Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?
During Dr. Bill Magee’s appearance at Imaging USA in New Orleans, he referred briefly to Operation Smile’s role in helping to repatriate the remains of U.S. POWs from Vietnam. Last fall this remarkable story was recounted in a 30-minute film, narrated by Craig T. Nelson, of “Coach” fame. It portrays the drama of the unlikely behind-the-scenes story that led up to Operation Smile’s 1989 mission to Vietnam and how it softened the hearts of former enemies and ultimately led to the normalization of between the U.S. and Vietnam. Here’s a summary of the film:
A Cure to War” uniquely weaves the stories of seven individuals, whose independent efforts would help to rebuild relations between Vietnam and the United States, recover the remains of soldiers lost in the Vietnam War, and bring smiles to tens of thousands of Vietnamese children and their families by providing access to free surgical healthcare.
In 1989, President Ronald Reagan and General John Vessey sent the largest group of Americans into Vietnam since the fall of Saigon in 1975. They weren’t soldiers, but surgeons. An Operation Smile team of 38 medical professionals – including seven Vietnam War combat veterans – were part of a MIA/POW initiative to return the remains of soldiers lost during the Vietnam War. During the medical mission, they worked with Vietnamese surgeons to provide free reconstructive surgery for more than 100 Vietnamese children who suffered from clefts.
Bridging stories from both present-day Vietnam and historical accounts leading up to Operation Smile’s historic 1989 medical mission, “A Cure to War” reveals the emotional and political roller coaster of how a children’s charity and its medical volunteers opened the doors to normalization when so many other efforts had failed.
Since that first 1989 mission, when surgical teams were limited to operating only when electricity was available for 2 hours per day, Operation Smile has touched the lives of 30,000 children in Vietnam. If you watch the film, you’ll see young Duy, the child whom PPA member Graham Wilson photographed on his mission to Vietnam in 2009. Graham’s images are posted on the PPA Charities website at this link.
This inspiring film reminds us, as narrator Craig T. Nelson states: “Today, the simple smile of every child and family helped is a reminder of how the hard work of a small group of people can overcome decades of war and isolation and how a smile can bridge cultures and make friends of former enemies.” It also provides one more reason why PPA Photographers can be proud of their support of Operation Smile.
You can view the film at www.acuretowar.com.