Vet extends help, hope to former enemy

What a difference 30 years makes.
In his younger days, Butch Elkins flew planes in the Vietnam War spraying Agent Orange and losing part of his intestine during the conflict.
This week he hosted a handful of Vietnamese men in his home.
The board chairman of Hannah’s Promise , a Greensboro-based nonprofit providing humanitarian aid to Vietnam, Elkins and his guests took a whirlwind Piedmont tour aiming to find used medical equipment.
It is part of an effort to address problems from the war that still plague the country, such as the land mines left behind and health problems associated with Agent Orange.
The week’s effort was specifically aimed at supporting Tai Binh , one of the poorest communities in Vietnam and the hometown of Nguyen Van Kien , one of the guests.
“We really need assistance from our friends,” said Kien, director general for the People’s Aid Coordinating Committee .
“At big district hospitals we need all kinds of equipment … X-ray machines, beds, table examiners, ambulances.”
They made headway during their visit, which started Saturday and ended Wednesday.
They trekked to Duke University Hospital and met with Dr. Jonathan Weiner , a psychiatrist who treats Vietnam veterans.
Weiner, also a member of Hannah’s Promise, is helping the group get an inside track to Duke’s older equipment.
Elkins wants to fill 100 containers, 20 feet by 8 feet , with medical equipment and is offering to pick up anything that’s donated.
He even bought a new truck for the project.
Kien said steps like this are important leaps for a country that’s been struggling throughout history.
“The people have suffered so much by the wars and natural calamities,” he said. “Now we have peace and we’re trying to keep that and rebuild our country.”
Both men stressed that achieving their goal will take more than medical supplies.
New schools, markets and industries are needed.
The hope is that with that infrastructure in place, tranquility will follow.
To achieve this, the Vietnamese are looking for foreign aid, particularly from nongovernmental agencies such as Hannah’s Promise.
“We have shed so much blood for independence so we really know the value of freedom,” Kien said.
“We’re trying to work with other countries to preserve peace. Without peace you will hardly do anything.”
The collaboration takes understanding between cultures, which Kien said people are eager to develop.
Elkins said he hasn’t experienced any negative sentiments directed toward him on his 19 visits to Vietnam since 2002.
Any concern he had was assuaged on his first visit.
“I didn’t know what I’d find,” he said. “What I found was a people who can’t afford to live in the past.”
He discovered a camaraderie with his former enemies.
“If the soldiers can meet and embrace each other with a hug and a handshake,” Elkins said, “there’s no reason why the governments can’t.”
Contact Joseph Schwartz at 373-4441 or

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