Vietnam 'Peace Village' To Be Built
February 24, 2001
By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - For decades, more than 250 land mines, bombs and
shards of shrapnel lay buried beneath the site of a former U.S. Marine base
in Vietnam - a hidden danger that maimed or killed members of more than 100
Now, after months of clearing mines, a group of American volunteers -
including former Vietnam veterans - broke ground on the 40-acre plot this
week for the building of a "peace village" to house the victims' families.
"This is a good experience to close out that part of my life," said Barry
Geller, 49, of Anchorage, Alaska, who served as a military helicopter pilot
in central Quang Tri province in 1970-71. "I'm glad I decided to come back."
Geller joined a group of 17 volunteers, including five Vietnam veterans,
who joined Vietnamese to plant 500 trees at the site of the new village,
once the Dong Ha Combat Base in central Vietnam.
The two-year, $385,000 project is sponsored by PeaceTrees Vietnam, a
nonprofit group based in Bainbridge Island, Wash. that educates about the
dangers of land mines, helps remove the explosives and plants trees.
Unexploded ordnance remains a huge problem for Vietnam since the war ended
26 years ago, particularly in the central region along the former
Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
About 38,000 people have been killed by leftover bombs or land mines over
the last quarter-century, the government says.
Between 1985 and 1994 alone, nearly 500 people were killed and more than
4,000 injured in Quang Tri province. Children account for one of every five
Frequently shelled during the war, the former Marine base had been the site
of a number of accidental explosions over the years, triggered mainly by
children playing with leftover explosives.
PeaceTrees cleared out the site for good in December, and by the end of
2002, it will be home to the families.
In addition to the new houses, the "peace village" will include a
kindergarten, a community hall, a sports field, and new roads and utilities.
For Trish Kozma, a Red Cross volunteer during the war, the PeaceTrees
project offered a chance to return to Vietnam alongside others who had been
through similar wartime experiences.
"I wanted to see it through the eyes of my peers. The veterans were like
the guys I knew," said Kozma, 52, a retired teacher from Seattle. "Coming
back with them has been wonderful. We could sit and talk and know what the
other was feeling."
Most importantly, the project also offered a constructive way to help
Vietnam, Kozma said.
"It's very symbolic to plant a tree, but there's a permanency to it. There
was so much damage done to this country that, in a small way, it was trying
to erase the ravages of war," she said.
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