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Gen. Martin Dempsey, left, and Gen. Do Ba Ty, the chief of General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army. / epa

HANOI - When the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military met with his Vietnamese counterpart here Thursday, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey's motorcade passed a used-car lot's worth of captured American military hardware.

Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also was chauffeured past the infamous Hanoi Hilton, the prison where U.S. prisoners of war, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were abused.

If Dempsey noticed these end zone dances, he didn't show it. And maybe that's because the Vietnamese seem to pay about as much attention to them as he did. They are relics of a bygone era, falling from fashion as the economy roars to life here and newer generations consider the war a textbook lesson, not living history.

"It needs to come up at every conversation," Dempsey said in an interview. "But it doesn't dominate."

Indeed, the ongoing thaw in relations between the two formerly warring countries explains that in part. Watching Dempsey and his counterpart, Gen. Do Ba Ty, the chief of General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army, listen while the People's Army band played the national anthems of each country, you forget for a moment that they were on opposite sides of the war that claimed 58,000 American lives and multiples more on the Vietnamese side.

The old soldiers seem far more interested in teaming up to deal with China than fighting the war before the last war for both countries.

The crowd late Thursday at the Vietnam Military History Museum, at 28A Dien Bien Phu Road, reflected its receding hold on the public's imagination. About half the two dozen visitors were Westerners. The rest were mostly older Vietnamese. They milled about captured, weathered trophies, including the mashed-up wreckage of a F-111A fighter jet purportedly shot down over Hanoi. It's propaganda posing as sculpture.

A good number of the helicopters and warplanes on display were captured from South Vietnamese forces when that country fell in 1975.

Inside the exhibit halls, periods of war and struggle (much against the Chinese) are memorialized with faded uniforms and plain tools like hammers used as weapons.

Even less stirring, and trailing in popularity, is the bomb shelter exhibit at the Metropole Hotel. The inn is a favorite for visiting American dignitaries. What they'd find, if they ventured beneath the Bamboo Bar, is a warren of damp concrete rooms. Think bad basement with drainage issues. They'd find photos of two Americans who took shelter there during the war, Jane Fonda and Joan Baez.

They'd also find the hotel does not refer to the conflict as the Vietnam War. Instead, they call it the American War.

Whatever you call it, the war is a distant memory, and not even that for many Vietnamese who were born long after it ended.

Follow @tvandenbrook on Twitter.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Memory of Vietnam War fading fast in Hanoi

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