|From fighter plane to flower pot: Nguyen Van Dong displays one of his flower vases made from fragments of aeroplanes. — File Photo
by Duc Loi
A war veteran in the northern province of Vinh Phuc has dedicated his life to collecting war memorabilia.
Nguyen Van Dong, 70, of the provincial Vinh Tuong District's Ly Nhan Commune, has amassed a collection of more than 200 items so far.
As a member of Sai Gon Special Task Force (of liberation army), the then 26-year- old co-operated with regular troops in the Mekong Delta's Long An Province to resist enemy mopping-up operations.
"I was seriously wounded while fighting against an American mopping-up operations in 1971. Later, I was demobilised. Returning to my hometown, I lost a good deal of my ability to work," Dong said.
But despite his injury, he felt lucky to have survived and be reunited with his family. During the war, the line between death and life felt very fragile, he said.
When he returned to his hometown, he started to collect soldiers' personal items. Gradually, he enriched his collection with water bottles, hats, battle gear, oil lamps and other daily utensils made from fragments of airplanes and shells.
"I treasure all the items because they remind me of my comrades-in-arms. Preserving the items is also a way to express my gratitude to war martyrs," Dong said.
If the war veteran hears that somebody has soldiers' items, he instantly visits their house to convince them to donate them.
Dong said a military sketch of four provinces in the southwestern region had been given to him by Nguyen Van Muong of Yen Lac District.
"The sketch was transferred to our army by an American war veteran. Thanks to the sketch, in 2009, our army found the remains of as many as 145 martyrs who fell in battles in the area. Muong's battalion was garrisoned near there, so he kept the sketch as to remind him where he lived and fought," Dong said.
However, sometimes the collector meets resistance from other veterans.
"A few years ago, I visited a war veteran's house in Lap Thach District to convince him to give me his padded waistcoat. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I only received rejection. The owner wanted to bequeath it to his descendants in the post-war generations to remind them of the horrors of war," Dong said.
The war veteran spent the small monthly he received to purchase the items. Sometimes owners like Muong were moved by Dong's dedication and commitment to collecting war memorabilia and gave them to him for free.
To Dong, each item is invaluable and has its own significance in the brave history of the nation.
"In my collection, there is a flower vase made from fragments of an aircraft that were shot down. The vase is engraved with a picture of a militiawoman aiming her gun at the enemy and the slogan "Quyet tu cho to quoc quyet sinh" (we would die for the homeland's independence). It shows the great moral strength of the Vietnamese struggle for independence and freedom," Dong said.
He hopes the memorabilia will help young generations visualise wars that to them are merely stories in books and newspapers.
"I will co-operate with primary and secondary schools in the commune so students can see items their forefathers used in wars against France and the US with their own eyes," Dong said. — VNS