Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta this weekend, decades after commanding a Swift Boat there during the Vietnam War.
Serving in that war would ultimately turn Kerry against the war and take him full circle from military service, to activist, to decades of public service in the Senate, to presidential candidate, and now as the U.S. Secretary of State.
John Kerry’s visit to the Mekong Delta was to “investigate climate change in his role as Washington’s top diplomat.”
Kerry, who arrived in Ho Chi Minh City Saturday on a trip aimed at shoring up ties with Southeast Asia, travelled by boat through Ca Mau, a once-dangerous Viet Cong stronghold, an official with the local US consulate told AFP.
Kerry who served as naval lieutenant in the US Navy from 1966 to 1970 as a naval lieutenant. He received three Purple Hearts, for combat injuries, was also awarded a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for valour.
On Saturday he said he vividly remembered his time in war-torn South Vietnam, describing an evening drinking on the roof of the Rex Hotel in Saigon in 1969.
“I can’t tell you how totally bizarre it was to be sitting on top of a hotel, having a beer… while all around you, you would be seeing and hearing the sounds of a war,” he said.
It was on his return after two tours of duty that he became a fierce campaigner against the war, which ended in 1975.
Kerry, turned 70 on Wednesday, said he was “excited to have returned to Vietnam, his first time back in the communist country since he joined President Bill Clinton on his landmark visit in 2000.”
Speaking to a group of young professionals in Kien Vang, a riverfront village, Kerry said, “Decades ago on these very waters, I was one of many who witnessed the difficult period in our shared history.”
“Today on these waters I am bearing witness to how far our two nations have come together and we are talking about the future and that’s the way it ought to be,” he said.
That future, especially for the water-dependent economy of the millions who live in the Mekong Delta, is in jeopardy, he said.
Kerry pledged $17 million to a program that will help the region’s rice producers, shrimp and crab farmers and fisherman adapt to potential changes caused by higher sea levels that bring salt water into the delicate ecosystem.
Read more on Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Vietnam here.