HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (NNS) -- After completing an historic port visit to Vietnam Nov. 22, the guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) departed with a successful diplomatic achievement in its logbook.
The major event in U.S. and Vietnam relations marked the first time a U.S. Navy ship has visited the country in 30 years.
While in port, the ship hosted hundreds of Vietnamese military, political and foreign business leaders, as well as international diplomatic corps officials for tours and an evening reception.
Ambassador Raymond F. Burghardt accompanied the ship for a four-hour transit from Vung Tao at the entrance of the Saigon River to downtown, and remained aboard for a media availability with Cmdr. Richard Rogers, Vandegrift's commanding officer. International media coverage, including a live CNN broadcast, gave the world a positive glimpse of the Navy's continuing diplomatic role in Vietnam.
Rogers, a Moscow, Idaho native, remarked that he was deeply honored to command the first ship to visit Vietnam in 30 years.
"Our Vietnamese hosts welcomed us with superb hospitality. Our visit marked an important step in continuing the normalization of relations between our two countries," he said.
The crew had the opportunity to visit a location that very few of their countrymen have seen.
"It was an amazing visit," said Seaman Thomas Dorsett, of Council Bluffs, Iowa. "I never thought I would have the chance to see Vietnam, as my father served there during the war as an Army mechanic. He was proud of me, and it meant a lot for me and all of my family that I was part of this historic event," he told CNN.
During the port visit, the crew participated in a volleyball tournament with the Vietnamese Navy Technical School, and also lent a hand in three separate community relations projects around the city.
Dozens of enthusiastic volunteers dug a foundation for a new kindergarten in Can Gio, a rural district outside Ho Chi Minh City, while others helped paint a small school. More Sailors helped donate three pallets of toys, sewing machines and medical supplies to an orphanage of 300 children through Project Handclasp.
"I'm happy to see them here," said 14-year-old Mai Thi Kim Loan, as she was presented with a white Frisbee, noting that she had never seen such a toy before.
Deputy director Thi Kim Thoa also was enthusiastic with the goodwill visit.
"Before 1975, if they came here, the Vietnamese people would be very scared," Thoa said. "This time they come to promote good. You can see the American [Sailors] love the kids. Hopefully, after this visit, relations between the two countries will be built on a more solid foundation."
Ship's Serviceman 3rd Class Michael Linnell, 25, of McLane, Miss., said he always volunteers to participate in community relations projects wherever the ship goes.
"You want to come and give," Linnell said. "We did this in Singapore, and they wanted us to play in the sand box."
Even those that remember the war were glad to see U.S. Navy Sailors back in Vietnam.
"I think this is a good sign to promote the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S.," said Lt. Col. Nguyen Quang Bieu of the Ministry of Defense.
Burghardt echoed Bieu's optimistic view. "The visit is part of both countries' efforts to promote mutual understanding and to put to rest the suspicions lingering from the conflict between our two countries in the past," he said. "This visit shows that old adversaries can become friends."
The visit came just one week after Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra visited the Pentagon and met with the U.S. Secretary of Defense to discuss a broad range of bilateral and international security issues.
Vandegrift is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet and has a complement of approximately 200 Sailors.
For more information about the US 7th Fleet, visit www.c7f.navy.mil.