Today, 12 June 2020, Netflix releases Da 5 Bloods, an American war drama film directed and produced by Spike Lee. The plot follows a group of ageing Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of treasure they buried while stationed here. Although a fictional work, Da 5 Bloods is true in depicting the massively conflicting emotions of American veterans when returning to Vietnam. Many of them have turned these strong emotions into action by contributing to the betterment of the country.
Saigon Children’s Charity is honoured to have received such generous contributions from American war veterans in 2014 when they helped build two kindergartens in Quang Tri province. The two schools, Ta Ria 2 and Ta Rui, were opened in Huc and Huong Loc Communes in Huong Hoa District. These schools are located in “Bru” ethnic minority villages, home to some of the most impoverished communities in Vietnam today. The facilities cost VND1 billion ($43,000), of which three-quarters were paid by two war veterans – Judd Kinne and George Barczay, and the remaining amount they fundraised themselves.
Judd Kinne was a United States Marine Corps infantry officer in South Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, and during 1967/68 he served in Quang Tri with Kilo Company 3rd Battalion 1st Marines. After the war, he worked in the finance sector in Singapore and became a collector of war photographs. He remains a strong supporter of saigonchildren after the school projects and participated in saigonchildren’s fundraising event in Singapore in 2019.
George Barczay joined the U.S. marine force as a communications officer. In 1967, his unit was stationed in Khe Sanh Combat Base in Quang Tri Province to counter the Vietnamese troops’ offensives. The Battle of Khe Sanh, which is considered “the second Dien Bien Phu battle,” and one of the highest-profile campaigns of the time, was conducted between January 21 and July 9, 1968, during the American war in Vietnam.
Leaving Vietnam with haunting memories and gnawing guilt, these two men had been saving and raising money for the fund, which they call “the Khe Sanh wound-healing fund.”
After watching a documentary on the hardship students in mountainous Huong Hoa District experienced as they studied in makeshift, shabby classes, which were flattened by the elements every stormy season, they decided to use the fund to build schools, as they felt driven to sow the seeds of hope for future generations in the war-ravaged area.
These two remarkable US veterans contacted Saigon Children’s Charity to start building schools in Quang Tri. Six months after the two former soldiers helped each other scale the hills to visit the Khe Sanh Combat Base, where wartime memories flooded back, two kindergartens were built and opened to local children, especially those of Pa Co and Van Kieu ethnic minorities.
As you can see in the Netflix movie, Vietnamese people do not dwell much on the past. They know that the only way to truly heal wounds is by moving forward. When Kinne and Barczay visited the school site in Quang Tri, they were welcomed with songs and dances from the children, and the thanks of the communities they were helping. However, even though Vietnam has left its war-torn past behind, much work is still needed to level the playing field for the next generation throughout Vietnam.