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Search for fallen comrades a labour of love

Update: December, 25/2012 - 18:26
Doing the rounds: Xiem stops to check out a grave site (top) and passes on remains of martyr Duong Van Kiem to his family.
 

A man who volunteered at age 17 to join the army, and ended up fighting in the Central Highlands and later in the South, is now spending his retirement trying to find the bodies and grave sites of soldiers who were killed in the American War. Chi Hieu reports

At the age of 65, when many others have relaxed into old age, Nguyen Cao Xiem can still be found driving his motorbike to war martyrs' cemeteries and regional military authorities. By seeking out the names and addresses of his fallen comrades, the former soldier hopes to locate their remains and return them to their families.

Xiem grew up in An Chau Commune, Dong Hung District in the northern province of Thai Binh. He has now retired in the southern city of Can Tho.

In 1965, when he was only 17 years old, Xiem volunteered to join the army. He fought in the Central Highlands and then the South.

During his twenty-five years in the army, he experienced numerous violent battles. Twice, he came within an inch of being shot by enemy fire. When he retired in 1990, he wanted to search for his missing comrades in the Southern battles.

However, his family was poor and his children were small, so he could not fulfill this desire until 2005.

"Looking at the list of the martyrs, I realised that they died when they were only 19 or 20 years old. They were too young to die, but were nevertheless ready to sacrifice their lives for the country. So I determined to help them lie at rest in their hometowns," said Xiem.

So despite his old age, Xiem still travels to war cemeteries and former battlegrounds to seek information about his comrades.

He doesn't take much in the way of luggage: a book with martyrs' names and addresses, a camera and a motorbike. The most valuable item he carries is intangible - his love for his fellow soldiers.

"At first I went to regional military committees to find the names of my comrades who were born in Thai Binh Province and fought in Regiment 24," Xiem recalled.

Armed with a list, Xiem went to cemeteries to locate the graves of his comrades from Thai Binh Province, as well as central Thanh Hoa Province and the northern port city of Hai Phong.

"While looking for my comrades' graves, I started to get concerned about the martyrs from other provinces. How could they return to their hometown? So I decided to search for martyrs' graves across the country," said Xiem.

Over a period of 10 years, he went to regional military authorities in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta to ask for their lists of fallen soldiers. Then he traveled to war cemeteries throughout the Delta to photograph the graves of those on the lists. Afterwards, he created his own lists of martyrs, most of them from Thai Binh, Nam Dinh and Hai Phong.

He sent these lists to liaison officials of military units and sent letters to the martyrs' families to inform them of the location of the martyrs' graves.

Recently, after learning some IT lessons, Xiem started saving this information on his computer to avoid losing it.

So far, he has information concerning around 5,000 fallen soldiers.

Thanks to his guidance, hundreds of martyrs' families have found their relatives' graves and brought their remains home.

"The way to the southern province of Kien Giang's Hon Dat District was full of obstacles and it took more than a day to get there, but Xiem did not mind the obstacles. We are sincerely thankful to Xiem," said Pham Thi Dao, a relative of martyr Duong Van Kiem in Thai Binh.

 

Dedication: Xiem visits a war cemetery to search for fallen comrades. — VNS Photos Chi Hieu
 

Xiem used his own money to fund these trips, refusing financial help from martyrs' families and organisations. In fact, he even provided many families with financial assistance to travel to Can Tho City to search for the remains of their relatives.

"Searching for the martyrs' graves is not the responsibility of one individual, but the responsibility of all members of society. Whenever I can do anything, even if it's only small, I will try my best to do it," said Xiem.

Xiem said he has only one wish: to stay healthy enough to bring home all of his fallen comrades. — VNS

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