Vietnamese praise John McCain for 'healing the wounds of war'
Tributes take place at U.S. Embassy and the McCain memorial, near where his Skyhawk was shot down
Sen. John McCain's Vietnamese jailer said he respected his former inmate and felt sad about his death, as others in Vietnam paid their respects to the former U.S. navy pilot who became a prisoner of war and later was instrumental in bringing the wartime foes together.
McCain's Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi in 1967. He was taken prisoner and held in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison for more than five years.
Former colonel Tran Trong Duyet, who ran the prison at the time, said he met with McCain many times while he was confined there.
"At that time I liked him personally for his toughness and strong stance," he told the newspaper Vietnam News, published by the official Vietnam News Agency.
"Later on when he became a U.S. senator, he and Sen. John Kerry greatly contributed to promote Vietnam-U.S. relations, so I was very fond of him," Duyet was quoted as saying Sunday.
"When I learnt about his death early this morning, I feel very sad. I would like to send condolences to his family. I think it's the same feeling for all Vietnamese people as he has greatly contributed to the development of Vietnam-U.S. relations."
Duyet could not be reached for comment on Monday. McCain died of brain cancer on Saturday at age 81 in his home state of Arizona.
Meanwhile, scores of people in Hanoi paid their respects to McCain at the U.S. Embassy and at a monument by Truc Bach lake, where he landed after parachuting from his damaged plane.
Both Vietnamese people and U.S. citizens in Hanoi have flocked to the grey, concrete monument to offer flowers, incense, flags and other tributes to McCain.
"Condolences to senator and war veteran John McCain, who greatly contributed to the normalization of Vietnam-U.S. relations," said one message in Vietnamese that was left at the sculpture and attached to a bouquet of flowers on Monday.
The Vietnam News Agency said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc sent a message of condolence to McCain's family and U.S. Senate leaders, while Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh paid respects to McCain at the embassy.
"For both the government of Vietnam and its people, Senator McCain was a symbol of his generation of senators, and of the veterans of the Vietnam War," Minh wrote in a condolence book at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi on Monday. "It was he who took the lead in significantly healing the wounds of war, and normalizing and promoting the comprehensive Vietnam-U.S. partnership."
Pham Gia Minh, a 62-year-old businessman who signed the condolence book at the embassy, said he witnessed Vietnamese civilians being killed by the U.S bombings of North Vietnam, including on Christmas in Hanoi in 1972, but he admired McCain for overcoming the difficult past to build better ties between the two countries.
"War is losses and suffering," he told The Associated Press. "But the will of a brave nation is to go beyond that to look to the future. The Vietnamese people have that will and Mr. John McCain has that will. ... We both have that will to overcome the painful past, overcome the misunderstanding to together build a brighter future."
The U.S. Embassy announced it will launch a fellowship in the names of McCain and Kerry, the former secretary of state who also served in the U.S. navy in Vietnam. The scholarship will go to a young Vietnamese leader committed to public service will be chosen each year to travel to the U.S. on a study tour to deepen ties between people in the two countries.
With files from Reuters