Wednesday, June 30, 2010

30 Years of War Honored in Granite

Monuments are everywhere. In Hanoi, Vietnam, there are statues, a tomb, museum and plaques to honor their heroes, and martyrs.

Near a traffic circle by the Lake of the Restored Sword, there is a bas-relief monument that commemorates the capture of John S. McCain III, son of the admiral who headed the U.S. Pacific Command. McCain was captured on October 26, 1967, when he bailed out and landed in the lake.

“Our People must never be allowed to forget, “ my guide says. “They defeated France, a major European power, forced the Americans to withdraw and battled the Chinese Communists to a standstill.”

Constant tribute is paid to the Ho Chi Ming.

He’s never out of sight and lies in a great tomb built with Soviet help. The massive red stone tomb has all the looks of a Soviet monument, with a parade ground the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

On any Sunday, workers, peasants, soldiers and the Young Pioneers, red-scarved school children pay their respects to “Uncle Ho”.

Elders, attending from a distant providence bring a wreath, bright flowers on a bamboo rack; follow the white-gloved guards who carry it in slow motion goose step to the marble entrance.

Also in Hanoi is a museum that displays ‘air pirates’ booty among other weapons used and captured in their war against imperialism. There is an outdoor gun park full of relics, one of which was a 105mm howitzer, captured from the French and then used to dump explosives on them at Dien Bein Phu. Also on display are two torpedo tubes used in an attack against the American destroyer USS Maddox and the tank that broke down the gates to the South Vietnam presidential palace and ending the war.

An entire room displays booty taken from American ‘sky pirates” – the helmet and oxygen mask of Everett Alvarez Jr., who was shot down and held prisoner for eight- and- one half years. Helmets are piled high besides broken tail assemblies. There are also photographs showing captured American pilots and airmen.

After viewing room after room of captured American weapons, I decide to go to the second floor to get a high angle picture of the MIG-21 belonging to the North Vietnamese fighter pilot, who had shot down over 21 American and Chinese war planes, when a Russian approached and asked, ” What did you think of this place with all your things in it?”

“Well.” I replied, “After being kicked out of Afghanistan, maybe one day when the country settles, maybe they will build a big museum full of your stuff.”

Red-faced, the Russian walks away.