In November 1996, Dirk Kempthorne, then a U.S. senator representing Idaho, visited the National Economics University in Hanoi, Vietnam, where Boise State had a program to train instructors and business people in western business practices. After the university visit, he wanted to visit an office on the outskirts of Hanoi where people worked to find the remains of service members who went missing in action or were taken as prisoners of war during the Vietnam War. We got terribly lost.
At that time, the only vehicles in Hanoi were white Land Cruisers (no sedans), and our university project had one of them. Our driver, Mr. Khoi, and I were in charge of Kempthorne for an afternoon, taking him to the university and then to the MIA/POW office. Mr. Khoi, who spoke no English, was like an early stage GPS. He went in and out of alleys to find the office and did, after 30 minutes of searching. From what Kempthorne said later, he was very moved to hear about the operations of the office.
Fast forward. Since we began taking our executive MBA students to Vietnam for an international residency week seven years ago, we have ended the week with a visit to the MIA/POW office, now located in the central part of Hanoi.
The visit is always powerful. Since 1992, the office has sought to find remains of American soldiers. The process is painstaking. It demands careful planning and people with a range of skills, from anthropologists to interpreters to forensic experts. On a field investigation, some 100 Americans and 500 Vietnamese work together for 45 days, four times yearly. Then evacuation teams of 13 Americans, plus Vietnamese support teams, bring the remains out.
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What becomes clear to us, with each visit, is that the office will continue to look for remains for as long as possible. To date, about 1,600 service members are still missing in Southeast Asia.
I agree with what former Sen. Kempthorne said nearly 20 years ago. It is quite moving to learn about the efforts to find and bring home remains of American soldiers, done through cooperation of two former enemies. As the Vietnamese say, “never forget, try to forgive, make friends with your enemies, and look to the future.”