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Vietnamese man writes 18,000 letters to help families find graves of fallen soldiers

Thursday, August 01, 2019, 15:00 GMT+7
Vietnamese man writes 18,000 letters to help families find graves of fallen soldiers
Nguyen Tien Xuan is seen with some of his handwritten letters. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

An 81-year-old Hanoi resident has written more than 18,000 letters over the course of 12 years in order to help the families of Vietnam’s fallen soldiers locate the graves of their loved ones.

Nearly half a century since the American war in Vietnam came to an end, the remains of more than 300,000 soldiers who fell during the war have yet to be reunited with their families, who have spent decades searching for them, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

Nguyen Tien Xuan, a Hanoi resident whose eldest brother never returned from the battlefield, understands the sorrows faced by these families.

He also hopes that by helping them be reunited with the remains of their loved ones, they will finally find some peace.

12 years, 18,000 letters

Xuan started writing letters to the families of fallen soldiers in 2007 after discovering a program on Radio the Voice of Vietnamwhich shared information on the unclaimed remains of soldiers buried at cemeteries across the country.

While listening to each episode of the program, Xuan noted down all the information in order to send it to the affected families, knowing that “not all families who have members missing in the war are able to listen to such a meaningful radio program.”

Although the program is broadcast at different times each day, Xuan has never missed any episode.

The notebook Nguyen Tien Xuan uses to take notes of  information on the unclaimed remains of soldiers buried at cemeteries across Vietnam is seen in this picture. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

The notebook Nguyen Tien Xuan uses to take notes of information on the unclaimed remains of soldiers buried at cemeteries across Vietnam is seen in this picture. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

The old man has even developed his own shorthand methods for keeping up with the rapid flow of information broadcast in the show.  

“I abbreviate Nguyen to N and Tran to T,” Xuan said, explaining his simple but effective method of shortening two of Vietnam’s most popular family names.

After the show, Xuan rewrites the shorthand to include the full name of the soldier, his or her birth date and place of birth, the cemetery where he or she is buried, and his own phone number in case the family wants to contact him.

Once the letter is written, Xuan rides his bicycle six kilometers to the local post office where, thanks to support from the local war invalids and social affairs office, he is able to send it without paying for a postage stamp. 

Instead, the post office simply adds an ink stamp note translated into English as “Letter concerning fallen soldiers’ graves."

So far, the 81-year-old man has sent over 18,000 and helped 336 families locate the graves of their fallen family members’ graves.

Some of Nguyen Tien Xuan's handwritten letters are seen in this picture. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

Some of Nguyen Tien Xuan's handwritten letters are seen in this picture. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

Efforts honored

Dozens of the families Xuan has helped over the years have contacted him to express their appreciation for his work.

“The family of a fallen soldier, even if they have a huge fortune, is not able to just buy the remains of their father or their husband,” said Dang Thi Dung, a woman from the northern province of Thai Binh, who was able to find her father’s grave thanks to a letter from Xuan.

In addition to listening to the radio program, Xuan also enlists the help of his grandchildren, who search online for lists of fallen soldiers buried at cemeteries across the country so that he can write letters to the families.

In 2017, Xuan was honored with a certificate of merit from General Ngo Xuan Lich, Vietnam’s Minister of Defense, for his outstanding achievements in collecting and providing information on fallen soldiers and their grave sites so that families can be reunited with the remains of their loved ones.

Acertificate of merit from General Ngo Xuan Lich, Vietnam’s Minister of Defense, for Nguyen Tien Xuan's outstanding achievements in collecting and providing information on fallen soldiers and their grave sites is seen in this photo. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

A certificate of merit from General Ngo Xuan Lich, Vietnam’s Minister of Defense, recognizing Nguyen Tien Xuan's outstanding achievements in collecting and providing information on fallen soldiers and their grave sites is seen in this photo. Photo: Ha Thanh / Tuoi Tre

What the man has done appears to be simple and easy but it was really helpful, especially at a time when there was no official source for searching for information on war martyrs, their graves, and cemeteries a decade before.

Families looking to locate the remains of their loved ones, who perished while fighting in the war now can access the country’s database of fallen soldiers at http://thongtinlietsi.gov.vn/tra-cuu.

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