Lieutenant General Nguyen Ngoc Doanh has a scar on the jawline of his right cheek. He brushes his hand along the twisted tissue and turns his face so I can see it better. When he looks back at me he is smiling, not just with his mouth, but with his eyes too. It has been almost 50 years since his comrades tried to bury him; now 76 years old, Lt Gen. Doanh is only thinking about peace.
In January 1966, Lt Gen. Doanh was sent to the South of Vietnam to fight the Americans. At 26 years old, it was the beginning of a military career that would witness a great many tragedies and triumphs.
“The war between the Americans and Vietnam was terrible,” Lt Gen. Doanh says. “We sacrificed a lot. The Vietnamese people have always wanted peace. We don’t want war.”
Maps litter the table between us. Each page is a magnified version of the one before it. Lt Gen. Doanh has been looking for the soldiers who are still missing in action since the end of the war. Emotionally burdened by the number of families who lost loved ones, Lt Gen. Doanh is simply grateful to be alive.
“I’m actually lucky…I was wounded very seriously and my comrades put me in a hole because they wanted to bury me,” Lt Gen. Doanh says.
“In the night when they decided to come back to bury me, one comrade checked my body and felt that I was still warm…Today I am grateful for this luck. I had a lot of serious wounds on my face and legs and I lost a lot of blood … When they saw I was still here they picked me up.”
Lt Gen. Doanh sees how the war has changed Vietnam. After 39 years without fighting, families still mourn their missing loved ones. The sons who came home from the war were so badly affected by Agent Orange that families must now deal with the disfigurements in their children.
“It affects everybody in Vietnam. There are still a lot of bombs and landmines around that cause disfigurement in our civilisation,” Lt Gen. Doanh says.
“I hope that the American government has the goodwill to try and solve the problems caused by landmines and Agent Orange. The Vietnamese government, and the people in Vietnam, have put much effort into the nation to make things right, but we still have a lot of changes to make in the future.”
Ready now to move on with Vietnam’s future, it is prosperity and peace at the forefront of Lt Gen. Doanh’s thoughts.
“For me, the past is the past and the worst is over. We just want to live together in peace. To the Vietnamese people we are one nation.
To other nations like Australia, America, Thailand and Korea who came to go to war, we just consider you a friend. I want to call on every country to have a voice and stop the war in the world.”