Preserving the Bien Hoa Cemetery
The Republic of Vietnam inaugurated its National Military Cemetery at Bien Hoa in 1967, later becoming the burial place for more than 18,300 South Vietnamese soldiers. After April 30, 1975, the People’s Army of Vietnam took control of the cemetery, and it became a military-restricted area for the next 31 years. Families, relatives, and friends were prohibited from visiting their deceased or caring for the graves. It was abandoned without any proper maintenance.
In 2006, the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam made a national-level decree to shift the cemetery to civilian control under the authority of Binh Duong province. This decision opened the cemetery to public access without clear and responsive policy guidance, which caused uncertain feelings for the cemetery’s future, and people began to exhume about 2,000 remains of their deceased. The situation continued to deteriorate.
What Has Been Done: Since 2013, individuals and non-profit organizations have been tirelessly doing all they can to preserve the dignity of a cemetery. The Vietnamese American Foundation (VAF), along with other organizations in the United States, as well as from Australia, France, Germany, and volunteers in Vietnam, have done what would be the best approach they could in the most challenging political climate and restrictive working environment.
Even after restoring all the graves, mowing grass, cleaning up the general areas, and cutting unwanted trees, the overall condition of the cemetery remains depressing because of lacking a dedicated and collaborative schedule for much-needed routine maintenance.
As for IHWB, just one year after its founding, its members and friends actively contributed to maintaining 1,600 graves. At the same time, it raised much-needed attention to the U.S. government officials on preserving the cemetery, aiming to give additional comfort to the deceased’s families.
What Next: Today, this cemetery is the sacred ground of many American citizens’ sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and grandfathers. Their ultimate sacrifices are always remembered.
We recognize it is a politically sensitive issue for the host nation and have approached it as an international matter. Our effort continues to reach out to the U.S. government and the governments of other countries where there are citizens of Vietnamese descent to promote a more robust approach on the diplomatic front.
Meanwhile, IHWB collaborates with all concerned to bring the best possible resources available to work on restoring and upkeep this cemetery and healing the emotional wound of war. The collective effort is to conform to and respect Vietnamese rituals and traditions.
While the effort of cleaning up mildew for each grave is annually at best, penetrating tree roots and poor drainage systems are leading causes of destroying graves at an alarming rate. In addition, fast-growing wild grass adds to the already depressing climate echoing through the voice of heartbreaking visitors.
Let’s work together to show proper respect to the deceased, promoting humanitarian ideals! Please join us at our upcoming team events.