May is the hottest month in Vietnam, but the sun was especially relentless on May 9, 1997, when an excited crowd waited on the tarmac at Nội Bài Airport for the arrival of the first U.S. ambassador assigned to Hanoi. The last U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Graham Martin, had departed from Saigon on a helicopter twenty-two years earlier. I was happy to join American and Vietnamese war veterans, expats, and kids, some waving American flags, at the airport that hot afternoon.
Ambassador Pete Peterson strode purposefully down the stairs from the plane to loud cheers from those of us assembled on the tarmac. Members of the press surrounded Pete and began thrusting microphones over the heads of those assembled. They snapped photos when a gray-haired veteran, Mai Văn Ôn—one of the men who in 1967 had fished John McCain out of Hanoi’s Trúc Bạch Lake—stepped in to wrap Pete in a warm embrace.
Ambassador Peterson met Mr. Nguyễn Viết Chộp
Pete told the crowd that the exchange of ambassadors between the United States and Vietnam marked the “full normalization of our drelations…..This is the beginning of a new era of constructive relations.” A man of his word, he repeated the promise of his confirmation hearings to focus first on obtaining the fullest possible accounting of the more than two thousand Americans still listed as missing from the Vietnam War.
Pete also expressed his hope that a bilateral trade agreement could be concluded during his tenure. “Simply put,” he said, “U.S. policy is to help Vietnam to become a prosperous country, at peace with its neighbors and integrated into this dynamic region”.
From Nothing Is Impossible: America’s Reconciliation with Vietnam, by Ted Osius, to be published October 2021 in English by Rutgers University Press. If you want to receive further info about the book, please sign up with your email address.
“Ted’s evocative book, Nothing Is Impossible, instantly took me down a path of very fond memories. His story is an extremely personal one for me as well; one that brings back countless recollections of people, places, events, and hard decisions, some of which evoked forgotten moments when history was made. His lively firsthand account of the timing, the key players, and the complex circumstances leading to the reconciliation and development of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam will keep readers glued to the book’s pages. Anyone interested in an expertly detailed account of U.S.–Vietnam relations will discover that Nothing Is Impossible is a gold mine of historical and interesting anecdotal information.” —Pete Peterson, former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.