Just like Australians, Vietnamese families long to know the fate of their loved ones that were killed or who remain ‘missing in action’ (MIA). Throughout Vietnam there are approximately 300,000 Viet Cong (VC) or Peoples’ Army (PAVN) soldiers, men and women, who are MIA and for whom there is no known burial site. Here’s a chance to help a family know where their loved ones lie buried.
Australian and New Zealand veterans may have in their possession items that were ‘liberated’ from a body during the war. Items like this are a time-honoured tradition throughout the world and were also collected for their intelligence value. Things like photographs, diaries, letters, award certificates or other items can identify an individual by name. Sometimes items of equipment like torches or hammocks carried the name of the soldier who owned them. If you have this sort of material and you can recall some of the details of the contact – the approximate date or location of the contact, the number of enemy or own casualties, or other information – you might help to identify by name some of those Viet Cong or Peoples’ Army soldiers still missing in action. Or maybe you'd just like to return an item to the family of the soldier who once owned it..
In Vietnamese culture this is very important as many believe that the spirit of those whose fate is unknown, or who died violently, will wander forever unless the appropriate ceremony his held for them.
The photograph (right) was found on the body of a Vietnamese killed in action (KIA) by 3 Platoon W Company, 4 RAR/NZ (ANZAC) in a contact on 12 Aug 1968 in the Nui Dinh hills. We are now hoping to return it to his family.
A team of researchers at UNSW@ADFA consisting of Dr Bob Hall (Vietnam veteran – 8 RAR) [See his professional biography here ], Dr Andrew Ross, Dr Amy Griffin, Dr Spike Barlow and Mr Derrill de Heer Vietnam veteran – 8 RAR, Psyops and 4 RAR) have been working on a project to help the Vietnamese locate the remains of their MIA. They have compiled a database of about 3000 1 ATF contacts which resulted in one or more VC/PAVN soldiers being killed in action.
Australian Army policy was to inter the bodies of enemy soldiers at the site of the contact. The database contains the date, time and location of the contact and shows the number of VC/PAVN soldiers killed at each. The database records the approximate burial sites of a total of over 3700 VC/PAVN soldiers. The database, in hardcopy and CD form, was recently given to government agencies and veterans’ associations in Hanoi and Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. On 16 March the Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner, presented a copy of the data to the Vietnamese Deputy Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh.
This Australian Research Council-funded project aims to reciprocate the generous efforts of the Vietnamese government and people in helping Australia to find and repatriate the remains of its six servicemen missing in action from the war. The data is presented in the report in table form, as locations on war-era military maps and on Google Earth images. The Google Earth images help to locate the burial sites in relation to current land use.
The data was very enthusiastically received by the Vietnamese veterans’ community and by the Vung Tau Department of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs. However, the data simply identifies the location of contacts and shows the numbers killed. It cannot provide the names of those buried.
This Is Where You Can Help
If you have any material that identifies a VC/PAVN soldier by name and can remember roughly where you acquired it, the project team may be able to link it to a specific contact and thereby establish the name of some of those buried at the site.
If you think you can help, please complete the following form. This is not meant to be a memory test, but the more information you provide the greater the chance that we may be able to identify the incident and attach the name of a Viet Cong or Peoples’ Army soldier to it. Fill out the form to the best of your ability. Don’t worry if you can’t provide an answer to every question.
10 responses already, a couple have emailed named commendation certificates so we're off and running!