About 15 years ago I worked with a talented team of people that helped bring the world’s attention to the diaries of a Vietnamese doctor killed in battle in 1970. An American G.I. recovered the young woman’s diaries, which spoke of war-weary sadness and longing for her family, from a battlefield and decades later donated them to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University.
I vividly remember the day Dr. Dang Thuy Tram’s family visited the university to view her diaries. I watched as her mother clutched the small book to her chest and wept.
On Oct. 6, Doan Ngoc Tram entered a room in the Vietnam Archive, then fell to her knees and sobbed at the sight of her daughter’s diaries, which sat elegantly at a table beside a picture of a smiling Dang Thuy Tram. The elderly mother clutched the handmade books to her chest and wept as her daughters held her. It was the closest she had come to hugging her late daughter in almost 40 years.
For at least an hour she sat and held the diaries to her body, running her aged and delicate fingers across its pages and binding. She hugged her daughters and walked around the room viewing pictures of Dang Thuy Tram, whose absence was achingly felt and obvious to the 40 or so spectators present.
“I thought it was her. I wanted to hold her but I couldn’t,” she says through an interpreter. “It was like she was there with me when I held the diaries for the very first time.”