by Michael Castellon
This article originally appeared in the October 2005 edition of the Texas Tech Today newsletter.
As a surgeon, Dang Thuy Tram knew that some wounds heal slowly, and that some never heal at all. Thirty-five years after her death, The Texas Tech Vietnam Center is helping heal her family’s wounds, and mend the broken hearts of two nations saddened by war.
Doan Ngoc Tram left her home in Hanoi with her three surviving daughters the first week of October and boarded a 31-hour flight to Lubbock. Her pilgrimage to West Texas was almost 35-years in the making.
Her eldest daughter, Dang Thuy Tram, a North Vietnamese surgeon, was killed during a battle in northern South Vietnam in 1970. She was 27 years old.
On Oct. 6, 81-year-old Doan Ngoc Tram entered a room in the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech and 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. She clutched her daughter’s diaries to her chest and wept as her daughters held her. It was the closest she had come to hugging her daughter in almost 40 years.
“I thought it was her, I wanted to hold her but I couldn’t,” she said through an interpreter.
Dang Thuy Tram’s diaries have captured the hearts of an international audience and became a bestselling book. Almost 350,000 copies have been sold since being published.
“It is a very holy story,” Dang Thuy Tram’s sister, Dang Hien Tram, said while holding back tears. “This is my sister’s spirit, my sister’s soul.”
The story of how Tram’s diaries found their way to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech began on a battlefield in 1970.
The diaries were first discovered by Fred Whitehurst, an American G.I, whose job it was to comb battlefields in search of documents that might be of value to military intelligence.
His Vietnamese translator advised Whitehurst that Tram’s memoirs were very special, and that they should not be destroyed alongside piles of other documents that had been deemed of no value to military intelligence.
Whitehurst spent the next 35 years trying to locate members of Tram’s family. Last March, Whitehurst turned Tram’s writing’s over to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech. Officials there located Tram’s family within a few months, and extended to them an invitation to see the diaries in person.
Tram’s diaries offer a rare and dramatic look into the life of a young woman serving her country.
In an entry dated 1968, she writes:
“My dear parents, the daughter that you have loved since she was small has not stopped living, but has a very practical life with many aspects: love, hatred, faith, and sadness. It’s a life filled with blood, tears, sweat, and also victory despite the thousands and thousands of hardships. Do you believe that I can get through this?”
“Please come to me and hold my hand when I am so lonely, love me and give me strength to travel all the hard sections of the road ahead,” she writes in her last entry, dated days before her death.
Tram’s mother says it was a habit of every member of her family to keep personal diaries.
“When we opened the box the diaries were in we recognized Dr. Tram’s handwriting right away,” she said. “We knew the diaries existed, but we didn’t know where. We couldn’t have imagined we would have gotten them back after all this time. We thought they were gone forever.”
Inviting the family to Texas Tech to hold and view the diaries is a symbol of goodwill between the United States and Vietnam, said James Reckner, director of the Vietnam Center. It also serves to heal some of the wounds suffered by those after the war.
“We hope that this occasion would bring us closer together,” he said.