Dr Sam Axelrad took them home as a reminder that when a badly injured North Vietnamese soldier was brought to him, he did the right thing and treated him. The bones sat in a cupboard for decades, and when he finally pulled them out two years ago, he wondered about their true owner, Nguyen Quang Hung.
The men were reunited at Hung’s home in central Vietnam. They met each other’s children, and grandchildren, and joked about which of them had been better looking back when war had made them enemies. Hung was stunned that someone had kept his bones for so long, but happy that when the time comes, they will be buried with him.
“I’m very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century,” he said. “I’m proud to have shed my blood for my country’s reunification, and I consider myself very lucky compared with many of my comrades who were killed or remain unaccounted for.” Hung (73), said American troops shot him in the arm in October 1966 during an ambush near An Khe, the town where henow lives.
After floating down a stream to escape a firefight and then sheltering in a rice warehouse for three days, the Viet Cong fighter was evacuated by a US helicopter to a no-frills military hospital in Phu Cat, in central Binh Dinh province. “When I was captured by the American forces, I was like a fish on a chopping-board,” he said. “They could have either killed or spared me.”
After surgery, he spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors. He spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the town, and later served in local government for a decade before retiring on his rice farm.
“He probably thought we were going to put him in some prisoner-of-war camp,” said Dr Axelrad, a now-retired civilian doctor. “Surely he was totally surprised when we just took care of him.”
3 mn The number of Vietnamese soldiers that lost their lives in the Vietnam war