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In times of war, it might be hard to find a sense of humanity amidst all the violence and chaos. But thanks to the efforts of one local woman, two families afflicted by war and separated by thousands of miles will now be able to share a bond that a small diary helped forge.
On March 5th, 1966, Gary Sooter, a United States Marine fighting in Vietnam, was killed during a firefight against North Vietnamese soldiers. His sister, Marge Garner, has since wrote a book about her brother, and eventually went on a journey to find the soldiers who served with him.
In July of 2011, she met Robert “Ira” Frazure from Walla Walla, Washington. Frazure served with Sooter in the Bravo Company of the 1stBattalion, 7thMarines. She says they connected right away, like they were family. Then this past January, Frazure told Garner he had a package for her in the mail.
“So, I waited all week, anxious, not knowing what it would be. I thought maybe it might have been something that belonged to my brother. So when the mail came, I took the package to my desk at home, I opened it up and saw this little book. It was about four inches tall, maybe three inches wide. I opened it up, and a picture fell out. The photo had two little girls, and my first thought was, ‘Oh, this had to have been that man’s children,’” Garner said.
The diary belonged to Vu Dinh Doan, a North Vietnamese soldier who was killed in late March, 1966. Frazure saw the diary lying on top of Doan’s body, and took it with him. 46 years later, he felt like it needed to return to Doan’s family. Garner and her husband agreed, so they contacted the PBS television program “History Detectives” to help them return the diary to Doan’s family.
“When I opened up that diary and that picture fell out, I knew immediately. I knew something inside me said, ‘You’ve got to get this to the family. My next thought was, if the shoe was on the other foot, and if they would have had something that belonged to my brother, and they were trying to get it to me, how could you ever thank someone enough for that? So I was going to do everything in my power, everything I could to get it there,” Garner said.
And with the help of History Detectives and lead investigator Wes Cowan, the diary was returned to Vietnam on June 4th, in an exchange between U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phung Quang Thanh. The diary was then given to Doan’s family.
You can hear more of Garner’s story on the next episode of History Detectives, which will air Tuesday, October 2ndat 7pm on Ozarks Public Television.
When viewers watch the episode, Garner says she hopes they will learn that the North Vietnamese soldiers are not our enemies. They are human, just like us.
“When I saw the picture of Doan’s son weeping uncontrollably because he held something that belonged to his father, and I’m thinking we would have reacted the same way if it had been our loved one. They have feelings just like we do. We call them enemies, but they’re not enemies. We’re all mankind, we’re all here together, and we’re all victims. Every family that loses a loved one, we’re all victims. We’re all in the same boat together. I wanted so bad to just reach out to that son and just hold him, and tell him, ‘I’m sorry your dad was killed. I’m sorry my brother was killed. We’re both victims of war.’ And I want everybody to see that. Don’t be angry at the Vietnamese because they killed our American boys, because they were there to do a job too,”
Garner says she’s planning a trip next summer to Vietnam, where she and her husband will unite with Doan’s family. Together, they will visit the hillside where both Sooter and Doan were killed, only a few weeks apart.