Written by Michael Castellon

Date: Sept. 30, 2005
CONTACT: Michael Castellon,

LUBBOCK, Texas – On Oct. 5, almost 35 years after North Vietnamese physician Dang Thuy Tram was killed on the battlefield and left behind two haunting and powerful diaries, her mother will hold the journals in her hands and read them for the first time.

Tram’s memoirs, now preserved at the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, were retrieved by American soldier Fred Whitehurst, who spent more than 30 years trying to locate Tram’s family. After finally giving up his search last spring, he turned the two homemade books over to the Vietnam Center, and officials there were able to find the physician’s mother, Doan Ngoc Tram.

On Wednesday, Doan Ngoc Tram, who is in her ‘80s, and two of her daughters will visit the Vietnam Center and read the diaries, which speak vividly of Tram’s loneliness and sadness during her service in a MASH-like unit.

Tram’s writings comprise a dark but revealing narrative of the 27-year-old physician’s experiences treating North Vietnamese soldiers. Her writings have become instant bestsellers in Vietnam, and the story of the diaries’ journey out of the war-torn jungles of Vietnam has captured international attention.

The story began in 1970 when Whitehurst, an American GI, was performing cleanup on an area in North Vietnam devastated by battle. Whitehurst’s orders were to sort through documents found at the site and burn those that had no military value. Whitehurst found both Tram’s body and her diaries, and at the request of his Vietnamese interpreter, kept the memoirs.

After a fruitless attempt to return the diaries to Tram’s family, he turned the journals over to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University in March. James Reckner, director of the center, and Steven Maxner, the Center’s Oral History Project director, took it upon themselves to find Tram’s family, and they did.

Tram’s diaries reveal a complicated and dramatic account of the Vietnam War from the perspective of a heroic doctor on the battlefields. In an entry dated Nov. 25, 1968, she writes:

“The workload is huge, causes headache and fatigue. I wish nothing more than to peacefully get back to the comfort of a loving home. But a wish is just a wish, reality is reality. The heart-rendering groan of patients is ringing in my ears. There is so much work to do: it is complicated, difficult, and even frustrating.”

Tram’s writings have had a major impact in Vietnam. Almost 200,000 copies of Tram’s diaries have currently been printed. Her diaries offer an authentic account of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective.

Following her trip to Lubbock, Doan Ngoc Tram and her daughters will travel to Bethel, N.C., to meet with Whitehurst.

Reckner said the diaries have significant historical implications.

“The Vietnam Center has worked for many years to further the process of reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam,” he said. “The visit of the Tram family of Hanoi to the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech affords us an opportunity to restate our efforts to improve relations between the two countries, by expressing those views to the Tram family, and at the same time, through the media coverage, to the people of Vietnam themselves.”

Doan Ngoc Tram will be at a be media availability at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5 at the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech, located in the Southwest Collection / Special Collections Library.

CONTACT: Michael Castellon, Office of Communications and Marketing at Texas Tech, (806) 742-2136, ext. 237.

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