courage of so many people on both sides.

During US Defense Secretary Austin’s Vietnam visit on July 28-29, the two countries signed MoU on Vietnamese Wartime Accounting to help Vietnam locate and identify VMIA.