Killed in action, a Vietnamese soldier comes back alive

By Duc Hung    November 12, 2018 | 05:38 am PT
A Vietnamese soldier whose death certificate was issued in 1979 has just returned to his family from Cambodia.

Phan Van Binh cried uncontrollably at his own altar.

He had come back from the dead, almost 40 years after his relatives, including his parents, got his death certificate.

A lot of crying and laughing has been happening since early this month at the house of Pham Trung Hieu, 53, of Ky Son Commune, Ky Anh District, in the central province of Ha Tinh.

People have been flocking to the house to welcome and celebrate the return of Hieu’s dead uncle, Binh.

"I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t say anything. I just hugged him and cried. Over 50 years old now, I thought this union could only happen in dreams. I couldn’t believe it was real," Hieu said, recalling the moment that he met his uncle.

Binh recalls memories in his talks with relatives, friends and neighbors. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung 

Binh talks with relatives, friends and neighbors in Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

At 23, Binh, the youngest son in the family, joined the army. He promised he would finish his duty and come back soon to get married and take care of his parents.

At first, Binh was a member of the 18th Regiment, 325th Division, 2nd Corps stationed at the border in Ha Tien City, Kien Giang Province.

In December 1977, he was assigned to the 8th Infrantry Information Division, 9th Military Region stationed in Kamphong Thom Province of Cambodia.

"In the beginning of 1979, on the way to deliver information, I was ambushed and knocked out. I was saved and nursed back to health by foresters in Baray District, Kamphong Thom Province. I’d lost part of my memory and all of my personal papers. It was impossible to contact my family, teammates or units," Binh said.

On September 21, 1979, Binh’s family received his death certificate, stating that he was presumed dead based on loss of communication. Accepting their fate, the family built an altar for him.

In Cambodia, Binh started to regain his strength, slowly. He learnt to adapt to his new life, working on construction sites or farms to earn money. Early 2004, he married a Cambodian woman and had a daughter, now 10 years old.

"My wife and I lived in a hamlet. At the beginning, life was very difficult because the living standard was low, there was no electricity and we only had rain water. Many nights, I would tell my wife how much I wished to return home, and to see my family. But because I’d lost some memory and also because I didn’t know how, I couldn’t find my way back," Binh said.

Hieu said that when his grandparents were still alive, they would often ask people to find information about Binh, but there was none, and they were really sad.

Hieu continued their search and kept looking for his uncle for decades.

Hieu finally found some hope early last month when the director of a rubber plantation in Cambodia posted Binh’s information on Facebook, saying he was looking for his family.

"I called the number of the person who posted it. He said my uncle was working at the plantation. My family was so happy and we went to Cambodia right away to take him home.

"The day he joined the army, I was only 12, but I recognized him instantly. We just held each other tight and cried like babies."

Binh and one of his friends from old time. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung 

Binh with one of his friends from old times. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung 

The morning after, many neighors came to congratulate the family. Binh cried and laughed with happiness to see all of his childhood friends. He said it felt like he was reborn.

"I want to stay in my hometown so that I can look after the altars of my parents and my brother. I will make arrangements to bring my wife and daughter to Vietnam," Binh said.

Pham Van Trung, military captain  in Ky Son Commune, said documents kept by the family showed that all the information matched.

He added: "We are in the processing of making identification papers for Binh, as well as getting advice from our superiors on what to do next."

go to top