Dao Thi Tiec, 85, who lives near the Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA; German Press Agency) last October that she vividly remembers the day he was captured.
It was in 1967, a time when the U.S. had expanded the war to North Vietnam with fierce bombing raids, forcing families like Tiec to send their children to evacuate to the countryside.
On October 26, 1967, she heard that an American plane had been shot down and crashed into a nearby power plant. Soldiers and militia quickly captured the pilot who’d ejected and landed in the Truc Bach Lake.
Tiec ran outside, right in time to see security forces escorting the American pilot. He looked very tall, she recalled.
“I was glad to be able to witness that scene after so many people were killed by American bombs,” she said.
The American pilot, U.S. Navy Captain John McCain, was imprisoned for more than five years at the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi.
After he was freed, McCain began his political career at home, becoming a U.S. House of Representative, Senator and Presidential Candidate.
Vietnam remembers him as a person who worked hard to normalize U.S.-Vietnam bilateral ties.
“There is a paradox in the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S., that is those who once fought during the Vietnam War became the pioneers in healing bilateral relations,” said historian Duong Trung Quoc.
McCain first returned to Hanoi was in 1985, 10 years before diplomatic relations were restored between the two countries. Since then, he regularly visited Vietnam, with his most recent trip being to Cam Ranh Port in June 2017 on the naval vessel named after him.
In recent years, McCain had consistently affirmed that Vietnam will be a strong security partner for the U.S., with Washington calling for peace, security and international law compliance in the Asia Pacific region, including the East Sea, also known as South China Sea.
McCain’s advocacy for closer U.S.-Vietnam times came to the fore in a debate with Senator Sam Johnson, who was also a US prisoner detained in Vietnam, the Washingon Post noted.
In a 1995 debate before the U.S. Congress on normalizing relations with Vietnam, Johnson said the U.S. should not resume diplomatic relations with Vietnam because the nation had not provided a full account of Americans missing in action during the Vietnam War.
Johnson said normalization of diplomatic relations was “an attempt of Hanoi to reach the U.S. market.”
McCain, on the other hand, argued that the normalization move with Vietnam was necessary, and that letting personal emotions influence the decision of what is the best for the U.S. was an abrogation of responsibility.
The debate between Johnson and McCain reflected the deep divide within the U.S. over Vietnam.
The American Legion, America’s largest veteran organization with many members who fought in Vietnam, was strongly opposed to the normalization of bilateral relations, while the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which represents 600,000 who served during the Vietnam War, supported McCain’s efforts.
McCain got the backing of Senator John F. Kerry and President Bill Clinton in his efforts, leading to the official normalization of relations in 1995.
“It is important to consider that this American veteran’s contributions to post-war Vietnam-U.S. relations are, in this respect, a factor, a figure of reconciliation,” Vietnamese historian Quoc said.
Despite suffering from brain cancer in the last years of his life, Senator McCain continued to call for peace, stability and legal order in Asia-Pacific. He was one of the most vocal opponents of China’s artificial islands and the militarization of the South China Sea.
McCain died in Arizona on the evening of August 25 (August 26 morning, Vietnam time) at the age of 81. Leaders around the world have condoled the death of a “giant” of American politics.
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