Fifty years to the day after Nguyen Van Minh shot and killed Anthony Venezia in the village of Ben Suc, the former Viet Cong soldier knocked on the front door of the house where Venezia grew up.
Anthony Venezia’s sister Angela answered.
“Yes,” she said.
“These are for you,” he said.
Overcome with soft emotion, Nguyen Van Minh’s eyes welled as he stood at attention the way he did when he joined the fight as a boy. He extended the manila envelope he bought that morning at a strip mall discount store.
Angela looked from his wet black eyes to the envelope and back to his face. Lifting the copper-colored clasp, she opened the flap. The wallet-sized black and white photo showed her brother Tony riding a new wooden hobby horse on Christmas morning when they were four-year-old twins living in Scranton in the same green aluminum-sided house where Angela still lived.
“Where did you get this?”
“Look more,” said Nguyen Van Minh
The next photo showed her mother, Gina, and father, Tony Sr., at the party she and her brother threw for them on their parents’ 17th wedding anniversary. Gina told Angela over chocolate cake with peanut butter icing how she found rice in her hair for days after the wedding. Tony admitted to his son he was so nervous he almost fainted at the altar.
Angel stepped back from the door.
“Who are you?”
“And these,” Nguyen Van Minh said, handing her Tony’s dog tags.
“So sorry for your war,” Nguyen Van Minh said.
Police caught up to him at the convenience store four blocks away. Four squad cars rushed to the scene in response to Angela’s frantic 911 call. Five armed officers circled the small man with the stringy beard he sometimes told people made him look like legendary Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The supervising sergeant did all the talking.
“You have ID?”
Nguyen Van Minh handed over his American passport.
“You’re a citizen,” the sergeant said.
“I vote every election,” Nguyen Van Minh said.
“Where did you get the photographs of Tony Venezia?”
“From his wallet.”
“Tony died in Vietnam in 1972.”
“I shot him in an ambush.”
“You killed Tony Venezia in Vietnam.”
“Then you stole his stuff?”
“I wanted souvenirs. Now I return them.”
“Fifty years later?”
“I was wrong to take from the dead.”
The sergeant wasn’t sure what to do.
“I’d like to go home now,” Nguyen Van Minh said.
“You’re under arrest,” the sergeant said.
In his mind Nguyen Van Minh saw himself blending with the jungle that day, a bold 17-year-old freedom fighter waiting to pounce as he tensed and watched the American squad move closer. The 19-year-old walking point, laughing, smoking a cigarette and not wearing a helmet made the most noise. Squeezing one shot from his rifle, Nguyen Van Minh saw the enemy’s head snap back. With the firefight erupting all around, he settled into the adrenaline rush that always came with combat.
All 12 Americans died.
After picking through their bodies, taking what they could use in their continuing fight to rid their land of invaders, Nguyen Van Minh and his guerrilla compatriots moved on. Nguyen Van Minh took photographs and other papers from the body of the young man he killed. After stuffing the personal belongings into the Chinese-issued rucksack he retrieved earlier that week from a comrade killed in action he returned to the body, ripped the dog tags from his enemy’s neck and took them, too.
“Put your hands behind your back,” the police sergeant said.
Nguyen Van Minh, 67, set his jaw and stared straight ahead, not complying but not resisting.
Americans would never express sorrow for their wars.
Nor would they understand those who did.