Vietnamese soldier turns up alive after 40-years missing

Trinh Thi Hay (R) rubs her son's head at their home in Thanh Hoa Province. Photo by VnExpress/Le Hoang
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His family believed he had died in the war but he was actually stranded abroad for all that time.

For days, Trinh Thi Hay’s small house in Quang Xuong District, Thanh Hoa Province has been full of tears, joy and visitors.

“Nothing can compare to the happiness you feel after finding your lost child. I never thought I’d see him again after all these years,” Hay said.

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The 82-year-old woman was talking about her son, Nguyen Van Ke, 58.

Hay is a mother of seven, and Ke is her middle son.

In April 1978, Ke left home to join the army and traveled to the south of the country to fight in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, during which Vietnamese troops helped remove the Khmer Rouge from power in Cambodia.

The war finally ended in 1989, and Ke’s fellow soldiers returned to their homelands one after another, but there was no sign of him.

“My son left without a letter, even a message,” Hay recalled.

She and her husband waited patiently for Ke to return, but five years later, their hopes came to a painful end when a notice of Ke’s death arrived at their home: He had been recognized as a “missing martyr.”

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Nguyen Van Ke cleans a photo of his father on the family altar. Photo by VnExpress/Le Hoang

Swallowing the sorrow of losing a child, Hay lived on, carrying a dream of bringing home what was left of her son and giving him a proper funeral. That was also her husband’s last wish before he died, but her family could not afford the expense of searching for him.

Ke’s fate became painful to talk about, and for years the only memory of him was a photo placed behind a bowl of incense on the family’s altar alongside a martyr’s certificate from the authorities.

But, as they say: “Life is always full of surprises.”

In late September, photos and stories of Ke, alive and well in Thailand, appeared on Facebook.

A Vietnamese northerner who was visiting Thailand on business had met Ke and listened to the incredible story of how he had left his home in Thanh Hoa decades ago and become stuck in Thailand, all alone.

The man posted the story on Facebook to help Ke, and after being shared by many users, it reached Ke’s family a few days later.

With help from many people, the war veteran returned home early this month to the joyful tears of his family and neighbors.

Vietnam is among Facebook’s top 10 countries by users. The country now boasts more than 52 million active accounts to advertisers, Reuters has reported, citing social media agencies We Are Social and Hootsuite.

Sitting in his home, Ke tells of how he contracted malaria on the battlefield and was sent to a medical camp. According to him, the Khmer Rouge attacked his unit while he was still undergoing treatment. He and his comrades were captured and taken to Cambodia, but he managed to escape.

With nothing but the clothes on his back, Ke drifted from Cambodia to Thailand, homeless, nameless and jobless.

He survived by collecting scraps and selling them for money.

“I slept under a bridge and rarely had a full meal. I wanted to go home but there was no way out. My life was separated from the outside world,” Ke said.

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Nguyen Van Ke is finally home. Photo by VnExpress/Le Hoang

Now he’s back in the arms of his loved ones, and has almost lost his voice from retelling his adventures to the hordes of visitors who have been visiting him.

“Many people ask me if I remember who they are but I can’t. They have changed so much over that many years. They have to recall old stories so that I remember them,” he said.

For Hay, whether Ke can remember the events and people of 40 years ago does not matter. She has removed his photo from the altar and returned the certificate to the authorities.

Her son has returned from the dead. “That’s all I care about,” she said. -VNExpress


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