Death is so near and simple

Photograph, VA040590. Frederic Whitehurst Collection, Vietnam Center & Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University, Accessed 24 Jan 2023.

In December of 1966, having recently graduated from Hanoi University Medical School, 24-year-old Đặng Thùy Trâm packed a backpack with essentials and began the arduous, months-long journey to Quang Ngai Province, where she was to voluntarily serve as a battlefield surgeon for North Vietnam. She filled that role for three years, until she was shot dead by U.S. troops. Đặng Thùy Trâm kept two diaries during that time, both of which were discovered and—against regulations–preserved by an American military intelligence specialist named Fred Whitehurst. In 2005, he arranged for copies to be passed to Dr. Trâm’s elderly mother in Hanoi; they were soon published with her permission, instantly becoming a national sensation.

24 January 1970

The moon shines as brightly as a mirror. The dew chills the night. The cold cuts the skin like razors. The thin parachute cloth isn’t warm enough. I am shivering. The cold keeps me awake. Perhaps my heart is brimming with so much love that I cannot rest—in my ears the warm breaths of my beloved comrades.

This struggle is fraught with perils. Yesterday on the road, the enemy’s bootprints were still fresh in the mud next to a comrade’s body. Electrical wires from the enemy’s mines were still strung all over the road. We went through Deo Ai Pass immediately after the enemies came through. They would return in a short while….

Death is so near and simple. What makes our lives surge forth so strongly? Is it the love between our people? Is it because the hope for tomorrow still burns hot in our hearts? Is that it, my beloved comrade?

Further Reading

Both of Đặng Thùy Trâm’s original diaries are held at The Vietnam Center and Sam Johnson Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University, and they can be viewed online in PDF format: Diary 1 (8 Apr 1968 to 7 Jul 1969) & Diary 2 (31 Dec 1969 to 20 Jun 1970). In 2005, they were transcribed and published in Vietnam, titled, Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm; two years later, they were translated by Andrew X Pham and published with the title, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: An Extraordinary Diary of Courage from the Vietnam War. Many other translations have since followed.

Diary entry excerpted from Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Đặng Thùy Trâm, translated by Andrew X Pham. Copyright © 2007 Andrew X Pham. Crown Publishing Group. Used by permission of Andrew X. Pham.

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