Monday, July 03, 2006
U.S. Navy Sailors stood at attention on deck in their white uniforms in what looked like a patriotic postcard made for a hot weekend celebration of July 4, the American independence day. But a closer look revealed a snapshot of reconciliation: The American flag rippled in the breeze beside Vietnam's banner atop the two U.S. warships docked on the Saigon River, more than three decades after the Vietnam War ended. The arrival of the USS Patriot and USS Salvor marked the fourth time U.S. military ships have made port calls to Vietnam since 2003, in what has become an annual stop to help bolster military ties among the former enemies. The arrival comes a month after U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Vietnam. About 180 crew members were expected to celebrate America's Independence Day, July 4, in Vietnam during the five-day stop.
USS Patriot (MCM-7)The USS Patriot (MCM-7) is a Japan-based minesweeper, while the USS Salvor(ARS-52) is a salvage and rescue vessel from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The visit marks the first time two U.S. ships have docked together in Vietnam since the war ended. The USS Vandegrift was the first ship to make a port call to Vietnam in 2003, followed by the USS Curtis Wilbur a year later and the USS Gary in 2005 a month before the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, when South Vietnam surrendered to northern communist forces and the country was reunified. All of the ships have docked in Ho Chi Minh City, except the USS Curtis Wilbur, which anchored in central Danang. Since Vietnam and the United States re-established diplomatic ties in 1995, the two countries have grown closer in many areas, with two-way trade reaching nearly US$8 billion last year. USS Salvor(ARS-52)Several high-profile visits have also occurred in recent years. Last year, Vietnam's prime minister became the country's highest-ranking official to visit the White House since the Vietnam War ended. U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to visit Hanoi in November, when the communist country hosts the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, or APEC. In May, the two countries signed a trade agreement, overcoming the last major step in Vietnam's bid to join the World Trade Organization. A vote in the U.S. Congress is still needed for the pact to take effect.