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U.S. Veterans Build Clinic in Town Destroyed by U.S. Bombs

November 18, 1990

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Nine U.S. veterans of the Vietnam war have returned to an old battlefield to rebuild a clinic destroyed by American bombs, the official Vietnam News Agency reported Sunday.

The veterans worked with local residents to erect a 10-room clinic at Yen Vien, about six miles east of Hanoi, the national capital, the report monitored in Bangkok said.

The Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project, based in Garberville, Calif., put up the $30,000 construction cost. The North Country Clinic of Arcata, Calif., is providing medicine and other supplies.

The clinic opened Oct. 20 to serve more than 30,000 residents of Yen Vien and seven surrounding villages, the agency reported. Yen Vien was ″razed by U.S. carpet bombing″ ordered by President Nixon in December 1972 to pressure the Communists into a peace agreement.

The bombing of the Hanoi and Haiphong harbor areas became known as the Christmas bombings.

The veterans group was led by John Baca, 41, who won the Medal of Honor for saving his squadron from a 1968 grenade attack by a North Vietnamese soldier.

Baca covered the grenade with his helmet and lay on top of it. He was severely wounded.

Art James, 41, was an infantryman in Baca’s squad in the 1st Air Cavalry who suffered shrapnel wounds in that explosion. James was among the veterans rebuilding the clinic in Yen Vien.

James said he had found the Vietnamese a forgiving people. ″Forgiveness is part of a message I need when I go back to America,″ he said.

Some of the veterans see the project as a way to influence Washington to end its economic embargo and normalize relations with Vietnam, said Cherie Rankin, a 44-year-old psychotherapist from Norwood, Mass., who was a Red Cross worker in Vietnam in 1970-71.

″The other reason was to try to do something constructive in a country where I was involved in doing something destructive,″ she said.

John Burns, 43, said he returned ″to find some peace of mind,″ and because ″we learned nothing about Vietnam before, except for what our government told us.″

″I wanted very much to come back and learn about Vietnam and find the truth about the people ... and this has been the most incredible experience of my life,″ he was quoted as saying.

Burns served in Vietnam in 1967-69 with the 45th Combat Engineer Battalion attached to the 1st Air Calvary.

The report said it was the third clinic built by the Veterans Vietnam Restoration Project. Two were constructed last year, at Vung Tau, 60 miles southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and at Vinh, in central Vietnam.

The U.S. government has eased restrictions on the activities of American humanitarian groups in Vietnam since August 1987, in return for Vietnamese cooperation in accounting for missing American soldiers. Many U.S. veterans have returned in recent years to visit old battlefields and see the country under Communist rule.

For the first time, a group of Vietnamese army veterans visited the United States this year to share experiences with U.S. veterans.