American veterans for more than half a century kept the notebooks of Vietnamese soldiers

Peter Mathews kept a notebook of a Vietnamese soldier from 1967 and tried to find the soldier’s relatives to return the memento.

“I found the 93-page notebook of a Vietnamese soldier in the battle at Hill 724, Dak To in November 1967. Now I really want to find this soldier’s relatives to return,” Peter Mathews, 77-year-old American veteran living in New Jersey, announced in late January on his social media account.

In an interview with newspaper reporter Megan Burrow, North Jersey, Mathews said he has kept the notebook carefully for the past 56 years, although he does not know who its owner is. He only knew that inside the notebook were the notes of a soldier named Cao Xuan Tuat, born in Ky Anh, Ha Tinh.

He set up a website with the desire to find contacts and return to Vietnam and find the owner of the words and illustrations that impressed him, or at least hand over the relics. this for the person’s next of kin. The journey to find the owner of the notebook was also a way for Mathews to truly face the scars left by the war, and to close his concerns over the years about a tumultuous period of his life.

“My dream is to find the old soldier, go to the place and give him back the notebook. I want to close my past. When I have reached this age, I think it’s time to do that. “, he said in the interview.

Peter Mathews was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the US in 1963. He enlisted for military service in 1966, a few months before his green card deadline, and then deployed to the Vietnam battlefield. . He was trained as a machine gunner, then a few months later became the commander of a detachment specializing in supporting units on the front lines.

Mathews participated in the campaign in Dak To, Central Highlands in 1967, when the fighting was very intense, according to Michael Rockland, a professor of American studies at Rutgers University, who has studied the war for many years. America conducted in Vietnam.

Cao Xuan Tuat's diary has been kept by Peter Mathews for more than half a century.  Photo: North Jersey.

The notebook of a soldier named Cao Xuan Tuat has been kept by Peter Mathews for more than half a century. Photo: North Jersey.

He found the notebook after a battle that lasted about 4 days in November 1967, while searching a collection point for the Vietnamese soldiers at the foot of Hill 724. He said it was a notebook wrapped in plastic. carefully bag, stored in a backpack at the assembly point.

Inside the notebook are pages of extremely skillful drawings, along with notes in Vietnamese that he thinks are poems, music and narratives. He did not report the find to his superiors because he thought it was a diary and not a military document.

“At that time, I just thought this was a beautiful notebook. I was impressed with the detail and taste of the owner of the notebook. I should have turned in this document, but I couldn’t get away from it. The notebook doesn’t look like a military document or a secret document. I didn’t even tell anyone about it,” he said.

Mathews put the notebook in his pocket, kept it with him until the end of his service in December 1967 and returned to the United States. A few months later, he was naturalized in the United States.

The Dutch-born man tries to put aside the war past, return to a peaceful life, get married, have children and open a small construction company. The notebook he picked up from the battlefield was kept in a box in the attic of his small house in Bergenfield, New Jersey.

Mathews never forgot the special notebook of the Vietnamese soldier. He often brought out the notebook, telling stories about it to his loved ones, though he rarely really opened up about his war memories. His children often advised him to open up more about his days in Vietnam, a war he considered “pointless”.

“The crazy thing was we killed each other on that hill, then we all left… It was all pointless,” Mathews recounted his thoughts as he boarded a helicopter to leave Hill 724 in November 1967. .

Peter Mathews, 77 years old, an American veteran who fought in Vietnam from 1966-1967.  Photo: North Jersey.

Peter Mathews holds in his hand the notebook of a Vietnamese soldier that he has kept for more than 56 years. Photo: North Jersey.

Curiosities about the notebook came to life in Mathews’ mind when he stumbled across the conical hat in a client’s office more than a year ago. He started a conversation, then learned that the guest had two adopted children of Vietnamese origin and had visited Vietnam several times. The visitor then offered to help him translate a few pages, unraveling some of the mysteries that had haunted him for more than half of his life.

After that meeting, Mathews began sharing some pages of the notebook on social media, hoping to find more information. He learned that a professor at Harvard wanted to learn more about the notebook. One collector even offered to buy the memorabilia for $1,200.

Andrew Pham, who translated the diary of martyr Dang Thuy Tram in the US and former war journalist Frances Fitzgerald, also suggested that he consider publishing the notebook.

Mathews has recently received more support in his quest to find the owner of the notebook. A Vietnamese American contacted Mathews through an acquaintance in Vietnam to find the relatives of soldier Cao Xuan Tuat.

Mr. Tran Nhat Tan, Chairman of the Fatherland Front Committee of Ha Tinh province, on February 1 told VnExpress that the unit is coordinating with local authorities to verify information to support veteran Mathews.

The authorities of Ky Anh district and Ky Anh town of Ha Tinh province also checked and determined that there was a martyr named Cao Van Tuat, similar to his name in the notebook that veteran Mathews mentioned.

On his website, Mr. Mathews said on February 1 that he had “successful after 56 years and 81 days”, when he found the two sisters of soldier Cao Xuan Tuat and posted photos of the two women chatting with Ha Tinh officials. as well as see the photo of the notebook. However, Mr. Tan said the verification process has not been completed.

“It is likely that martyr Cao Van Tuat is the one mentioned in the book, but there is still some information that specialized agencies need to verify more,” Mr. Tan said.

Mr. Tan added that Ha Tinh authorities are maintaining contact with Mr. Mathews and this veteran has provided a lot of relevant information to assist in finding the martyrs named in the book.

“If there are results, the authorities can invite Peter Mathews to Vietnam to return the memorabilia. This is to tighten solidarity, review the heroic historical tradition of the Vietnamese nation, and also an opportunity. to build the friendship between Vietnam and the US”, Mr. Tan said.

Mathews is also trying to raise support so that he can return to Vietnam, find his old soldier or relatives and return the notebook.

“I have tried to forget a lot of things about Vietnam and this journey will bring back many indescribable memories and emotions in me. This is also a good thing for me, when at least I have begun to share,” he said. speak.

Thanh Danh – Duc Hung

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