Speaking to reporters after writing in a book of condolences, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said McCain was “a great leader and real hero” who helped normalize relations between the former enemies.
“He was a warrior, he was also a peacemaker and of course he fought and suffered during the Vietnam War, but then later as a senator, he was one of the leaders who helped bring our countries back together and helped the United States and Vietnam normalize our relationship and now become partners and friends,” Kritenbrink said.
McCain and former Sen. Kerry played important roles in the normalization of bilateral relations in 1995.
The Vietnam News Agency said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan sent messages of condolence to McCain’s family and U.S. Senate leaders, while Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh paid respects to McCain at the embassy.
Pham Gia Minh, a 62-year-old businessman who signed the condolence book at the embassy, said he witnessed Vietnamese civilians being killed by the U.S bombings of North Vietnam, including the Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972, but he admired McCain for overcoming the difficult past to build better ties between the two countries.
“War is losses and suffering,” he told the AP. “But the will of a brave nation is to go beyond that to look to the future. The Vietnamese people have that will and Mr. John McCain has that will ... We both have that will to overcome the painful past, overcome the misunderstanding to together build a brighter future.”
Hoang Thi Hang, a Hanoi resident who also signed the condolence book, said he had great respect for McCain’s compassion. “He had compassion for everyone, whether they were rich or poor, whatever their background. And that is important in life.”
The U.S. Embassy announced it will launch a McCain/Kerry Fellowship in which a young Vietnamese leader committed to public service will be chosen each year to travel to the U.S. on a study tour to deepen ties between the two peoples.