A Wandering Soul Returns Home
We continued on the Quy Nhon, where we had dinner on the beach before
catching the train just before midnight.
28 May 2008
Around 6:00 am we passed through the Hai Van Pass, between the mountains and the sea, quite scenic.
When we passed through Vinh, LTC Tien joined us with a case of beer, as she had promised. We had much time to converse with LTC Tien, and the Hoang family on the trip to Nam Dinh and Jessica conducted another interview with Wayne, me and the Hoang family, while on the train. I spent most of the time taking picture of the scenery passing by as we moved through the countryside.
We finally reached Nam Dinh at 7:00pm.
Duration of train ride around 19 hours.
We got off the train and had a small ceremony outside the station as we said goodbye to the Hoang family members, who would carry the remains to their home in a private vehicle and prepare for the funeral. We returned to the hotel by vehicle and Wayne and I did another audio interview for Jessica.
29 May 2008
We left Nam Dinh at around 5:00 am for the village of Thai Giang for the funeral of Hoŕng Ngọc Đảm. We got there around 6:00 am and Cat took us to meet with the People’s Committee.
There was an enormous tent in the courtyard, with hundreds of people gathered for the funeral. A military band was playing traditional Vietnamese music. After meeting with the People’s Committee, we were ushered into the tent and down front just to the right of the altar. We sat for about an hour and a half, watching family after family approach the altar paying their respects and lighting incense. One group of half a dozen veterans who had enlisted the same day as Dam approached and paid their respects. Finally we were asked to approach the altar and I helped place a large wreath we brought. We each took turns lighting incense and paying our respects.
I don't know about the others, but I couldn't see the tears were flowing so profusely.
Then we sat through several speeches about Dam. Finally I was asked to help the military honor guard carry the heavy concrete coffin to the funeral wagon,
where Wayne and I were asked to walk at the front of the honor detail who pulled the wagon.
As I looked back, we could see hundreds of people following the coffin to the cemetery, over a kilometer away.
We walked very slowly and the heat in the high nineties quickly dehydrated us. The military band played loudly all the way. I had not taken any fluids for several hours, and as I pulled the wagon along, I began to feel faint. I was just about to step out of line and take a rest and look for some water, when a Vietnamese veteran came up and offered me his hat to protect me from the sun. Our interpreter also showed up at the same time, with a bottle of water. Jessica was walking with the altar just in front of us, and I saw an elderly Vietnamese woman come up and hold an umbrella over Jessica to shield her from the heat. They seemed very conscious of us and took every opportunity to see to our needs.
The cemetery is in the middle of rice paddies. In the war heroes section of the cemetery, where Dam was laid to rest, only about 15 of the 180 or so bodies have been identified. The casket was lowered into the grave, and I was asked to throw in the first handful of earth. Quite an honor! It caught me quite off guard. The tears just flowed. What incredible people!
Then Wayne, followed by the Hoang family members.
After the funeral had broken up, the Vietnam TV crew did a quick interview at the cemetery, and we all returned to the Hoang family home, where they had a set out a feast for the whole village. The mood shifted from somber to happy and relieved. There was much conversation, especially with the niece, who had been to distraught up to this point. She seemed to make a special effort to get to know me. She was very disappointed that I did not have a photo of my Mom. She made me promise to send her a picture of the American Mom, who had protected Dam's documents for so long. After lunch, I met with the veterans who had enlisted with Dam and we had a good time sipping wine and talking about the war. It turned out that at least three of them fought in the same area I did. We are pretty certain that we walked the same trails and ridges.
We finally said our goodbyes to the Hoang family, everyone of them making a special effort to invite me back soon and thanking me for my efforts to bring Dam's spirit back home. The niece kept thanking me and holding my hand. Tears kept choking my voice. I felt so close to these Vietnamese farmers. My own childhood farming days allowed me to bond with them easily. Finally we left for our hotel in Nam Dinh, then drove back to Hanoi.
At the hotel Wayne, Jessica, a writer friend of Wayne’s and our interpreter Quan had supper together. I cannot express my gratitude to Quan for the wonderful job he did interpretation for us. He knew not only how to listen and not break the speaker's line of thought, but was very gifted in taking the literal translation and putting it into proper English context, so that the mood and thoughts were properly conveyed to us. He is quite quick minded and very tactful. I think meeting him and getting to know him is one of the highlights of the trip.
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