Dear names on the Wall:
My name is Phung Le Ly Hayslip, I am Vietnamese-American and have lived in San Diego for the last 47 years, but have twice visited your wall. When I walk along it and touch your names I feel your love, compassion and forgiveness towards me. My family and village fought against you, cost you your life. Perhaps we met, fell in love and shed tears together in the city of Da Nang before you fell on our soil. I don’t know what your face looks like nor the color of your skin, but I hope you did not suffer too much. I’m sure you shed tears for your loved ones, cursed the chaos of war. Your blood ran red just like that of more than 3 million Vietnamese. I would like to share with you the loss and suffering on the Vietnamese side as well. No one won or lost, but many suffered.
My family lost a son, and I lost a beloved brother also. His name was Phung Van Ban. We called him “Sau Ban”, only 24 years old when he was sacrificed in 1968 near our home. Perhaps you two fought and died on the same ground in Truong Son Mountains, Quang Nam province, where we came from. Our family and I still miss him very much. Like you, he served his country and died all alone without a family member there. For him, it was a heroic war for our motherland. To us he is a hero as are your fallen sons. But we heal and move on.
On Nov. 11th each year I am moved to see America’s leaders salute and lay flowers at the Arlington National Cemetery, a solemn ceremony repeated in cities across America. People recognize and honor each of you at the wall or at your graveside and pay respects to all soldiers who served in all wars, but the most painful war is still Vietnam. Our little country caused so much pain to all of you on this wall, and brought so much shame and anguish to America. To help heal the wounds from the past, our taxpayers and government spend hundreds of millions of dollars looking for some of your remains listed as MIA. Today, both countries still are trying to understand and make sense of our losses by working together and continuing to heal the war wounds in Vietnam.
At this wall, each soldier is recognized and valued. Too many, though, just disappeared. My brother, Sau Ban, was hit and wounded badly one morning of Dec. back in 1968. His unit could not carry him to the health station up in the mountain but waited until nightfall when help came too late. There was no soft earth in the mountains for his grave. His comrades left him in a tiny creek, covering him up with leaves and rocks deep in the jungles on top of the tall, cold, isolated mountains all alone. Even long after the war ended in 1975, no one knew where my brother was killed and buried or how he died.
For the Vietnamese, there is no such smooth, shiny, black and beautiful wall for people to come and touch, or write letters to. There is not enough room in the country to build such a wall for those who fought and died through so many years of war. Since your coffins have been brought back from a war far from home, family and friends were there to greet you, perhaps many have asked how and why you died in Vietnam?
Many of us, Vietnamese and American alike, never could fully answer that question. The best we could do was to honor the dead. I returned to visit our homeland in 1986, My mother was with me and really missed my brother badly and wanted to look for him. Not until 1992, through many days of hard work from a local medium, we found Sau Ban’s remain in a little creek and brought him back to our village in Hoa Qui Ward, Hoa Hai District, Danang City for burial in a military cemetery next to our home.
Our mother insisted that we must build him a spirit house on our parents’ land, where he was born, so he could be home with us. That made our mother very happy. In 2006 she passed at the age of 102 to be with my brother, Sau Ban, and our father in the spirit word.
Here we honor those who fell in Vietnam, but let us not forget those who fell later, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and on battlefields unknown. We are all made family in sorrow.
I am your friend with deepest gratitude to all of you and to all Vietnamese who were born, who fought, and who died for their countries. We may have stood on opposite sides of the battlefield in war, but today we are joined in mourning for these who fell and in hopes for future peace and friendship.
America experienced a civil war like Vietnam. Abraham Lincoln spoke these words over the fallen dead at Gettysburg:
It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
San Diego, Feb. 2017
Phung Le Ly Hayslip
Author / Peacemaker / Philanthropist