U.S. Warship Docks In Vietnam's Danang
Associated Press
July 28, 2004

DANANG, Vietnam - An American warship docked in Vietnam's central port city of Danang on Wednesday, nearly four decades after U.S. Marines splashed ashore here heralding the unofficial start of the Vietnam War.

The arrival of the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, is only the second American vessel to make a port call in Vietnam since the end of the war.

With four Vietnamese patrol boats acting as guides, the destroyer pulled into Tien Sa port with its flags flying and white-uniformed sailors lining the deck.

Led by Commander John T. Lauer, crew members walked off a red-carpeted runway to be greeted with flowers and salutes from a receiving line that included Vietnamese local and military officials.

Scheduled to stay until Monday, Lauer said his crew of 300-plus sailors "is very thrilled to see Vietnamese people and culture."

U.S. Ambassador Raymond Burghardt said the crew's visit is symbolic of a new era of U.S.-Vietnam ties.

"After 40 years, this is the first U.S. Navy ship to arrive in peace and friendship" in Danang, Burghardt said.

The arrival of the USS Curtis Wilbur was a reminder of the era when the U.S. commitment to the Vietnam War began in earnest.

In March 1965, several hundred U.S. Marines landed at Danang, the first time American combat troops set foot in Vietnam. Until that point, U.S. military personnel, who had been in the country since the 1950s, were only acting as advisers to the South Vietnamese army.

Danang served as a major U.S. military base during the war and the white sands of nearby China Beach became a popular spot for soldiers on leave.

The Vietnam War ended in April 1975 with the fall of Saigon, the capital of the U.S-backed South Vietnamese government, to Communist troops.

The two sides have made big strides in the three decades since U.S. forces withdrew from a conflict that claimed the lives of an estimated 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1995, bilateral ties between the former wartime foes have steadily expanded. A landmark trade agreement in 2001 has led to an explosion in two-way trade, with the United States becoming Vietnam's largest trading partner.

But in the sensitive arena of military ties, there had been little progress besides joint work on the search for Americans missing in action during the war.

Last November, U.S.-Vietnam military relations reached a new level when Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra paid a historic visit to Washington to meet with U.S. counterpart Donald Rumsfeld.

Later that month, the USS Vandegrift made a historic four-day port call in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.

During this trip, U.S. sailors are scheduled to play a volleyball match with their Vietnamese Navy counterparts, visit a school for street kids, and do some sightseeing.