U.S. Marine Corps 240th Birthday Celebration

Chào tất cả quý vị, chào mừng quý vị tới tham dự buổi lễ tối nay.   Major General Michael Rocco, Commanding General of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Security Guard Detachment of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, and all those here tonight who are proud to bear the title of United States Marine, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Chào mừng quý vị tới dự lễ kỷ niệm lần thứ 240 ngày thành lập Lực lượng Thủy quân Lục chiến Hoa Kỳ.
Clayton và tôi rất hân hạnh được có mặt tại đây tối nay với tất cả quý vị.
Năm nay kỷ niệm lần thứ hai mươi ngày thiết lập quan hệ ngoại giao giữa Hoa Kỳ và Việt Nam, vì vậy chúng ta đã có nhiều dịp gặp nhau và cùng chào mừng.  Tối nay cũng không phải là ngoại lệ.  Đây là giây phút đặc biệt tự hào đối với Hoa Kỳ, và cũng rất quan trọng đối với cá nhân tôi.

In 1996 I was a young diplomat here in Vietnam, sent to begin what President Clinton at that time called “a time to heal and time to build.”  I am optimistic by nature, but I saw the large chasm that separated our two countries.   There was very little economic trade, our people-to-people ties had been largely cut off, and the memories we had of each other were too often painful and tragic.

I remember working with the first U.S. Defense Attaché, Colonel Ed O’Dowd, as we tried to create the foundations for a military relationship.  It was so difficult for excellent officers like Ed and his counterparts—people of good will – to have even the most basic of conversations.  In short, our two governments knew little about each other, and trusted each other even less.  So in 1997 I remember celebrating the first Marine Corps birthday ball in Hanoi, honoring the bravery of those who fought, mourning all those injured and lost, and reflecting on a war that had divided our two nations.

But, today, I see a relationship transformed.  Our children are studying in each other’s schools by the tens of thousands, we enjoy nearly $40 billion in trade, our scientists are working together to combat infectious disease, and our militaries are deepening their partnership.   Just two weeks ago, the Vietnam Naval Infantry met our U.S. Marine Corps for the first time, and they shared with each other their histories, traditions and cultures.  Such a meeting, even a few years ago, would have been impossible.

This past April I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, where I participated in a memorial ceremony to honor the last two Marines killed in action in Vietnam:  Corporal Charles McMahon, Jr. and Lance Corporal Darwin L. Judge.   During the solemn ceremony, I felt great pride, and hope, too.  Pride because I had the privilege of standing side-by-side with the marines who had served with Corporal McMahon and Corporal Judge, marines who have spent the last 40 years honoring their comrades’ sacrifice.  But hope, too, because I could look around and see the faces of the young Marines who had just returned to Ho Chi Minh City, and who now stand guard over our Consulate.

It also made me think about the idea of reconciliation.   When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hanoi last August, the same thing was on his mind when he said: “the big news today is that the United States and Vietnam have reconciled.”

So, how did we reconcile with each other and decide to move forward?  What caused our two countries to re-think old ideas and decide to forge a new future?  Strategists talk about shared national interests.  Economists talk about shared free markets.  And it’s all true.  But I think it’s something even more fundamental – and something our two cultures share.

It’s about understanding the humanity in each other, and it’s about the importance of demonstrating respect in everything you do.  Healing wasn’t easy.  It was a painstaking process that required a lot of hard work, courage, and compromise – a process aided by the recognition of the humanity of the brothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones lost on both sides.  This was something we commemorated that day in Ho Chi Minh City, and something Vietnam and the United States do every day when we assist each other in finding those still lost from the war.  Reconciliation wasn’t done overnight, but over the past 20 years we have worked together to heal the past and build a new future.  I would like to give you one example of this process.

A few months ago I traveled to Danang where the U.S Navy Hospital Ship, the USNS Mercy, had arrived to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief care and training.  During the last day, we conducted a disaster management drill with the Vietnamese authorities—practicing what to do should a natural disaster strike Vietnam, and how the U.S. Navy might assist in rescuing and treating injured Vietnamese citizens.  As I stood on the deck of the Mercy, I heard the “whoop whoop whoop” of a helicopter’s blades turning.  40 years ago, that sound would have been just as distinct, but for very different reasons.  Today, however, that sound signifies something profound: our two countries working together to respond jointly to a crisis, to save lives, and to care for the injured.  Now, it’s the sound of peace and growing mutual trust, and it promises a brighter future for both our people.

General Rocco, your Marines here at Embassy Hanoi are a part of that mission, and I am so proud to join you in honoring them, and all those in the audience who are proud to call themselves Marines.

Happy 240th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps!