By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, June 2, 2012 - During his trip to Vietnam tomorrow, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will become the most senior U.S. official to visit the former U.S. naval base at Cam Ranh Bay since the Vietnam War ended, senior defense officials said here today.
It's been 17 years since the United States and Vietnam normalized relations following the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. The secretary's visit to the country is a measure of the progress the two countries have made since then, said a senior defense official speaking on background.
For the overall visit to Vietnam, the secretary is looking to discuss military-to-military relations, the issue of maritime cooperation and the continued cooperation between the nations to resolve the fates of Americans missing in action during the war.
"This is a very significant visit in our estimation," said a senior defense official. "We are making significant progress in our military relationship with Vietnam. They've expressed a desire to engage more with the United States and this visit is a chance to take additional steps in that direction."
The secretary will visit the USNS Richard E. Byrd docked in the harbor. The ship is a Military Sealift Command dry cargo ship crewed by civilian mariners. U.S. Navy warships have not used the Cam Ranh Bay facility, although American frigates have visited other Vietnamese ports.
Cam Ranh Bay was a large American facility during the war in Vietnam. There was a large port and an Air Force base there, along with a huge Army logistical presence.
Leon E. Panetta
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Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans