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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 11:20 GMT
US sailors win hearts in Vietnam
Kevin Reyes and Antonio Pagoaga hand out footballs
The sailors visited orphanages, schools and other community projects
A volleyball match, a visit to an orphanage and a night on the town - it was all a bit different from the last time US servicemen were in Ho Chi Minh City, which was then called Saigon.

A group of American sailors has been helping community and charity projects in Vietnam's second city, which was the headquarters for US forces during the Vietnam War.

The sailors have come ashore from the US frigate Vandegrift, which on Wednesday became the first American warship to dock in Vietnam since the conflict ended in 1975.

"It is an honour for the crew of the Vandegrift to be the first US ship in Vietnam for quite some time," Lieutenant Commander J.D. Gordon, spokesman for the US Pacific fleet, told BBC News Online.

"It is a rare opportunity and they are thrilled... this is a continuing step in the normalisation of relations between the two governments," he said.

Community

A trip to an orphanage was one of the first stops for the sailors.

They handed out sweets and toys to children at the centre, which cares for about 300 orphans, from new-born babies to teenagers.

A Vietnamese player in the volleyball match against US sailors
Rest and relaxation was also on the cards during the visit

"Before 1975, if they came here, the Vietnamese people would be very scared," said Ho Thi Kim Thoa, deputy director of the centre.

"This time they come to promote good. You can see the American soldiers love the kids," he said.

One of the sailors, Antonio Pagoaga, 26, from El Paso, Texas, brought footballs for children.

"I am having a blast," he said. "At least we can do something good. Now I can go home with a personal satisfaction."

Other sailors dug the foundations for a kindergarten and painted a school as part of their work on the community relations campaign.

But along with working hard to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, there has been time for some rest and relaxation, or 'R and R' as it was known during the Vietnam War.

That has included a defeat for the Americans on the volleyball court - a team from the USS Vandegrift lost 2-0 to players from the Vietnam Navy Technology School based in Ho Chi Minh City.

US-VIETNAM RELATIONS
1962 US advisers in S Vietnam
1965 US troops arrive
1968 Peace talks start
1973 US withdrawal starts
1975 N Vietnamese take Saigon
1985 First cooperation on MIAs
1995 Diplomatic ties resume
2001 Trade deal signed

And several of the sailors appeared so relaxed in their latest port of call, that they could enjoy a carefree night on the town.

Several of them were spotted drinking beer and dancing the night away in Ho Chi Minh City's 'Apocalypse Now' bar, a favourite spot for American tourists, named after a film about the brutalities of the Vietnam War.


SEE ALSO:
US frigate in historic Vietnam visit
19 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Vietnam's top soldier visits US
10 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Hanoi muted on US 'war crimes'
21 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Cancer legacy of Vietnam war
16 Apr 03  |  Health
Agent Orange use 'understated'
16 Apr 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Vietnam
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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