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In the audience, Ton Nu Thi Ninh, whose 20-year diplomatic career included
a post as Vietnam’s ambassador to the European Union, was aghast. On
February 25, 1969, Kerrey led an operation in the Mekong Delta village of
Thanh Phong, aiming to kill local Viet Cong leaders.

His Navy team reported they had killed 21 Viet Cong, which earned Kerrey a
Bronze Star; in fact, at least 20 women, children and elderly men lay dead
in the village. Not a single Viet Cong fighter was killed. The deaths were
unknown until 2001, when the *New York Times Magazine*
 and “60 Minutes II”
<https://www.cbsnews.com/news/memories-of-a-massacre-part-i/> published an
account of the events. At the time, some, including the Vietnamese
government, called for Kerrey to be charged with war crimes. He apologized,
and the outcry subsided, as American commentators, including then-Senator
John Kerry, largely concluded that Bob Kerrey himself was a victim of an
unjust war. As a high-level Vietnamese official, Ninh had met Kerrey before
and says she welcomed his involvement in education initiatives. But she was
shocked that he had accepted a top leadership position at a university
meant to symbolize newly warm ties between Vietnam and America.

“How can those closely involved in this choice be so insensitive?” Ninh
said in an interview in January. “We set the past aside and we move
forward. We want to make friends, but not everything goes.”

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