The Returning Casualty Blog

A Project of the Vietnamese American Foundation

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How do we identify the remains?

Many of you have asked how TRC identifies the remains of those buried in the reeducation camps. The techniques TRC uses at the sites are identical to the techniques used by archeologists at ancient burial sites. TRC’s Archeological Consultant, Julie Martin, is expert in excavation of ancient cemeteries with twenty years experience. The task is not easy. The process begins before TRC enters the site of burial. As you can see in our website gallery, first TRC relies on maps, cemetery plots and in some cases lists of the dead.

At the site, TRC often finds grave markers cut by prisoners at the camps at the time the person died. Sometimes the gravestone actually includes information about the home of the deceased. Even broken head stones are helpful. In one case, we found a broken gravestone lying in the jungle overgrowth. Carved in it was the name of the person we sought! Our team then searched the cemetery plats and found the base that matched to broken stone.

When we find the grave, and exhume the remains, we look for personal items buried with the person. Once we found a man’s food bowl buried with him. In another grave we actually found a makeshift wallet.

Earlier this year, for the first time, the Vietnamese government gave TRC permission to excavate an entire cemetery site. (In the past TRC has recovered individual sets of remains when asked to do so by family members.) The cemetery at Lang Da is threatened by a plan to construct a road through the site. The Vietnamese government recognizes TRC’s concern for the remains, if not recovered in an orderly fashion. Lang Da is a difficult site, because there are no grave markers, but TRC has the cemetery plat. Julie, our Archeological Consultant, will be onsite to direct the excavation. First, she has to find the plat on the ground. To do so, the team has to scalp the site. After all these years, the original grave cuts can be seen after the site is scalped. Julie has used the same techniques at other sites over a thousand years old. Once the team locates the graves, then the digging begins.

Mission

The mission of The Returning Casualty is to bring closure and peace to the South Vietnamese people who lost relatives in the post-war re-education camps by helping them locate and recover the remains of their loved ones.

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