Vietnam veterans get back family items found by Australian troops during war

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Le Sang with a painting of his mother that he thought had been burned during the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Australian veterans of the Vietnam War Monday handed over a painting and 12 letters they picked up on the battlefield between 1966 and 1971 to Vietnamese veterans and their families in the central region.

Le Sang got a painting of his mother from G.W.Dennis, who said he saved it from a burning house in Quang Nam Province.

The 84-year-old, now living in neighboring Da Nang, said the painting was done by his brother.

He had been fighting far from home, which was only a memory until now, but now a clear picture of it has returned, he said.

"Seeing the painting feels like seeing my mother again," Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted him as saying. His mother died in 1985.

The names of her children are written at the back of the painting.

Dennis said he had kept it until he knew about "Operation Wandering Souls."

The program was started by Australian veterans Derril de Heer and Bob Hall in 2010 by making use of Australian war records, maps, soldiers' diaries, and other items to help return Vietnamese items.

The approximate burial sites of 3,796 Vietnamese soldiers had been indicated so far and the remains of around 450 identified because of the program.

The returning ceremony was held in Binh Dinh Province with the help of the Hanoi-based Marin center that provides legal support to Vietnamese martyrs' families.

Huynh Thi Sau, 64, received her mother's letter after 45 years.

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Sau had been a military nurse in Binh Dinh and the letter had never reached her. 

Dao Dac Luyen, 91, came to receive a letter he had written to his wife.

He said he does not remember writing it on October 15, 1968.

"This is a valuable item to me as my wife is gone. It would give me some comfort for the rest of my life."

The Australian team arrived in Vietnam late last month, bringing many letters, pencil sketches, and paintings and have already returned some of them to people in Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau Provinces near Ho Chi Minh City.

Heer and his colleague Laurens Wildeboer visited Vietnam in April last year to return books and a scarf belonging to a fallen Vietnamese soldier to his 85-year-old mother in Dong Nai.

Hall said the operation was to return a favor Vietnam did to Australians by helping locate the remains of its last six soldiers missing in action.

Vietnam on the other hand is still looking for the remains of around 300,000 soldiers listed as missing in action during the US-led war, including those of nearly 4,000 believed to have been killed by Australian and New Zealand troops.

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