This is the English version of the original article published on Tien Phong Daily Newspaper. English translation by Hien Xuan Ngo at Project RENEW.
TienPhong – One time while surfing a forum, I came across these confiding words. “Thanks to April 30, 1975, a sturdy Saigonese like me had the happiness of enjoying coffee in District 1 in the morning and strolling around the Sword Lake in the afternoon.” Immediately someone “trolled” me: “Strolling the Sword Lake for what?!” So between the two – Americans and northern Vietnamese, particularly those Hanoians who had tasted B-52 bombers, there can be no connections whatsoever, there can only be either you or me, for the eternal animosity would never melt, wouldn’t it.
A busy and important person
An intelligence officer of the U.S. Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Battalion in Saigon, Chuck Searcy’s one year of combat in Vietnam (1967-1968) had changed his life forever.
Returning from the war, Chuck came back to Georgia University and joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). He spent 12 years working as an editor in a publishing house, and then served as Executive Director of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association until 1995 when he anchored in Vietnam.
This man now holds many titles: Co-chair of the NGO Agent Orange Working Group, International Advisor and Co-founder of Project RENEW which clears UXO and provides medical and rehabilitation service and income generation assistance for UXO victims. (RENEW’s mission also covers Agent Orange victims). He also represents the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and serves as Vice President of the Veterans For Peace (VFP) Chapter 160, the chapter in Vietnam (VFP is headquartered in the U.S.).
Chuck Searcy’s most frequent route during the past 25 years is Hanoi to Quang Tri and back, on UXO clearance and Agent Orange projects. In addition to embarking upon concrete undertakings, his itinerary has included uncountable seminars, workshops and trips. It is because apart from the said projects, he has helped reached out for bringing American veterans back to Vietnam, guiding groups of his compatriots as tourists to visit historic sites in the country, or giving presentations to students in the U.S. and Vietnam.
Such a man full of energy and with an extremely busy schedule, he is.
A person strange but familiar
Wherever I meet Chuck Searcy, I always have to be attentive and often find him stunning. In January 2018, I came to Quang Tri to write the series Two soldiers’ reunion after 45 years. (The two soldiers are the characters in the historic photo, Two soldiers, by photographer Chu Chi Thanh). By the bank of Thach Han River, I was with “three soldiers” (including war photographer Chu Chi Thanh) attending the program A song of peace hosted by the province in commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Paris Agreement.
About 40 foreign demining experts working in Quang Tri were invited guests of the program. I overheard people (the event organizers) mention Chuck Searcy’s name: “Will Chuck arrive in time?”
It turned out that this person lived and worked in Hanoi, he then took a flight to the province for the event, but the flight was delayed. Chuck had been so familiar to Quang Tri people that he was considered a community member.
He eventually showed up on the stage near the end, and as usual, talked so beautifully about war and peace. He absolutely supported QuangTri’s “great proposal” to the Government to take January 27 as “Day for Peace” and Quang Tri as “City of Peace” – a rendezvous, not only national but international, towards reconciliation and international solidarity.
Chuck also pledged to call for American veterans to come to Quang Tri, in order to experience and spread the aspiration for peace.
Later on, Chuck co-chaired a roundtable on Lessons from the past and building a better future (Hanoi, March 2018), which was attended by over 30 American veterans and their spouses, together with several dozens of their “former foes” – Vietnamese veterans. Participants included even Americans who were not veterans but part of a peace tour. That interesting and touching gathering enabled me to write some pieces, for instance, Give reconciliation a chance.
After the roundtable, Chuck led his compatriots through a satisfactory 17-day trans-Vietnam travel. But that was not the first travel of the sort. It was initiated as early as in 2008, and has been done it every year hitherto, to help American veterans, their next of kin and other Americans sharing similar interests to witness the changes taking place in this country and understand how Vietnamese now perceive their “former foes.” Among them, many have returned more than once, with a totally changed view of “the world, the human being, and the value.”
In 2003, this busy Chuck Searcy was awarded an Order of Friendship by the Vietnam State for his tireless efforts.
“Just look at that sad face”
Many years ago, when first seeing Chuck Searcy in the Tadioto restaurant owned by overseas Vietnamese writer Nguyen Quy Duc at 24 Tong Dan, Hanoi, I was asked by writer Le Minh Khue to note his sad eyes: “Just look at that sad face”.
That evening Chuck was attending a book launch by his compatriot – veteran writer Wayne Karlin. The book’s title is Wandering Souls – a wonderful and totally non-fiction story about dissipating the Vietnamese – American animosity.
With gradual care to know, I came to guess why there were always traits of hidden sadness on his face. The sorrow of war, it could be.
It’s needless to say about the love Chuck Searcy reserves for Vietnam, for it is also tenacious and without any condition, like Catherine Karnow’s which I mentioned in the previous issue. Another good thing about this person is that his warmth does not come easily. Looking forward to the two nations’ close-knitted relationship and erased animosity, he has always maintained that “Vietnam should be thorough in its relationship with the U.S. and other countries, persistent in its independence, balanced between the U.S. and China, and never allowing any power to drive it off the balance…” He does not want our relationship with the U.S. to be an “illusory friendship” or the one that Vietnam has to trade undeservedly. Think of this man’s background as an intelligence officer who later on became a lawyer boss! His sober-mindedness and sharpness are more than sufficient. He can always counter-argue against the U.S. government and any American guys who are so “arrogant” to claim themselves the navel of the universe.
On Vietnam’s National Day six years ago, when mentioning Project RENEW’s work of UXO clearance, Chuck Searcy once again called on American veterans to urge their government to ramp up efforts so that painful remnants of the war would be gone from this land in a decade from now. “We owe that to the Vietnamese, as well as to American veterans and our friends – who lost their lives in Vietnam. We owe them for the assistance to reconstruct this country”.
It is prose but it sounds like poetry, doesn’t it?
After his first return to Vietnam in 1992 as a tourist, Chuck Searcy got in 1995 a three-year contract to work for an American veterans program funded by the U.S. government to support people with disabilities. Since then he has stayed on, all through for the last 25 years, to live and work, in this country Vietnam, without knowing when to settle back in his natal land.
The other day, not long ago, I saw this “strange but familiar” Chuck Searcy nonchalantly walking along a Quan Thanh Street sidewalk, near my home, looking truly calm. Still that thin and tall figure, with that white hair and those sad eyes, sad but a bit more relaxed.
Back to the comment mentioned at the beginning of this article by someone who found it hard to understand why a guy needed to stroll around the Sword Lake when it was not worth doing so, for what when the war had been over and why was there a need for reconciliation? You and people like you may also ask: Why have those like Chuck Searcy remained punctilious in Hanoi, and anchored that long?
DƯƠNG PHƯƠNG VINH
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