Ted Engelmann’s Dang Thuy Tram Update

In July 2024 Medic received an email from international educator, photographer, and ’68 Air Force FAC team sergeant Ted Engelmann, who has taught or lectured in middle schools thru college level in Korea, Viet Nam, Australia, Canada and the US. Based on his direct involvement in returning the diary to Dang’s family Ted updated my article about Dang Thuy Tram.

In 2005, after Ted finished his presentation at the Texas Tech Vietnam Center’s 5th Triennial, he attended a talk on war diaries given by Fred and Rob Whitehurst. When handing Dang Thuy Tram’s two small diaries to the Vietnam Center’s archivist Fred became visibly upset. Afterward, Ted spoke to Fred and Rob, mentioning that he was headed to Ha Noi, and would write to them.

That evening, sitting with Fred, the North Vietnamese author Bao Ninh and his translator, Rob offered Ninh and Ted each a CD containing Thuy’s diaries. Since both men were going back to Ha Noi in a few days, Rob hoped one or the other would find a member of Thuy’s family and return the diaries to them.

Four days later Ted landed in Ha Noi, mainly to photograph the 30th anniversary of the fall of Sai Gon. Not knowing the actual CD/diary contents, he asked an American friend if his female Vietnamese colleague would read it, and recommend someone who could help locate Dang Thuy Tram’s family. Within moments of reading the first few digitized pages the Vietnamese woman began weeping. She did not explain why, only that she could not continue, which caused Ted to wonder, what exactly did the diary contain?

A week later Ted asked another Vietnamese woman if she would examine the diary, search for the family, and hopefully return the diaries to them. The woman said yes. Early on 24 April, Ted received a call in Sai Gon. Vaguely, a Vietnamese woman referred to the diary and wished to met him the next day in Ha Noi.

Ted bought a flight ticket to Ha Noi, and emailed Rob and Fred Whitehurst with exciting news: he was on his way to meet Thuy’s family.

Thuy’s sisters Kim and Hien picked Ted up at his hotel and drove to Kim’s house, where Mother Tram lived. The door opened, and Mother Tram stood there, a small woman, smiling, emanating warmth. Behind her, in the living room, reporters and 2 TV cameras, and family relatives, shoulder-to-shoulder, holding up their cell phones to capture this moment.

After introductions, Ted put his laptop on a coffee table, inserted the CD, then stepped aside. The family hovered over the computer screen, mesmerized, Mother Tram soon crying, everyone overwhelmed with emotion. An hour or two later, before departing, Ted gifted the Dang family the extraordinary disk, his job as messenger completed.

The following morning, as he walked to a coffee shop, two women selling banh mi looked at Ted, astonished. One woman, pointing at him, smiled and exclaimed, “You TV man! You TV man!” The diary’s return had been aired on national TV.

On 30 April 2005, the 50th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the Dang family and Ted visited Thuy’s grave, where they burned incense and offered prayers.

Not long afterward, when the Whitehurst brothers expressed interest in visiting Viet Nam, Ted assured Fred the Vietnamese were not angry with him, which he had feared. Rob and Fred arrived in Ha Noi that August. Ted didn’t join them. He’d had his unexpected turn in the spotlight. This was their moment of fame.

Around August Kim completed transcribing the diary, and Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm (Dang Thuy Tram’s Diary) was an immediate publishing success. Eventually the feature film “Đừng đốt” [Don’t Burn] was produced by the Vietnamese.

In October 2005, the Dang family visited the Texas Tech University Vietnam Center, which encourages research and education in all aspects of the American war in Viet Nam. Mother Tram was able to hold Thuy’s actual diaries in her hands. Afterward, she was given a tour of the archive and local area. Ted drove from Denver to photograph the event.

When he travels to Ha Noi, Ted visits the Dang family. Over the years they’ve invited him to meals and family events.

Before he left Viet Nam in May 2005, the family gave Ted two sets of three tabloid magazines for that year. The January and February issues had articles the Dang’s had written requesting information about Thuy. There were no replies. The third magazine featured the story of how the diaries found their way to Mother and the Dang family. One set was presented to Ted. The other was for Fred Whitehurst.

Once home, Ted cancelled a Alaska fishing trip with NVA and American Vietnam vets so as to first give Fred the joyful magazine articles. He flew to North Carolina, where he spent the weekend with Fred’s family.

All this happened nineteen years ago. Even today, the Vietnamese are captivated by the diaries of Dang Thuy Tram.

Top photo collage / Ted Englemann

The Life and Death of Dang Thuy Tram

An official description of Ted’s job in Vietnam

Ted Englemann’s website