Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Rest in Peace

Though the war between the United States and Vietnam has been over for more than forty years, there are more than a thousand Americans who have not yet returned. But they have not been forgotten. Unprecedented efforts between the US and Vietnam to locate these missing men have resulted in finding nearly half of these missing and the search continues to this day.
Four black boxes, four silver caskets, four folded flags. It was a solemn affair on the tarmac at Da Nang airport as the remains of American servicemen were prepared for the long flight back to the United States.Anh and I were invited by JPAC (Joint Prisoner of War, Missing in Action Accountability Command) to attend a repatriation ceremony on April 9th. I was impressed by the professionalism that was shown by the team in the handling of the remains. It was indeed an honor to be a part of this event.

 One by one, black wooden boxes containing the remains were placed in individual coffins which were then draped with an American flag before being carried to the waiting C-130 transport plane. Though the remains often consist of no more than a single tooth or bone fragment, they are handled with all the dignity and respect deserved by those who have given their all for their country.No names were read or personal tributes offered. The identity of those found must first be confirmed by the forensic team in Hawaii before any names will be released. It's been a long time coming for these men and their families. Hopefully, they can now find peace.

"Pete" Peterson, the first American Ambassador to Vietnam after the war and former POW was present at the ceremony. Anh and I have had the pleasure to get to know Mr. Peterson and his wife, Vi over the past few years and had dinner with them after the ceremony.


 During the beginning of the Tet holiday, Anh and I flew to Bangkok to join up with our friends John and Caroline and Nikki to set off on our adventure through northern Thailand and Laos. I had never spent any time up in the northern part of Thailand before and was anxious to see it since I've heard so many great stories about it.Our first stop was Chiang Rai, a northern town in Thailand.
 The White Temple is located outside of Chiang Rai and is something that should not be missed if passing through this part of Thailan. The ornate temple is all in white and silver and looks almost like something you would find in a frozen landscape. I can't remember the whole story about this place but do know it is still a work in progress. A Thai artist has come up with the concept and gets most of his funding through donations.

We rented a car in Chang Rai and drove up to the northern border with Burma (Myanmar). A group of people called the Karens live up there and are known for the heavy brass rings they wear on their necks that push their shoulders down, giving them the appearance of having extremely long necks. I remember seeing an article about them in National Geographic when I was a kid and was fascinated by them. To see them in real life is even more fascinating. They begin the process of stretching their necks at a very young age and life their entire lives with the adornments. I picked up one of the neck bands and was shocked by how heavy it was. I estimated it to weigh at least fifteen pounds.

The Karen people come from Burma but have fled across the border into Thailand to seek refuge from the heavy-handed Burmese government. They live in simple mountain villages and make their living today mostly from tourists that come through and buy their handmade jewelry and clothing.