Terry Anderson Featured in Leatherneck
April 16 2012
Terry Anderson writes in Leatherneck magazine about the history of the Vietnam Children’s Fund.
Early that Veterans Day morning, Scruggs and I moved slowly past the powerful black marble wall with its long list of names. There was already one man leaning against it, head bowed, touching someone’s name and quietly crying. I spotted a small box among the flowers, notes and other items left at The Wall by visitors. It was a Medal of Honor, the second one, Scruggs said, found at The Wall. Someone had seemingly wanted to honor all those listed. All were heroes, all deserved a share in our nation’s highest honor.
My emotions were still strong when my turn to speak came. I talked about the medal and about healing and reconciliation—those things The Wall bestows on its visitors so strongly and with which I was struggling after my time in Lebanon. The veterans and their families listened patiently.
After the speeches ended, I chatted with other participants in a tent set up near The Wall. A lovely Vietnamese woman was introduced to me. Kieu Chinh, a famous actress in Vietnam and now in the United States, was a refugee twice over: from Hanoi in 1954, when she left a father and brother to flee south to Saigon and again in 1975, to Canada and then the United States.
Kieu had spoken to the crowd about not just the Americans whose names were on The Wall, but also about the more than 2 million Vietnamese who died. She kindly praised my short speech, and we talked about the power of The Wall, the strong effect it had on every veteran who visited it. A healing place, we agreed. “But what about my people?” she asked. “Isn’t there something we can do for them?”Vietnam was still under a trade embargo, its economy stifled by the American government’s continuing enmity and the failings of a socialist government. The question struck a chord in me. While nearly all the veterans I knew were very reluctant to talk much about the war, except to other veterans, they and I shared a continued interest in the country. We had all gone there believing we were doing something positive, something right. That it went bad, that it ended in acrimony and failure, left a feeling of incompleteness. Some vets had gone back, become involved in projects from clinics and hospitals to mine removal. Was there something we could do?
In the next days and weeks I talked with others about the idea. Slowly, a group came together: Vietnam vets Jack Wheeler, another of the men who built The Wall and who had served in both the Reagan and Bush administrations, and Ed Timperlake, a former Marine F-4 pilot and intelligence expert and later Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs; Patt Derien, an assistant secretary of state for Jimmy Carter; and several others.
When we gathered in a borrowed Washington, D.C., office to talk, Kieu brought a surprise guest—Lew Puller Jr., son of deceased Marine hero Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC (Ret) and a former Marine lieutenant who had lost both legs and much of both hands to a booby trap in Vietnam. “Washington’s a dangerous place, Terry,” Lew joked, as he shook my hand. “We’re a couple of Marines. You watch my back, and I’ll watch yours.”