|Helping hand: Chuck Palazzo poses with disabled student Le Dinh Thanh he provided with a wheelchair in Vinh city. — Photo vinhuni.edu.vn
by Minh Thu
HA NOI (VNS) — When Chuck Palazzo served as a US Marine and combat soldier in Viet Nam, he made a personal commitment to return one day and do something positive.
Palazzo has spent the past 40 years helping victims of Agent Orange he helped spray during his 13 months stint in Viet Nam.
He arrived in Da Nang in 1970, but when he returned to the US he resigned from the Marine Corps after realising how much toxin had affected Vietnamese people.
Palazzo was born into an Italian family in New York. He joined the army at the age of 17 to escape from the difficult life faced by many immigrants.
After a year of training, he was sent to Viet Nam. "I joined the army with no political awareness," he said. "When I set foot on Viet Nam, I immediately realised that I made a wrong decision."
He said he and other US soldiers were told Agent Orange was harmless to people, that it only made trees shed leaves so that Vietnamese soldiers would have nowhere to hide.
He remembered that the liquid sprayed from a helicopter looked like clouds of fog and smelled like rotten eggs. "When we came back to the area half a day later, we realised that all trees had lost foliage," he said. "We then began to wonder what the toxin would do to the locals, soil and water.
"We then began to realise that the chemical was gradually killing thousands of Vietnamese and crippling future generations," Palazzo said.
"I witnessed first hand, the horror of war. I realised that the involvement of the US was wrong."
When he returned to the US, he joined anti-war movements as a member of the US Veterans for Peace. For many years, he was an activist on behalf of American Veterans and their families who suffered from various illnesses and disabilities caused by Agent Orange.
"I felt it was my responsibility to work with Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and to inform people throughout the world that something must be done to help them."
Palazzo has been doing research and persuading other US veterans involved to make amends. In 2008, he left his profitable software business in New York and Florida and returned to Viet Nam. A year later, he settled in Da Nang.
There he also established a software business. He split his time between working on software projects and being an activist on behalf of all victims of Agent Orange.
He spent most of his time doing charity work, asking foreign people and organisations to support victims of dioxin, bombs and mines.
Of all the victims he met, Palazzo said many left a strong impression, especially the caretakers who look after children. "They are often victims themselves, but they have had to give up everything to care for their family members who are often disabled and very ill," he said.
Palazzo said teacher Nguyen Ngoc Phuong, an Agent Orange victim known to the world for his will to overcome his disability, motivated him and his friends to continue their campaigns. The teacher has the body of a five-year-old, but he runs classes to teach other victims like him, as well as a motorbike repair shop from his home.
Palazzo said the idea of choosing Viet Nam as his second home arose when he found that a man working for him had a mother from Da Nang and a father who was American.
Palazzo spends most of his day working for victims as well as his business. Every day, he visits the Da Nang Association of Agent Orange Victims and plays with the children.
Nguyen Thi Hien, the association chairwoman, said that Palazzo was crying on the first day he visited the association.
"I feel a heartfelt love and sympathy for him," she said. "Many Americans come to visit Agent Orange victims, not everyone feel as strongly as he does."
Palazzo said the thing that impresses him the most about Vietnamese is their friendliness and their strong commitment of helping one another – especially victims of war.
"It was a bit difficult adjusting to the work environment and understanding what it would take to establish a business here," said Palazzo. "Living here has never been an issue and it was very easy for me to adjust.
"The Vietnamese who I am in contact with every day have become good friends. This is now my home."
Palazzo is also a founding member of Veterans For Peace - Chapter 160 as well as the Agent Orange Action Group. They hold an annual tour for returning veterans and supporters of Viet Nam and work to raise awareness as well as funds for the victims of Agent Orange as well as unexploded bombs. — VNS