You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

N.C. town’s ties to Vietnam still strained

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 23, 2010

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. | The mayor of one of America's most renowned Army cities wants to establish cultural ties to a rural Vietnamese town, a plan that has angered some veterans who served in Southeast Asia generations ago.

Some Vietnam vets who still live in the Fort Bragg area are embracing the idea as a chance to lay to rest the ill will that has lingered for more than four decades, though it's clear animosity toward the war remains.

"It is just not over with them and it never was cleanly over," said retired Col. Bill Richardson, an 80-year-old who said he served 14 months in Vietnam with the Special Forces. "I don't think we ought to be dealing with them on a city-to-city thing. It just dredges up a lot of bad feelings."

The offer from officials in Soc Trang, in southern Vietnam, to become sister cities with Fayetteville already seems to have accomplished one important step: Pro or con, people are talking about it.

"The symbolism is a powerful healing message. It really is this city and the people who live here willing to put something behind them that in some ways we've had trouble shaking," Fayetteville Mayor Tony Chavonne said.

Mr. Chavonne was born in Fayetteville, a city considered synonymous with Fort Bragg. His family members served in Vietnam and his best friend's father was killed there.

Between 1966 and 1970, more than 200,000 soldiers went through basic training at the massive Army base, Fort Bragg historian Donna Tabor said. The city became a focal point of the anti-war movement and earned the nickname "Fayettenam."

Either way, "It did become a very simple term that reflected a sense of where our country was at that time," Mr. Chavonne said. "We're not that place anymore."

Maybe not, but local chapters of the American Legion, 82nd Airborne Division Association and Veterans of Foreign Wars remain opposed to a relationship with a nation where, according to the Defense Department, 58,000 U.S. service members died and at least 1,720 remain missing.

Don Talbot, a veterans activist and Vietnam veteran, said the mayor proposed the idea to him during a breakfast meeting a year ago, and Mr. Talbot told him he didn't like it.

"It is a Communist country. Why do you want to go back to 40 years and say 'thank you' to a bygone era in the middle of a current war?" Mr. Talbot said. "It is a forgotten era and now he wants to bring it all back to heal us."