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A message of peace blooms in a garden of bombs

By Hoang Tao   August 24, 2022 | 11:00 pm PT
A message of peace blooms in a garden of bombs
Students visit the garden of bombs of Tran Van Quan (L) in Quang Ninh Province, northern Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao
A ex-navy mechanic who lost his grandfather to a bomb has opened a garden of bombs to remind current and future generations about the horrors of war.

The 1,000-square-meter garden in Quang Ninh Province's Ham Ninh Commune in northern Vietnam is the work of 50-year-old Tran Van Quan. It showcases a collection of ammunition shells and other war relics.

Quan is not the first collector of war relics in central Vietnam, but he is the first one to open a "personal museum" to exhibit his collection to veterans, students and tourists for free, starting this April.

The former navy mechanic goes to great lengths to authenticate his collection.

For instance, he recently got an item from the sea off Quang Binh Province in central Vietnam, more than 600 km away. A fisherman who'd found it sold it to scrap collectors and it went through several people before ending up in Quan's hands.

It took Quan two months to research the object, cut it open and clean up the parts before reassembling it. He then attached it to a bomb shell so visitors can get a realistic feel about what it looks like and how it works.

Tran Van Quan stands next to a bomb attached to a plane part to drop it in his garden in Quang Ninh. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao

At his garden in Quang Ninh Province, Tran Van Quan stands next to a bomb attached to a plane part used to drop it. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao

When students, teachers and others visit the "museum," Quan walks them through his entire garden, introducing each artifact in detail.

The collection amounts to around 300 relics, including 70 types of bombs, even giant ones like Mk82 or Mk84. The bombs are placed next to flower beds and vegetable patches in a re-enactment of how people lived and worked in wartime.

Quan worked as a ship mechanic for the navy from 1995 to 2001. After being discharged, he traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to make a living and returned to his hometown in 2018. It was then did he come up with the idea to create a museum of war relics.

From 1968 to 1972, his commune Ham Ninh was bombed heavily because it was a strategically important point for supplies. His grandfather was killed in his own home by a bomb in 1972.

When he decided to create his garden of bomb shells, many of his loved ones opposed the plan, saying it would bring back too many painful memories. But Quan explained that the garden would be a reminder of the atrocity of war, and a warning for future generations to never repeat it.

"I want to send a message for people to remember our fallen soldiers and veterans who have participated in our war for freedom; and for generations of students to get connected to their own history," he said.

Since 2018, Quan has been traveling from Phu Yen to Nghe An in central Vietnam to buy relics of war. At every location, he would leave behind his phone number so scrap collectors could call him whenever they find something of interest. He has also gone to mountains and forests of Quang Tri and Quang Binh, major former battlefields, asking locals to help him collect more bomb shells.

Two years of Covid-19 restrictions allowed him to collect the most relics, thanks to all the free time available to make calls and buy things. Quan said he has spent over VND500 million ($21,300) on his collection so far.

Nguyen Van Phuong, deputy chairman of the Ham Ninh Commune People’s Committee, said the garden has helped visitors visualize the wartime era and understand the struggles and sacrifices made by people for the country’s freedom.

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