Texas Tech archivists working to find missing American, Vietnamese soldiers

Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 10:55 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Archivists at Texas Tech believe it’s the only university in the nation working to find American and Vietnamese soldiers missing from the Vietnam War.

While on that mission, Steve Maxner and Ron Milam recently gave captured letters and diaries back to the families of Vietnamese soldiers.

“As professors at Texas Tech, to be able to make a difference in someone’s lives 9,000 miles away. While the archive has been here for many, many years, this is taking it to a whole new level,” Milam said.

For 20 years, the team at the Sam Johnson Vietnam Archives at Texas Tech has been organizing, digitizing and decoding. Much of that work is taken on by Research Assistant Professor Alex-Thai Dinh Vo, whose family is from South Vietnam.

The collection they’ve been combing through houses 2.7 million pages of material captured during the Vietnam War.

“We knew that there would be diaries and materials. The challenge then is transitioning that from...a document you find in microfilm and then finding the family,” Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center and the Sam Johnson Vietnam Archives, said.

With the help of organizations in Vietnam, like the Soldier’s Heart Center and the Forever Twenty-One Center, that’s exactly what they were able to do. The professors delivered six sets of materials to the families of fallen Vietnamese soldiers at a ceremony in Hanoi in early June.

Those included 30 letters and five diaries, possibly the last words the fallen soldiers ever wrote. Maxner says the ceremony emphasized the universal experiences of war.

“That transcend culture, country and everything else, you know. Those families, just like American families are suffering, have heartache and longing to understand what happened to their soldiers,” Maxner said.

Milam, the executive director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict at Texas Tech and a Vietnam veteran himself, says it was an amazing day to meet veterans he had previously fought against.

“To watch them cry and to watch them be so sensitive to something that that they never thought would happen from their own government. And here’s a couple of guys from Texas and and a bunch of students showing up with all of this information, and all the people back home that were helping us do this. And that was on day two,” Milam said.

Milam says watching these families cry over their missing buddies only fueled his passion to help find them.

The archives, here in Lubbock, can help them search for the nearly 1,600 missing American soldiers and the 200,000-300,000 missing Vietnamese soldiers from the war.

“So, it’s a huge obligation that we have to fulfill their dreams,” Milam said.

The ceremony was on day two of a 30-day study abroad program for history students at Texas Tech.

“We want our students to walk away remembering that Vietnam’s a country, not a war,” Maxner said. “We study the Vietnam War, but this is just a wonderful place, a wonderful people with a rich history, rich culture and it’s something that we’re really proud to be a part of.”

Maxner says the connections formed through this trip mean their work is only just beginning.