Days before departing as secretary of state, John Kerry visited the spot where he killed a Vietnamese soldier almost 50 years ago when his Swift boat was attacked by the Viet Cong.
It was Kerry’s fourth visit to Vietnam in his role with the U.S. State Department.
On Saturday, Kerry, 73, met with Vo Ban Tam, a 70-year-old veteran who helped ambush the secretary’s Swift boat on Feb. 28, 1969, during the Vietnam War. Ban Tam explained that he knew the man Kerry killed, a 24-year-old friend and fellow soldier, Ba Thanh.
“Today I met Vo Ban Tam, a former VC enemy who farms shrimp and crab on the same #Mekong river we once fought over,” Kerry tweeted.
Until then, Kerry didn’t know the name of the soldier.
They shook hands and Kerry give him one of his commemorative Challenge Coins.
“I’m glad we’re both alive,” Kerry told him.
Ban Tam told Kerry the Viet Cong could hear the Swift boats from 3,000 feet away.
“We were guerrillas,” he said through a translator. “We were never where you were shooting.”
Kerry was a young U.S. Navy officer at the time and the battle in the Mekong river earned him a Silver Star. Kerry also was awarded the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam.
Kerry tweeted: “Very powerful that veterans from both sides of the war can now be friends & work towards same goal of strengthening U.S.-#Vietnam relations.”
“It’s a wonderful sense, that after all the horror we went through, we now like each other,” said David Thorne, Kerry’s boyhood friend, brother-in-law and adviser. “It’s a small miracle that we have found a way back, to reconciliation.”
Kerry, who leaves as secretary of state when Donald Trump becomes president on Friday, says he will return to Vietnam.
Kerry ran for president in 2004 and served as a U.S. senator in Massachusetts from 1985 until 2013.
During his presidential campaign, a number of Vietnam veterans who had served on Swift boats formed an organization with the intent of discrediting his military record and attacking his subsequent antiwar activities as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. As a consequence, swiftboating became a term used to describe an unfair or untrue political attack.
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