Vietnam Vet In Bamboo Hut Fasts For POW-MIA Cause
KENT, Wash. (AP) _ Vietnam veteran Gino Casanova said his efforts on behalf of American servicemen still missing in Southeast Asia went mostly unnoticed until he began a fast inside a bamboo and straw hut in a cow pasture.
Casanova vows to remain in the hut without food until Dec. 16 in an effort to publicize the plight of the 200 to 300 American soldiers and fliers he believes remain imprisoned.
Nearly a year ago, he said, a group he organized began circulating petitions calling for the government to increase efforts to gain return of those missing in Southeast Asia.
Interest was minimal, he said, until he entered the hut, which symbolizes the cages used to hold American prisoners in Vietnam.
″I guess this is the next logical step,″ he said in an interview. ″I wish we’d thought of it 10 years ago.″
Now, he received numerous letters and visits in support of his cause.
″Vet in Bamboo Cage, Kent, Washington,″ reads the address envelope. Another, from Louisville, Ky.: ″Starving Veterans for Missing POWs.″
″See? See how they address their mail to me?″ said Casanova, holding a handful of mail as he reclined on a mattress in his 8-foot-square hut, which he entered Oct. 16 for a planned stay of 61 days - one day for each Washington resident still missing in action in Southeast Asia.
There are 2,441 military and civilian personnel still listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia. In recent years, some bodies have been returned, including the remains of 26 people sent back by the Vietnamese in August.
Casanova, 34, divorced and the father of an 8-year-old girl, is an organizer of West Coast Veterans, formed to promote the cause. He said he wanted similar organizations to unite their efforts.
″I want to get some kind of movement going, as the protesters did in the ’60s to end the war,″ said the former Marine, who spent two tours in Vietnam. ″It’s just up to the people to bring them (prisoners) all home.″
Up to 50 visitors a day trudge across pastures filled with eight inches of snow, he said, enduring temperatures dropping as low as 10 degrees in one of the Northwest’s coldest Novembers on record.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., dropped by Wednesday, and told Casanova he would carry the petitions to the White House.
Casanova, clad in a flier’s suit and a cap, has lost nearly 40 pounds since he started the fast at 185 pounds, but his doctor was optimistic about his condition.
″He looks better than he did last week,″ said Dr. Warren Appleton, who began visiting Casanova on Nov. 1 at the urging of Vietnam veterans who are his patients.
Casanova’s body functions are slowing down, a beneficial hibernation effect, with the cold weather, Appleton said.
Some friends have encouraged him to end his fast for his own safety, but Casanova says his going without food is a small price if it helps gain the return of even one American.
″Before they become dead bodies, we want live bodies,″ he said. ″That’s what I’m out here for.″