Niskayuna veteran Paul Donahue, who served in the United States Army in Vietnam during the late 1960s, felt the time had come to make amends.
As a member of the national organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Donahue recently helped raise funds to build a library and computer lab for middle school-aged students in the Pho Vinh School in Duc Pho, Quang Ngai province, near the coastline of the South China Sea.
The brightly colored two-story building was constructed last year and has large rooms for computer stations. The walls are lined with bookshelves and a plaque installed at the dedication reads, “May It Inspire the Hopes and Dreams of All Who Enter These Doors.”
For Donahue, and the thousands of other veterans involved in the project, the building is a way to make amends.
“For many Vietnam veterans, the passing of time and the maturity of age may bring a feeling of regret,” Donahue wrote in a recent Letter to the Editor that ran in The Gazette.
“The realization that the war was wrong leads to a desire to somehow make amends. Some vets organized quickly; others of that era have spent 50 years trying to come to grips through telling their stories and expressing their beliefs. Those reflections can be heavy with regret and regret always looks for understanding. Now there is something concrete to illustrate how we feel, and I do mean concrete.”
Donahue served not too far away from where the library is located, which is part of the reason he felt compelled to get involved in fundraising for it in recent years. However, for a long time after he was discharged following two years of service, thoughts of his experiences in the war remained dormant. After leaving the service, he got a job at General Electric, working on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy at the Research Center. He worked there for four decades before retiring 13 years ago. That’s around the time thoughts about the war resurfaced.
“The whole time I worked at GE, I didn’t give it too much thought, and then on retirement, all these things show up again,” Donahue said. “When you’re all kids . . . you’re not feeling guilty about doing anything, for the most part, or [thinking about] what your little contribution led to because you’re . . . just waiting to get out. But it does come to the surface as the years go by.”
Since retiring, he’s been more active in local peaceful protests and in efforts like the library project with VVAW, which he’s been a member of for 15 years.
To build the library, VVAW paired up with The Library Project, a nonprofit organization that works to put up libraries in rural communities in Vietnam and other countries. VVAW has previously co-sponsored a library at Kean Village in Laos’ Savannakhet province and raised funds for a computer lab in an existing library in Vietnam.
In 2019, thanks to a large anonymous bequest, VVAW got its start raising money to build a library that would be entirely funded by the organization.
“With that in hand, we were able to fundraise the rest of what was needed and the project was set to begin in 2019,” said Jeff Machota, a member of the VVAW national staff.
Much of the additional fundraising was done through a GoFundMe campaign. While there were setbacks with the originally planned site and because of COVID-19, construction on the Pho Vinh School library was completed late last year. After the library was constructed, VVAW also provided funding for a computer lab and the organization is looking for additional ways to support the school and library.
Donahue has not been able to travel to see the library, however, he is still involved in raising additional funds for the students there.
“The whole point of [this] is to give back to the children of Vietnam, something we think they deserve,” Donahue said.