Transforming the anger and shame of My Lai

By LEON DANIEL UPI Chief Correspondent

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam -- Cherie Clark will open a medical clinic on the site of the My Lai massacre, an American atrocity many of her countrymen would like to forget but cannot.

The 44-year-old pediatric nurse is determined to do the right thing, with or without the help of her government.


'When I first visited My Lai I found utter despair,' said the formidable woman who left Illinois in 1972 to help orphans in Vietnam.

A child who survived the massacre told Clark of witnessing the rape and murder of her sister.

That tragic story wrenched the heart but strengthened the will of a remarkable woman.

Clark is determined that her clinic will transform her nation's anger and shame over My Lai into something useful. So she has collected and stashed medical supplies in the United States.

Now she needs a plane to move them to her clinic, which is to be dedicated at My Lai on May 19, the 100th anniversary of Ho Chi Minh's birth and just over 15 years after South Vietnam fell to communist forces on April 30, 1975.

But Clark said she still is waiting for the U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces the American trade embargo against Vietnam, to clear her project.


'I believe the U.S. government ought to fly the supplies in here,' Clark said in an interview in her home in the heart of this city Americans knew as Saigon.

She has a point. A U.S. Army inquiry determined that in 1968 American soldiers visited on the inhabitants of My Lai crimes that included murder, rape and maiming.

Some two dozen officers and GIs eventually were charged by the Army with direct involvement in the massacre, but the only one convicted was Lt. William Calley Jr.

After he was convicted of murdering 22 Vietnamese civilians, Calley was released from house arrest in Fort Benning, Ga., in 1974 after serving one-third of a 10-year sentence.

In Clark, the current residents of My Lai now know a different kind of American.

When she came to war-ravaged Vietnam, she already had seven children, three of them adopted Vietnamese. Since then, she has been divorced and adopted three more children.

Three of her adopted children are Amerasians sired by American fathers who departed years ago.

In 1975, Clark left on one of the last flights out of Saigon before the South Vietnamese government fell. She spent the next dozen years working in an orphanage in Calcutta, India.


She returned to Saigon in 1987 when the United States and unified communist Vietnam agreed to cooperate on non-government problems.

As executive director of the International Mission of Hope, Clark plans to build lots of clinics throughout Vietnam.

She takes a dim view of her government's refusal to recognize Vietnam, or even lift the embargo that has economically crippled this poverty-ridden nation.

Surely, the nations that lost wars to the United States have fared better than the winner of the only one America ever lost.

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