A Wartime Diary Touches Vietnamese

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President Bush travels to Vietnam this week for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. He's the second U.S. president to visitcommunist Vietnam since the war ended in 1975.

In Vietnam, the publication of a wartime diary written by an idealistic young doctor has captured the imagination of readers, and become a runaway best-seller. The diary of Dang Thuy Tram was rescued from destruction by an American soldier.

In December 1969, Frederick Whitehurst was stationed in Quang Ngai province, in what was then South Vietnam. Assigned to the 635th Military Intelligence Detachment near Duc Pho, he was burning captured enemy documents that seemed to have no military value.

Whitehurst and Nguyen Trung Hieu, his South Vietnamese interpreter, were standing by a 55-gallon drum.

"I'm throwing things in there and they're burning, and over my left shoulder, and I remember this, Nguyen Trung Hieu was looking at the diary and said, 'Fred, don't burn this. It has fire in it already,'" Whitehurst says.

The diary was that of 27-year-old Dang Thuy Tram.

"My interpreter was a very loyal soldier to the southern government," Whitehurst says. "The fact that he would put himself at risk by saying 'Don't destroy her words' was very impressive to me. And if you read just very quickly into the diary four and five pages, you can see this is something that needs to be preserved."

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