Children of Vietnam War dead share bond

Mr Vu Ngoc Xiem with Ms Susan Mitchell-Mattera and Ms Nguyen Thi Hong Diem at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on Thursday. The two women are children of people who died in the Vietnam war.
Mr Vu Ngoc Xiem with Ms Susan Mitchell-Mattera and Ms Nguyen Thi Hong Diem at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington on Thursday. The two women are children of people who died in the Vietnam war.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • Ms Susan Mitchell- Mattera leaned her small American flag and the framed picture of her family against the black stone of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Thursday and raised her father's old harmonica to her lips.

As she played the opening notes of taps, Mr Vu Ngoc Xiem, 65, a veteran of the North Vietnamese army whose father was killed in an American bombing attack during the war, reached out and steadied her hand.

Up on the wall, at Panel 14W, Row 14, was the name of Ms Mitchell-Mattera's father, Mr James C. Mitchell Jr, a sailor who was killed when his helicopter was shot down in 1970, days before he was to go home. He was 24.

Ms Mitchell-Mattera played only a few notes, but they hung in the humid air on an overcast day when the wall was just starting to dry from the overnight rain, revealing the names of the 58,000 American dead in the Vietnam War.

It was one part of an emotional morning as Vietnamese and American children of parents killed in the war gathered to honour lost fathers and mothers and to embrace each other as brothers and sisters. There were many tears and hugs on both sides, and the laying of hands on the dark stone.

At the start of the Memorial Day weekend, the group was visiting Washington for the debut of a documentary about children who lost parents to the Vietnam War.

The film is part of the 2 Sides Project, an enterprise launched two years ago by Ms Margot Carlson Delogne, 52, as she sought to fill the void left by the absence of her father, who was killed in the war.

In 2015, Ms Carlson Delogne took a film crew and a small group of Americans who had lost fathers in the war to Vietnam. They visited sites where their fathers were believed to have been killed and met Vietnamese who had lost fathers and mothers in the fighting.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Children of Vietnam War dead share bond'. Print Edition | Subscribe