In 1968, young American soldier John Wast was scouring a battlefield in central Vietnam for weapons and intelligence when an enemy helmet with an image of a dove scratched onto it caught his eye. He tied it to his rucksack, and five months later took it home as a war souvenir, where for 46 years it had sat on a shelf.
When the Development of Vietnam Endeavors Fund, a U.S. veterans’ charity, approached him asking whether he would like to see the helmet returned to the family of its one-time owner, he said yes, so long as it didn’t cause them any more pain. The group located the family of the soldier, Bui Duc Hung, who was killed in the war, his remains never recovered.
On Jan. 14, four U.S. veterans returned the helmet in a ceremony in the Hung’s family’s village 45 miles northwest of Hanoi that stressed the need for peace and reconciliation.
“This is a very sacred moment for my extended family,” said Bui Duc Duc, the 52-year-old nephew of the slain solider.
Up to 3 million Vietnamese were killed in the war, which the United States undertook to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia.