The Operation Wandering Souls project aims to return to Vietnamese families items that were ‘liberated’ from bodies or captured on the battlefield by Australian and New Zealand soldiers.
- The Vietnamese people helped us find, identify and repatriate our six MIAs. Now it’s time to help them. We can do that by returning to Vietnamese families items that belonged to their loved ones that were captured on the battlefield or removed from bodies.
- The Geneva Conventions (Convention 1, articles 16 and 17) say we should.
- We’ve got these items. It’s the right thing to do to return them. If the situation was reversed we’d like them to have done this for our families.
What can you do?
We’re now asking Vietnam veterans who may have ‘liberated’ documents or other items from bodies, or collected items from the battlefield, and still have them, to consider returning them to Vietnam so that Vietnamese families can be reunited with items their loved ones once carried.
Why is this important?
In Vietnamese culture, those who die in unrecorded graves are believed to be ‘wandering souls’ unable to find peace. The families of the fallen long to find their MIAs (just as Australian families longed to find theirs) and the Vietnamese government estimates that there are more than 300,000 of their soldiers still listed as MIA since the war. That’s a lot of grief. We can’t help with all of this problem but we can make a difference in cases where Australians and New Zealanders were involved. Vietnamese families want to perform the rituals that will allow the souls of the dead to find peace. They also want to hold, and place on the family altar, items that are tangible reminders of their lost relatives. We can, and should, help them to do it.
What should you do?
Rummage through your old steel trunk or wherever the items are, find them and send them to the Operation Wandering Souls team along with as much as you can recall about the circumstances by which you ‘captured’ them. Alternatively, you can scan them and send the scanned image by email to the research team. You can contact the Operation Wandering Souls research team on the email address below or through this website
If you would prefer, you can send the items to the team anonymously.
What sort of items should be returned?
Any documents that were of a personal nature (such as letters, personal diaries, poetry, drawings, notebooks, photographs, etc.) that were found on the battlefield or removed from bodies. Other items might include hammocks, torches, or other items, but only if they have a name on them. These items might help to identify the burial site of the VC/PAVN soldier who carried them during the war, particularly if you can remember something about how or when you captured them.
What the Operation Wandering Souls team will do.
We will receive any item you send and create a facsimile copy or photograph to be retained at the University of New South Wales (at the Australian Defence Force Academy). We can also provide you with a facsimile copy or photograph if you would like. After providing a scanned image of the item to our contacts in Vietnam (so that they can begin the process of identifying family members) we will take the items to Vietnam for presentation to the family or to the Veterans Museum located in the city of Vinh managed by Senior Colonel Tien (Retired).
If we are able to locate Vietnamese family members, you might like to visit Vietnam with us (at your expense) and personally return the items to the family.
What this project is NOT about
This project is not about fighting the war again, or about ideologies, or about how the communists treated those in the south after 1975; it is about who we are – decent, compassionate people – and how we treat our fellow men and women. We would like you to participate in the return of the items if you have them.
The Operation Wandering Souls research team
Dr Bob Hall – Team leader and Vietnam veteran (8RAR)
Dr Andrew Ross – Database and analysis guru
Dr Amy Griffin – Geographic Information Systems expert
Derrill de Heer – Field researcher and Vietnam veteran (8RAR, Psyops and 4RAR/NZ)
You can see the work we’ve been doing at this URL:
You can check out Bob Hall and Derrill de Heer at the following URLs:
To contact the team:
Contact Bob Hall or Derrill de Heer
Phone: +61 2 6268 8848
Mobile: 0439 887 580 or 0414 574 605
Bob Hall or Derrill de Heer
Operation Wandering Souls project
PO Box 7916