Operation Wandering Souls helps to find Vietnam’s missing in action
UNSW Canberra research project Operation Wandering Souls and the Department of Defence have officially presented the Vietnamese Government with data that will assist in identifying the location of fallen Vietnamese soldiers.
The data, covering the whole of South Vietnam including Laos and Cambodia, has been gathered as part of a wider UNSW Canberra project calling on Australian and New Zealand Vietnam War Veterans to hand in items that were found on the battlefields. These items are being used to help find Vietnam’s 300,000 missing-in-action (MIA).
UNSW Canberra Honorary Lecturer, Dr Bob Hall, said the analysis undertaken by the operation, shows Vietnamese authorities where to look for the buried soldiers.
“The information that has now been handed to the Vietnamese contains identified burial sites including those that are within the Australian Task Force Area of Operations in Vietnam, as well as the locations of battles by the United States, Republic of Vietnam, Republic of Korea and Thai forces during the war.
“This is the best chance so far since the war ended in 1975 to repatriate the remains of the fallen,” he said.
Operating Wandering Souls began on the simple premise of returning a favour. Six Australians were listed as missing in action at the end of the Vietnam War. Their bodies were returned home with the help of Vietnamese authorities. Operation Wandering Souls aims to reciprocate this action and pass on information to Vietnam about the identity and burial sites of the missing Vietnamese soldiers.
This is particularly important in Vietnamese culture as many believe that the spirit of those who died violently, or whose fate is unknown, will wander forever unless the appropriate ceremony is held for them.
Since 2012, the project has provided information on more than 450 of those who died in combat with Australian and New Zealand forces and linked their names to specific burial sites. Items such as photographs, diaries and letters were taken from Vietnamese soldiers as mementos of war providing clues to where their owners were buried.
More information on Operation Wandering Souls can be found on the website. The project has been run by a team at UNSW Canberra consisting of Adjunct Lecturer Dr Bob Hall, Visiting Fellows Derrill de Heer and Dr Andrew Ross, and Mr Peter Kimberley. They were joined by Dr Amy Griffin from RMIT.