Vietnam Women’s Day: The Diary of Đặng Thùy Trâm

Vietnam has a history of heroines ranging from the Trung Sisters who defeated China, Lady Trieu, commander of the elephant army, to hundreds of women who fought the French and Americans, including Đặng Thùy Trâm.  After graduating medical school, Thùy served in a Vietcong field hospital as a doctor in Quan Ngai Province, in north Vietnam, treating wounded soldiers until she was killed in 1970 at the age of 26.  Her diary, translated by Andrew Pham and titled Last Night I Dreamed of Peace, records her experiences during the American War.  It was rescued by an American serviceman and his south Vietnamese guide during the war and eventually returned to Thùy’s mother, who lives in Hanoi.  It is not an entirely comfortable read, I think, but no diary is.  Thùy is more complex than those of us educated in the American school system were led to believe the war itself was.  She is ideological and self-sacrificing, willing to work in harm’s way for the advancement of Communism, and at the same time romantic, reeling from a recent heartbreak.  She is passionate about saving her patients’ lives but misses her family.  Her writing is touching and beautiful but verges on melodrama.  The diary records her daily activities and operations performed on soldiers as well as her joy, grief and hope.  Whatever your political ideology, or experience with the Vietnam/American War, she deserves to be read and her courage admired.  Her words are her own best testament and I leave you with those.

8 April 1968: Operated on one case of appendicitis with inadequate anesthesia.  I had only a few meager vials of Novocain to give the soldier, but he never groaned once during the entire procedure.  He even smiled to encourage me.  Seeing the forced smile on lips withered by exhaustion, I empathized with him immensely.

17 May 1968: The war goes on, death falls among us daily, like the flip of a hand.  Just last night, Thin and Son were chatting with us.  Thin asked Le to buy fabric for a shirt.  Tonight they are two lifeless bodies within the earth of Duc Pho–this place where they had just set foot for the first time.  Death takes us so easily; there is no way to prevent the losses.  What sadness!

Lien is right: unless we live and love one another sincerely, someday we will regret when our friends die, and we will think we had not loved and cared for each other enough.

4 June 1968: Last night I dreamed that Peace was established, I came back [home] and saw everybody.  Ph, the dream of Peace and Independence has burned in the hearts of thirty million people for so long.  For Peace and Independence, we have sacrificed everything.  So many people have volunteered to sacrifice their whole lives for two words: Independence and Liberty.  I, too, have sacrificed my life for that grandiose fulfillment. 

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