By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
HANOI, Vietnam, Oct. 11, 2010 - Efforts to recover those missing from the Vietnam War have helped to transform the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship in the years since the conflict ended, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
"A decade of conflict and bloodshed between our nations has given way to prosperous bilateral relations now marking their fifteenth year," Gates said in a speech at Vietnam National University.
Cooperation in accounting for those missing in action from the war has been a key element in the relationship's evolution, the secretary said.
"It was our commitment to work together to find the missing from the war and to address the traumas still felt by those in and near the conflict that provided the first opportunity for our countries to engage," he said. "And it was this initial cooperation that led us to where we are today, with a vibrant relationship that spans a range of issues."
Both countries have a "long, deep and abiding" commitment to locate those missing in action, Gates said. Since 1998, he noted, almost 100 joint field activities have led to the recovery, repatriation and identification of the remains of more than 100 Americans.
"Our experts bring the equipment and techniques and go out into the field, working in close cooperation with the government of Vietnam and local Vietnamese to undertake the painstaking task of finding and recovering American remains," he said. "We also provide the resources and technical expertise to Vietnam as it undertakes the same sacred task."
Gates said he thanked Vietnamese Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh during a Pentagon visit late last year for providing access to 13 new sites for search operations in previously restricted military areas.
"I similarly appreciate his decision last month to provide access to four additional sites," he added, "and hope we can expand cooperation on this front even further."
The secretary acknowledged that the work entails shared risks and losses, noting that a helicopter carrying a joint U.S.-Vietnamese team to investigate a site in Vietnam's Quang Binh province crashed in 2001, killing all on board.
"We honor the sacrifice of those 16 patriots lost in the line of duty," he said, "and plans are being developed by our two nations to commemorate the 10th anniversary of that tragedy next April."
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