Veteran US agents go back to Vietnam

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Hanoi - Six American veterans, stooped with age but smiling like old friends, reunited yesterday with Vietnamese they helped train 50 years ago to fight their common enemy, Japan.

The former members of the US Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency, swapped Second World War-era tales of parachute jumps, radio codes and Japanese surrender with their silver- haired hosts.

Underlying their often emotional exchange was a strong sense of lost opportunities for friendship between the US and Vietnam - and a hunger to build close relations from the wreckage of what the Vietnamese call the American War.

"It's the most remarkable thing to me that the people we hurt so much invited us back," said Carleton Swift Jr, 76. Mr Swift, a retired CIA officer living in Washington, commanded the OSS unit in Hanoi after Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence from colonial France.

"The tragedy of the Vietnam War is so overwhelming that I didn't think they could ever get over it, but they did," said a former Marine lieutenant, Charles Fenn, 88. Mr Fenn, a writer whose home is west Cork, Ireland, helped organise secret radio communications with Ho's ragtag guerrilla force.

The two veteraans were among the Americans invited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Vietnam-USA Society. They joined in a discussion with Vietnamese historians and old soldiers at the society's Hanoi headquarters and their talks, due to last two days, were symbolic proof that relations are coming full circle.

Within months of the end of the Second World War, Washington ordered the OSS working with Ho's Viet Minh nationalists to withdraw so that France could reassert control over its Indochina colony. Ho defeated the French in 1954. The US then began supporting the pro-Western government in South Vietnam, finally sending troops to fight a devastating war against Hanoi- led Communist forces.