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Not quite the heroes

HO CHI MINH (AsiaNews): About a hundred former soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam were welcomed on September 13 at the House of Peace and Justice run by the Redemptorists in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for a day of free medical services.

Organised in collaboration with local Buddhist monks, the initiative began some years ago. This year, the priests have provided the service on 11 such days.

The veterans come from several southern provinces and fought for the pro-American former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), which was defeated by the North Vietnamese army in 1975.

However, the new government has left these soldiers to fend for themselves, despite the serious wounds and injuries many had sustained in battle. Now many are unable to earn a living and are thus forced to beg.

The medical services provided by the Redemptorists include psychological testing, regular checkups and free transport to appropriate facilities.

Over time, the charity has drawn the attention of several Vietnamese people, who now come from distant areas to help the scarred veterans both materially and economically.

“I was an Army Ranger. I was wounded in battle in 1970,” Nguyen Tan said. “I heard about the House of Peace and Justice run by the Redemptorists in Saigon when the Fathers invited me for medical tests.”

He continued, “The priests gave me a device to measure my blood pressure and a wheelchair. Now I am happy, because they have supported me and helped me and my family deal with disease and poverty.”

Another veteran born in 1952 lost a leg in the war. Abandoned by the government, he lived for years with a wooden prosthesis he made himself, which did not allow him to do normal work.

“It has been 41 years walking with this wooden leg,” he said. “Initially it weighed about eight kilogrammes and I had to go to work in the rice fields, but it was very heavy. Only now I got a light prosthesis from the Redemptorists.”

Father Anthony explains the difficulty these veterans lived with for decades.

“We started this project because we saw them in poverty, torn by guilt, abandoned and excluded by society,” he said.

“This programme helps them not only physically, but also encourages and supports them on a mental level. We try to treat the wounded veterans in the soul, because they have been labelled soldiers of a puppet army,” he explained.

The programme has helped about 5,000 veterans.

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