In Search of Their Fathers: Seeking Redemption in Vietnam

By MIKE IVES DEC. 24, 2015
THE NEW YORK TIMES

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — For nearly half a century, Margot Carlson Delogne had grieved over her father’s death. She battled alcoholism, wore a missing-in-action bracelet and deeply resented the Vietnamese who shot down his plane in 1966.

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Now she stood at the end of a long table in a conference room here, facing six Vietnamese men and women who had lost parents in the same war, fighting for the other side. It was her fourth such meeting in eight days, and the emotional toll was catching up with her.

“We wondered if our coming together would open old wounds, or if any of us would be angry or sad all over again,” she started. Then she began to cry. “We have been sad,” she said, “but we have found no anger.”

The encounter here last week was part of an odyssey of hope and redemption for Ms. Carlson Delogne, 51, who was born on a military base in Texas and now lives in Walpole, Mass.

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She had traveled to Vietnam with five other grown children of American fathers who died or disappeared during the war. Their mission was to find the places where their fathers fought and died, and to speak with the children of fallen North Vietnamese and Viet Cong veterans.

The meetings were the first formal ones between children of the American and North Vietnamese service people killed in the war, Vietnamese officials said. They took place in a year in which the two countries, four decades after fighting a war that cost more than 2.5 million lives, began a third decade of normalized relations.

Today, the United States sees Vietnam as a strategic buffer against China, and recently eased a longstanding ban on lethal arms sales there.

Bilateral trade is now worth nearly $30 billion, and Vietnam is a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an American-led trade agreement among a dozen Pacific Rim countries.

American corporations, including McDonald’s and Starbucks, have opened here hoping to tap into Vietnam’s emerging middle class.

Bui Van Nghi, secretary general of the Vietnam-U.S.A. Society, a Communist Party organization that arranged the group’s 11-day trip, said it represented yet another step forward in the normalization process.

“If we want the relationship between our two countries to develop, we need more mutual understanding,” he said.

At four meetings across Vietnam this month between the six Americans and more than 20 Vietnamese sons and daughters, decades-old walls began to crumble brick by brick.

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