POWs Celebrate 40th Anniversary of Nixon White House Dinner
Two hundred former Vietnam War POWs gathered in the reproduced East Wing of the White House at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., on May 24 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their homecoming dinner at the White House in Washington, D.C. The formal black-tie/ military dress event commemorated the state dinner that President Nixon hosted for POWs released during Operation Homecoming on May 24, 1973—the largest state dinner ever held at the White House. (See related story,“POWs Party in Style,”in June 2013 Rolling Thunder section of Vietnam.) The Nixon Library re-created the event down to the menu: sirloin steak, fingerling potatoes and strawberry mousse.
The dinner was part of a three-day celebration that included a special museum exhibit on the POW homecoming. The late president’s daughter Tricia Nixon Cox and his brother Ed Nixon were guest speakers, as was Ross Perot, the Independent Party presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996, who had hosted several previous POW reunions at his Texas home. One of the most poignant moments of the evening was the singing of the “POW Hymn,” performed by the same group of POWs who sang it at the White House in 1973. “Wow, it was emotional,” said James Quincy Collins Jr., according to the Redwood Times. Quincy wrote the song during his solitary confinement in prison.
POWs widely credit Nixon with their freedom.“He was a hero to us,”retired U.S. Marine Captain Orson Swindle said, according to foxnews.com. Swindle spent six years and four months in the prison camps.“He will always be revered by us as a group because he got us home.”
Tim O’Brien Wins Pritzker Award
The Pritzker Military Library has named celebrated author Tim O’Brien the winner of the 2013 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. Since its inception in 2007, the library’s award has become one of the most prestigious literary awards of its kind. The selection of O’Brien, a novelist and short story writer, marks the first time the award has been given to a fiction writer.
O’Brien’s popular novel The Things They Carried, with more than 2 million copies in print, was based on his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War while serving with the 23rd Infantry (Americal) Division in 1968-70. “Yet his writing transcends that particular war in that particular era to illuminate our sense of war universally,” said Rick Atkinson, recipient of the 2011 Pritzker Literature Award. O’Brien’s short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Playboy and Ploughshares, and in several editions of The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories.
Sponsored by the Tawani Foundation, the coveted $100,000 literature award will be presented at the Pritzker Library gala on Nov. 16, 2013. “I’m delighted and honored to receive this special award, which in previous years has gone to such distinguished writers,” said O’Brien.
Hagel Reaffirms U.S. Role During Asia Tour
During Chuck Hagel’s first visit to Asia as defense secretary in June, he attended the national security conference in Singapore, where he delivered a speech bringing allies up to date on the Pentagon’s heightened focus in the Asia-Pacific region. China’s ongoing aggressive stance in the South China Sea, including its claims to maritime fishing rights and the territorial rights to Vietnam’s islands, have stirred disputes within the region. The Vietnamese have protested China’s increasing claims of sovereignty. Last year at the conference, defense chief Leon Panetta described plans to assign 60 percent of the Navy’s fleet to the Pacific, as part of the administration’s “pivot to the east.” At the Singapore conference, Hagel met Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who fought in the Mekong Delta, along with Hagel, 45 years ago. Defense officials said the two talked briefly about their wartime experiences.
Vietnam’s Military Visits Washington
Senior Vietnamese army officials came to Washington June 17-22, meeting with military officials in the Pentagon, visiting a military base and taking a tour of the U.S. Capitol with Vietnam War veteran and former POW Sen. John McCain. At the Pentagon, Senior Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty, chief of the general staff of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN), met with U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs. Ty was quoted in a Vietnam News Agency report as saying the visit was aimed at taking the relationship between the two militaries to the next level.“This was the first-ever visit by a Vietnamese chief of defense to the Pentagon,” said Scott McIlnay, a spokesman for Dempsey.
A Tien Phong news report said the Vietnam delegation included Lt. Gen. Truong Minh Hoa, commander of the Vietnam People’s Air Defense and Air Force, and Rear Adm. Nguyen Van Ninh, deputy commander of the Vietnam People’s Navy.
Boat People Arriving in Australia
Forty years after hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled their country’s Communist regime by boat, a growing number are fleeing Vietnam again. This year, 460 Vietnamese men, women and children have arrived on Australian shores seeking asylum, according to an Associated Press report. In separate statements, the Australian and Vietnamese governments said the overwhelming majority or all of the arrivals were economic migrants, which would make them ineligible for asylum. Vietnamese community activists in Australia and lawyers who have represented Vietnamese asylum seekers disputed that categorization and raised concerns about what will become of the refugees, saying that while Australia doesn’t want to keep them, Vietnam doesn’t want to take them back. Of the 101 Vietnamese who arrived in 2011, only six have been returned to Vietnam so far.
Snowden: Hero in Ellsberg’s Mind
The man who made history by leaking the Pentagon Papers had high praise for Edward Snowden in June, shortly after it was learned that Snowden, a former CIA employee who later worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), told newspapers about government programs that track American phone records and phone and Internet messages around the world.“In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material, and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago,” Daniel Ellsberg wrote in an op-ed published by the Guardian on June 10. “Snowden’s whistle blowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an ‘executive coup’ against the U.S. Constitution.”
In 1971 Ellsberg passed the secret Defense Department study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to the NewYork Times and other newspapers after efforts to get Congress to release it failed. Ellsberg first delivered the photocopied documents to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. William Fulbright, and then to Sen. Charles Mathias, but neither congressman would release them to the public.Excerpts were published in the Times and the Washington Post on June 13 and June 18, 1971, respectively.According to the 2010 PBS documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Ellsberg and his wife hid in Cambridge, Mass., for two weeks before he turned himself in at the Federal Courthouse in Boston on June 28, 1971.
Ellsberg became the first person to be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act for releasing the classified information to the public. The case was later dismissed when it was revealed during trial that the government had engaged in illegal wiretapping to gather evidence against him. The Pentagon Papers were officially declassified in 2011.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.