On the religion beat: Vietnam honors local priest for war protests

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2012 - 11:14 PM

To protest the Vietnam War, the Rev. Harry Bury chained himself to the gates of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

The dramatic event led to his arrest by Vietnamese authorities, and he was sent away from the country. Now, nearly 40 years later, the government of Vietnam wants to honor him for his anti-war efforts. Bury traveled to the country and received a citation making him an honorary citizen on Friday.

"I was surprised," said Bury, 82. "I felt humbled they would do it, that 40 years later to still think what I did was worthwhile."

After graduating from the seminary in St. Paul in 1955, Bury served as a parish priest before he began work as chaplain at the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota. It was at the Catholic student center in the late 1960s when Bury says he started to believe the Vietnam War was an unjust one.

"I got more and more convinced I couldn't just talk against it, I needed to put my body where my words were," he said in an interview before he left.

While working toward a doctorate degree in 1971, Bury traveled to Vietnam as part of a research paper he was writing: "I thought I'd go to Vietnam and ask people how they perceived the presence of American soldiers there." He found out many Vietnamese weren't happy with the situation.

The connections Bury made with social workers, professors and others he met led to his protest. Bury says he flew into Hanoi in 1972 with a group of peace activists and brought out three captured U.S. pilots.

Besides teaching at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio, Bury has also taught in several Asian countries. He keeps a residence in St. Paul, but doesn't spend much time there. He'll be in Asia until April, when he returns to the United States. While there, he wants to find translators for his new book, "An Invitation to Think and Feel Differently in the New Millennium." He says, "It's written to help people become more peaceful."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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