The Independence once called Dr. Dang Thuy Tram the ‘Anne Frank of Vietnam’ as the two of them left us with the precious diaries which depict their unrelenting youthful spirit against the backdrop of brutal crucible of war with ceaseless fury.
Dr. Dang Thuy Tram, a Vietnamese doctor from a prosperous family of doctors, volunteered to serve as a battlefield surgeon with the call of patriotism for North Vietnam during the Vietnam War right after she graduated from Hanoi Medical University at the age of 24 in 1967. Her location at this time was in Quang Ngai Province, the killing fields in central Vietnam, where she was in charge of training new health practitioners and treating badly wounded comrades who were severely injured by the continuous aerial bombardments.
Under such harsh and heart-wrenching condition, she started her diaries in April 1968 with her dedication to wear her heart on her sleeve about her “family and friends, the horrors of war, her yearning for her high school sweetheart, and her struggle to prove her loyalty to her country.” Her words are raw, lyrical and youthfully sentimental at the same time with her voice enabling cultures to speak of her dignity and compassion and of her challenges in the face of the war.
Frederic Whitehurst, the American officer, who discovered the diary soon after Dr. Tram’s death was under standing orders to destroy all documents without military value. As he was about to toss it into the flames, his Vietnamese translator said to him, “Don’t burn this one … It has fire in it already.” Against regulations, the officer preserved the diary and kept it for thirty-five years. Reminiscing about diary and Dr. Dang, Whitehurst said “She was my enemy but her words would break your heart.” Never before had there been such a vivid personal account of the long ordeal that had engraved in Vietnamese generations’ hearts during Vietnam War.
Only after 35 years after her death in 1970 were her diaries published in 2005. It was such a media phenomenon as it “has struck a chord with young people because it comes raw with human emotions.” Her stories are unbearably poignant to some of us but it is worth to note down and she deserves to be a role model for Vietnamese youth. After becoming an international phenomenon followed by numerous translations, thousands of sold-out copies, and a TV show the diary’s re-emergence truly sparked a patriotic nostalgia among young Vietnamese.
By Nguyen Thu Thao, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam