U.S. veteran Peter Mathews returned the diary of a fallen Vietnamese soldier to his family on Sunday in a north-central region that experienced years of bombing.
Matthews and his wife Christina spent over 24 hours traveling from the U.S. to Vietnam.
They arrived in Ky Anh, Ha Tinh Province, to the welcoming smiles and warm hospitality of Ha Huy My and his family, the closest surviving relatives of the diary’s owner and writer, the now famous Cao Van Tuat.
U.S. veteran Peter Mathews (C) and Ha Huy My (L) are seen near My’s home in Ha Tinh Province on March 5, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung
Mathews found the war diary after surviving the Battle of Dak To in November 1967.
Dak To and its environs in Kon Tum Province, and other mountainous Central Highlands regions, were heavily contested areas for years during the war.
Mathews found the diary on the battlefield while searching Vietnamese belongings left behind either by forces who retreated or soldiers who perished.
As a young soldier, when Mathews found the diary, he decided not to turn it in to his commanding officer, because he admired Tuat’s artistic drawings and poetry that filled the pages. Mathews was sure it was a personal item that did not contain any military secrets that the top brass needed to know about.
Initially, after the war, Mathews decided he would do his best to locate the owner. But for ten years, he found he needed to dedicate most of his energy to reintegrating into American society and beginning a new civilian life as a young man.
U.S. veteran Peter Mathews pays tribute to late Vietnamese soldier Cao Van Tuat in Ha Tinh Province, March 5, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung
Mathews’ children for years encouraged him to complete the process of returning the historical artifact, so rich as it was with the unique experiences and culture of that specific time and place. Finally, last year, after nearly 55 years, Mathews asked two Vietnamese Americans he knew to help him translate a few pages of the diary.
He posted translations and details from the notebook on social media and then began his search for Tuat’s family in January this year.
After news of the lost diary spread, the chairman of the Ha Tinh Fatherland Front Committee Tran Nhat Tan contacted Mathews. After a meticulous vetting process and fact-checking Mathews’ story, local authorities determined that the owner of the notebook was in fact Cao Van Tuat. It has now been determined that both he and his comrades had contributed to the diary’s prose, poetry and artwork.
Peter Mathews hands over the diary of Can Van Tuat to Tuat’s younger sister Cao Thi Nong at a ceremony in Ha Tinh Province, March 5, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung
Mathews had been offered lucrative book deals, and collectors also tried to pay him large sums of cash for the singular artifact. But all he wanted was to give the book back to who it belonged so that he could have some “closure” to the war chapter of his life.
Vietnam Airlines gifted Mathews and his wife two-way tickets to Vietnam.
Tuat, born in 1942, enlisted in the army in 1963 and died in 1967.
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