LAUNCH OF “OPERATION LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL”
Chuck Searcy A Presentation & Conversation
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Marines Memorial Club
609 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Chuck Searcy, a former Army Intelligence analyst who served in Viet Nam 1967-68, has spent nearly twenty years living in Vietnam and working with Vietnamese teams to clean up the dangerous UXO and Agent Orange legacies we left behind.
“This is not about blame or guilt,” Chuck says, “it’s about responsibility. It’s about stepping up to do the right thing, to finally bring an end to the war for the Vietnamese – who are still being killed and injured by bombs and mines and struggling every day with the consequences of Agent Orange.”
A former newspaper publisher from Athens, GA and assistant administrator for the Small Business Administration in Washington, Searcy now works out of Hanoi and Dong Ha, Quang Tri Province with Project RENEW, one of the largest UXO removal operations in Vietnam. It’s funded by veterans and other private donors and with government grants from five countries, including the U.S. through the State Department. Just this past year, RENEW teams safely recovered and disposed of more than 4800 UXO left over from the war.
Working side-by-side with a bomb disposal expert, a former colonel with the North Vietnamese Army during the war, the Project RENEW technical teams focus their efforts near the former DMZ, which was “ground zero” for more than 15 million tons of bombs – more than all the bombs dropped throughout the Pacific theatre in World War II. According to Department of Defense estimates, as many as 10% did not explode on impact and are still dangerous.
“It’s impossible to find and destroy every bomb,” Searcy admits, “so the key is to make Vietnam safe by educating local people on what to look for and who to call, so that our teams can respond quickly and safely destroy these weapons before they hurt somebody.” More than 55,000 children and adults have participated in Project RENEW’s educational outreach programs in over 500 local community centers. In July, two students on bicycles discovered a cache of over 500 UXOs and led a bomb removal team to safely destroy them.
Searcy has returned briefly to the U.S. this summer to meet with fellow veterans and to monitor an initiative led by Sen. Patrick Leahy of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is expected to more than double the amount of U.S. funding support for UXO and Agent Orange related remediation efforts by the start of next year’s Viet Nam War 50th Anniversary. Having represented three American veterans organizations in Viet Nam, Searcy is also working with various veterans groups in the U.S. on ways for their members to get involved with Operation Light the End of Tunnel as part their Vietnam 50th Anniversary commemoration activities.
“The Vietnamese give American veterans great credit for leading the way to normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995 and for setting an example for how to achieve reconciliation and understanding.” Searcy says this last mission will again require the vision and the leadership of veterans. “Who better to lead from the front on this one last mission than the American men and women who were so personally invested in Vietnam? What better way to honor their service and sacrifices than by safeguarding innocent children, a new generation born long after the war ended, from death and injury? What more appropriate way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war than by preventing the tragic deaths and lifetime disabilities that still result from accidents in many areas of Vietnam where the casualties of war continue?”
In addition to the daily activities of five Project RENEW teams which locate and destroy UXO found in farmers’ fields, in home gardens and around fish ponds, along paths and roadways – ordnance that could produce immeasurable suffering and economic loss – other services include a mobile prosthetics outreach program, vocational training, and financial assistance for those who accidentally set off UXOs that still litter the countryside.
(Tax-deductible donations can be made to their PayPal account administered by the FJC- Foundation of Philanthropic Funds.)