American students from the George High School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, joined students of Le Loi High School in Dong Ha town, Quang Tri Province, central Vietnam and took part in some cultural exchanges and events – highlighted by a baseball game!
A 15-member student delegation from the George High School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, studying and traveling in Vietnam as part of an exchange program organized by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO), recently found themselves facing Vietnamese high schoolers in a friendly baseball competition on a baseball diamond just a few kilometers from the former demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Quang Tri Province, one of the most heavily bombed areas in the history of warfare.
The teenagers, who faced off under the hot summer sun* at a recently constructed baseball diamond at Le Loi High School, were cheered on by enthusiastic students, teachers, and local Vietnamese citizens who had gathered to watch this rare “international” sports match-up between young Americans and their Vietnamese counterparts. The game was played on a field that was donated by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) as part of its funding of Project RENEW, a partnership with the Vietnamese to help clean up landmines and unexploded ordnance remaining since the war. Before the new field at the high school could be graded and leveled and built, a team of explosive ordnance experts had to check and clear the area of explosive munitions hiding under the surface. The team of experts found and safely removed 17 items consisting of one 105mm artillery shell, one 81mm mortar, one 60mm mortar, three 37mm shells, and 11 other potentially deadly pieces of ordnance. Once the field was made safe and irrigation and drainage and sod installed, the Le Loi High Schoolers began training using baseballs, bats, gloves, uniforms, and other equipment donated by Major League Baseball. Mets pitcher Danny Graves, who was born in Saigon, came to Vietnam to dedicate the field and host a baseball clinic for the Vietnamese students.
Before last week’s game, the George H.S. students were briefed about Project RENEW and VVMF’s efforts to reverse the legacy of war in Quang Tri Province. The delegation also toured the DMZ and the Hien Luong Bridge, which split Vietnam between north and south during the war, and visited the nearby Vinh Moc Tunnels and the McNamara electronic line which was intended to block troop movements from the north – all “ancient” history for the young students.
It was ironic, one observer noted, that the sites along the DMZ which the students were visiting, once the most heavily bombed area in history, were just a few miles from a high school baseball field where a friendly game of baseball was being played between Vietnamese and American students, a new generation living in peace, and spared the memories of the war that came before.
Mr. Hoang Cong Thuy, General Secretary of the Vietnam-USA Society, said the visit by students of the George School was part of a continuing program of VUS exchanges designed so Americans could learn about Vietnam and its people. The high school students’ visit included “home stays” in which they lived in local citizens’ houses while they worked on volunteer community projects.
“Such people-to-people exchanges help build bridges of friendship and understanding,” Mr. Thuy said, “and what better way to strengthen the relationship than with a friendly game of baseball – the All-American sport!”
For baseball fans who keep score, the three-inning game ended in a 12-12 tie. The George School dominated the first inning, Le Loi High School prevailed in the second, and the third inning finished in a low-scoring tie to even the score for the game. As Le Loi High School principal Nguyen Dang Hau summed up the event, “No matter what the outcome of the game, friendship is the winner.”
* The game was played on Thursday, June 21, 2007.