A dozen U.S. war veterans are returning to Vietnam to build a rural health clinic "to help the Vietnamese and also help ourselves," members of the group said Monday.
Ground-breaking for the project - believed to be the first reconstruction effort by U.S. veterans in Vietnam - is scheduled Jan. 31. The group, which includes carpenters, electricians and architects, is to spend 10 weeks building an eight-room clinic in the southern seacoast town of Vung Tau."It seemed like a way to heal the insanity of the war itself," said Ruben Robert Gomez of Santa Cruz, Calif. "We'd like to see American hands-on restoration in Vietnam and put it behind us."
Members of the Veterans-Vietnam Restoration Project, a small California veterans group, say the clinic will meet an urgent need for better medical care in rural Vietnam; help foster U.S.-Vietnamese ties; and perhaps serve to alleviate individual psychological and moral problems from the war.
A psychiatrist who specializes in helping Vietnam war veterans will accompany the group to evaluate effects of the effort on participants.
Gomez said the project cost of $60,000 to $100,000 and the supply of medicine and equipment is being met by a number of private organizations including Operation California, the Christopher Reynolds Foundation and the U.S. Committee for Scientific Cooperation with Vietnam.
"Everywhere I go people say: `Hey, great, good luck to you,"' Gomez said in an interview, adding that more than 80 veterans had applied to join the group.
Vietnam's foreign minister, Nguyen Co Thach, in October personally wrote the group, giving them permission to build the clinic.
Gordon Smith, 38, of Monterey, Calif., said Vietnamese officials have expressed interest in the veterans carrying out other small-scale reconstruction projects, including the rebuilding of a fire-damaged orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, and another health clinic in northern Vietnam.
Smith said American veterans groups are limited in the kind of aid they can provide given the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam.