a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, April 6, 2007

View from Vietnam

War crimes museum, Saigon
A relic from the Vietnam War outside the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.

By Scott Beveridge

The old news photographs on display at what has been nicknamed the American war crimes museum in Saigon are enough to make people sick.
One shows an American soldier shoving an M-16 against an old Vietnamese woman’s head in what is officially known is the War Remnants Museum. Another U.S. soldier laughs in a black-and-white photo while holding up the charred remains of a Viet Cong guerrilla fighter caught in a napalm blast.
“My insides turned inside out, like I wanted to throw up.” said Andrew Boone of Chicago, who served as a platoon sergeant in the war, after the sights inside this museum became too much for him to handle.
Boone is featured in a moving film on WQED, “In Country: A Vietnam Story,” which began airing in November 2006 in Pittsburgh. He’s one of two friends of “Black Horizons” host Chris Moore, who made their first return trip this year to their former battlegrounds since they left Vietnam 35 years ago.
They cry, laugh and somehow seem to find a way to heal their guilty consciences about their roles in the unpopular war in Southeast Asia.
Moore is anguished by his memories of driving supply trucks at full speed through “Ambush Alley,” some of which ran down anyone who got in their way. This was dangerous territory in Central Vietnam, where enemy snipers were determined to destroy the cargo route.
“I can only ask God to forgive me. It was stupid,” Moore said in the film.
The story also touches on the work of the Friends of Danang, a McMurray, Pa.-based humanitarian group founded by Vietnam War veteran Tony Accamando of nearby Eighty Four. He and his pals raise money to build schools and provide surgery to Danang’s many deformed children over their “need for healing and reconciliation,” Moore said.
What sets this film apart is how Moore and his buddies divulge their pasts as they seek to find peace from the war that killed as many as 2 million Vietnamese and nearly 60,000 American troops.
“I don’t know about you, but that eats me alive,” Moore said. “Where did we go wrong?” Boone added, wiping tears from his brow.
So many veterans from this war refuse to take this journey, and still suffer night sweats from the painful wartime nightmares that haunt them.
Accamando, a retired cable executive, has long declined to discuss his war experiences in public unless they involve civilian affairs.
In some ways, it seems even more sad that these oral histories about a war that reshaped U.S. history will be lost to time because the stories are just too disturbing to bring to the table.
It takes another generation to learn from the mistakes of those who came before them, Moore believes.
Maybe it’s time more veterans from this war begin to tell their stories before the hell from Vietnam becomes something future generations romanticize over.

Scott Beveridge is a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter.

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