Should US return skulls of Vietnamese?

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THE White House visit today by President Nguyen Minh Triet of Vietnam will take place just a few miles from the resting place of some of his countrymen. When American G.I.’s returned from the Vietnam War, some tried to smuggle home the skulls of Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers. The graffiti-covered skulls served as ashtrays, candle holders and trophies. Six skulls were seized by the Customs Service. They remain in limbo, relegated to a drawer on the campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

At a time when President Bush plans to chastise the Vietnamese leader about human rights abuses, a question confronts his own administration: Should we return the Vietnamese trophy skulls?

The importance of human remains has been highlighted over the past six years by the efforts to identify bits of bone and ash from the bodies of people who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. More than 1,000 cubic yards of dirt and other material from near ground zero are still being screened for bone fragments and other remains. Grieving families continue to inundate forensics experts from the World Trade Center site with old toothbrushes, licked stamps and razor blades that might provide a DNA sample and a genetic link to the bodies of their loved ones.

But what of the similar desires of a people 8,000 miles away? Many Vietnamese worship their ancestors as part of their religion. They believe that if a person’s bones cannot be found, his soul wanders aimlessly and cannot be cared for properly by his descendants.

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Joe Caramello - 6/24/2007

These skulls should be returned to Vietnam. I am a Vietnam veteran and like most of the Vietnamese people, I bear no malice toward my former enemies. To return these skulls is a reasonable and honorable thing to do.