A Soldier's Story

Vietnam Vet Finds Diary

"I was trained to be angry. I was trained to be hostile. I was trained to be mean," explained veteran Paul Reed.

"We went on search-and-destroy missions every day, hell-born combat assaults every day," he recalled of Vietnam. "And that was our job, to search out and kill."

Reed remembered the horror that came with every day, as Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports on the vet's journey to come to terms with that war.


"I saw men, young men, 18, 19 year(s) old volunteer to die," Reed recalled.

Just 19 himself, Reed had volunteered for Vietnam as an Army sergeant during the bloodiest year of the war.

"I saw a lot of dead soldiers on both sides," Reed recalled. "I had to handle dead soldiers."

"And that's pretty hard to take: all of your friends being killed right in front of you, and you holding them while they die," said his mother Polly Baker.

"If you managed to live, you're consumed by anger," said Reed. "That anger turned to hate."

"In my opinion, they didn't deserve to live," Reed said. "They weren't humans; matter of fact, I called them animals many times."

After a year of combat, Reed brought that hate back home to Dallas.

"I was emotionally destroyed," he said. "I feel like I was emotionally raped."

"He just couldn't get along with people," Baker said. "He'd get a job, and he'd get angry and quit."

For more than 20 years, Reed went from one dead-end job to the next, from one failed marriage to another.

"Many of the combat veterans' family members are casualties, too," he said.

Reed's son, Silas, now 19, was one of them. "He didn't want to be around anybody and couldn't handle any social situations," including being with his son, said Silas Reed.

Paul Reed was a truck driver when Silas was growing up and always on the road.

"I wanted another father, someone who would be there for me," Silas Reed said. "I felt unloved, most definitely."

"I was running - from everything - myself, my relationships, especially the war," says Paul Reed.

But in 1991, while watching coverage of Operation Desert Storm, Vietnam caught up with Paul Reed.

"He was just glued to that TV every day, every day, every day," Baker said.

Baker wanted her son to confront his war.

"And she remembered that box of items that I'd sent home 20 years earlier," Reed said.

After a brutal firefight in Vietnam Paul Reed had collected some war trophies, including stamps, envelopes, photographs and a small book. It was a diary written by a North Vietnamese soldier that Paul Reed was certain he had killed.

"I couldn't read it but I - I remember saying that this handwriting is absolutely beautiful," Paul Reed said.

Intrigued, Paul Reed had the Vietnamese script translated.

"'Forget about everyting. Calm yourself. Listen to the world speak. Love bears no grudge,'" Paul Reed read. "I could not believe what I was reading," Reed observed. "It was poetry."

This was poetry written by an enemy he had learned to hate and kill.

How did reading those words change him?

"I saw myself in my enemy," he said. "And I realized...the truth of my enemy's humanity," Paul Reed said. "I began to learn what made him tick, and those things were the same things that made me tick."

"And it broke my heart to know that on those search and destroy missions we went on, there were many people like this...who were killed," he added.

They were people like Nguyen van Nghia, the North Vietnamese soldier who had written the diary.

"Paul believed...that the only opportunity to find any kind of closure at all would be to return this (diary) to the family," said Steve Smith of Seattle, a documentary film producer. A veteran himself, Smith became interested in Reed's story when he learned about the diary.

"He didn't know but assumed that Nguyen van Nghia had been killed in their battle," Smith said.

But in his search for Nghia's family, Smith made a startling discovery. "There are curve balls that this documentary threw us, and one of those curve balls was finding out that Nguyen van Nghia was alive," Smith said.

He decided to tell Paul Reed on camera as part of his documentary.

"I just said...Nguyen van Nghia is alive. And he wants to meet you," Smith said.

Paul Reed choked up and cried. "That's wonderful," he said.

"It meant that he hadn't been responsible for taking this man's life," Smith said.

"He was going to meet this man who he had tried to kill, and who he thought he had killed," Smith said.

Paul Reed traveled back to Vietnam in hopes of receiving forgiveness from a former enemy and making peace with himself.

"I was afraid of meeting Mr. Nghia," Paul Reed confessed. "What did he have to live through?"

Find out what happened when they met.

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