Senator John McCain, who helped lay the foundation for a cooperative Vietnam – US relationship, passed away on Saturday (US time) at the age of 81.
Tributes to the politicians were paid yesterday including one from the man who was in charge of the prison where he was held for five years.
McCain served in the invading war of the US in Vietnam. He joined in the Rolling Thunder air campaign in 1967, bombing targets in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (northern Vietnam). His plane was shot down on October 26, 1967 and McCain was taken prisoner. He was returned to the US in an exchange of prisoners in 1973.
During his time he was held at Hỏa Lò Prison, now a museum which McCain has visited many times.
The prison was being run at the time by Colonel Trần Trọng Duyệt.
Speaking to Vietnam News yesterday, he said: “I had a lot of time meeting him when he was kept in the prison.
“At that time I liked him personally for his toughness and strong stance. Later on, when he became a US Senator, he and Senator John Kerry greatly contributed to promote Vietnam-US relations so I was very fond of him.”
“When I learnt about his death early this morning, I feel very sad. I would like to send condolences to his family. I think it’s the same feeling for all Vietnamese people as he has greatly contributed to the development of Vietnam – US relations.”
Returning from Vietnam, McCain joined politics and was one of the first to campaign for normalisation of US – Vietnam relations through promoting humanitarian issues such as removing unexploded devices left by the war, searching for missing-in-action personnel, supporting people with disabilities caused by the war, and detoxifying areas polluted by dioxin.
In 1994, the US Senate approved a resolution sponsored by McCain and Senator John Kerry, calling to end the economic sanction against Vietnam, paving the way for the improving of relations between the two countries a year later.
Following the normalisation of bilateral ties, McCain and Kerry visited Vietnam many times to address the issue of American missing-in-action soldiers (POW/MIA).
Senator McCain also supported the Vietnamese community in the US, serving as a bridge between them and the US authorities as well as the Vietnamese Government.
He has a very special position in the history of the Vietnam – US relationship, said Vietnamese Ambassador to the US Hà Kim Ngọc.
Ngọc shared that he had opportunities to work with McCain as his interpreter during the US Senator’s working trips to Vietnam.
From those trips, Ngọc noticed the Senator’s strategic vision, leadership and high political determination for the normalisation of Vietnam – US relations despite very great internal obstacles.
“It can be said that Senator McCain is a symbol of the Vietnam – US reconciliation process during which the two sides overcame their past as old enemies to normalise and develop bilateral relations.
“McCain enthusiastically supported and made untiring efforts for the Vietnam – US comprehensive partnership,” Ngọc said.
Along with Senator John Kerry and other senators like Patrick Leahy or Jim Webb, McCain had been at the forefront in the normalisation and enhancement of Vietnam – US friendship and co-operation, he added.
At the most difficult time of the bilateral relations when many still expressed suspicion and even protest about the Vietnam – US ties, McCain and Kerry and other senators had played a decisive role in the irreversible process of normalisation, Ngọc said.
Therefore, it could be said that McCain deserves credit for promoting the Vietnam – US relations and later, the comprehensive partnership between the two countries, according to the ambassador.
He said: “Even during his illness, McCain still paid attention to Vietnam-related issues such as cooperation with Vietnam, the East Sea issues and the catfish programme that affects poor farmers in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.
“With the support of both the Republican and Democratic Parties in the US Congress, the Vietnam – US comprehensive partnership will continue thriving for the benefits of the two countries.”
At a meeting with the Senator in Washington DC on January 21, 2016, Vietnamese Ambassador to the US at the time, Phạm Quang Vinh praised the Senator for his great contribution to the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries.
In reply, McCain said he always attached importance to the US – Vietnam relations, and for him, Vietnam has an important position and role in the region.