Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Annual My Lai Memorial Service

At 7:30 AM, March 16, Margaret, Tinh, and I climbed on behind our faithful motorcyle transporters from our hotel and went to the My Lai Memorial Site and Museum for the annual memorial service for the 504 people massacred by American soldiers here 42 years ago. Contingents of school children were lined up along with officials from province, district, and local offices, survivors, and others come to pay their respects. Mr. Do escorted us to our place in line behind Mike Boehm clad in his customary traditional red Vietnamese robe. On the ground beside him lay his violin case. For over 10 years he has played his violin as part of the ceremony. On one side of our line stood a succesion of floral displays accompanied by pairs of young women in purple ao-dais. These displays would be placed before the large stone sculpture of a group of people, living and dead, to signify the event at My Lai. On the other side of us stood a quiet, patient line of old women in simple peasant dress: some of the remaining survivors of the massacre. After the various officials had escorted their floral offerings plus baskets of fruit which were placed before the statue, we of Madison Quakers were invited to advance and pay our respects. Each person coming up to the statue was handed some incense to place before it. I was handed three sticks. As I stood before the altar holding incense pots, I said softly to our Creator: "Here's one for the people of My Lai, here's one for Mr. Nam, the cadre who was so kind to me in the mountains and who died there, and here's one for all those who died in this war on all sides. Receive their souls and help us to work for justice and peace." My tears flowed freely then and later as I gathered with the old women survivors and talked with them in Vietnamese. It amazes and humbles me that these women seem to harbor no hatred considering that all lost family members, in some cases their entire family. I am so grateful that through Madison Quakers, Inc. I am able to volunteer to help in some small way the current and future generation of the gentle people of Tinh Khe.
Today, Wednesday, we will participate in our last class - seventh graders. Then we will meet with teachers and administrators giving them our evaluation forms on which they will give us feedback on our contribution here. We will have our final meeting with them on Friday and early Saturday, we bid farewell to Tinh Khe for this year and head back to Hanoi. It's been a good three weeks.

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