Why Vietnam Loves McCain

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John McCain might not recognize Nguyen van Sy, but they used to be neighbors. Back in the 1960s, Sy was left behind as caretaker at the North Vietnamese Ministry of Culture's Film Institute after its staff was evacuated to the countryside to escape the U.S. bombing. The Hanoi regime converted part of the abandoned facility into a POW camp—"the Plantation," inmates called it—and the 31-year-old Navy pilot was taken there a few weeks after he was shot down over Hanoi in October 1967. Sometimes Sy climbed a tree for a peek at the prisoners. At night the caretaker huddled by the camp's wall while the city was being pounded: the Americans would never target their own men, he figured. Four decades later, Sy has a clear favorite in this year's U.S. presidential contest. "We hope McCain wins," says the 62-year-old Vietnamese. "He remembers us and will do good things for Vietnam."

Just about everyone in Vietnam agrees. They all know who McCain is, and no one seems to hold a grudge about the 23 bombing missions he flew against targets in and around Hanoi. That goes for ordinary Vietnamese, senior bureaucrats and people who met him during his captivity—the district nurse who may have saved his life after he was shot down, and the hard-line military officer who was his chief jailer for more than five years at the Plantation and the notorious Hanoi Hilton. They like the way McCain pushed Washington to normalize relations in the 1990s and the way trade has mushroomed from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $12 billion last year, and they believe he'll help them even more if he wins. It's a far cry from the day McCain parachuted from his disintegrating jet and was severely beaten and stripped to his underwear by the mob that pulled him from Truc Bach Lake.

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