In 1972, Ho Van Thanh was a soldier stationed near his hometown in North Vietnam. After American bombs hit his home and killed his mother and two sons, he grabbed his one-year-old son and ran off into the jungle. He stayed put there, found by neither side of the war, until 2013.
Thanh was in his early 80s when he was convinced to come back from his self-imposed seclusion. His son was in his 40s.
The younger son of Ho Van Thanh, who ran away from Vietnam to live in the jungle 40 years ago.
Their home was a small, roughly seven square foot thatched roof hut at the base of a large tree on A Pon Mountain. Their only visitor was Ho Van Tri, a man Thanh didn’t realize was also his son. For decades, Tri was their only visitor as he carried supplies of salt, kerosene, and knives to his relatives. He implored them to come home, but his father never believed it was safe enough to return. Even as the young baby became a boy and then a man, the two stayed put. Tri was the only visitor they trusted.
Other villagers tried to bring them supplies, but the two men only hid. The supplies they brought were hidden in the hut, never used. For food, the men foraged in the jungles but also planted crops they took from fields on the outlying edges of the jungles. The two wild men also captured small animals for meat, mostly mice, and stored the dried meat in the hut throughout the winter months. They wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives in the jungle, however.
Their original hut in the jungle.
The two men were finally coaxed to return to society in August 2013, some 40 years after Thanh ran into the jungles during the Vietnam War. The government put them in a new home and gave them preferential treatment due to his status as a Vietnam War veteran. Despite the comfort of their new lives, the two never really felt at home in the concrete jungle. They often missed the hut by the tree that afforded them protection for so long.
Thanh would often go to the jungle for hours at a time, no matter what the weather was like. Doctors said he suffered from a mental illness. His son would also visit the forest for hours, even restarting his farm after feeling as though the two men had become a burden to their family. He didn’t know what to do with his newfound free time anyway, so growing rice and cassava seemed like a good use of his time.
The younger man working his fields at his new home.
Eventually, the younger wild man moved out of the new house and back to a hut near his crops. He never got accustomed to the life of a modern Vietnamese man. He thought about starting a family but determined that no woman would want him in the state the forest left him. His father suffers a wide range of health problems aside from his mental illness. He lost an eye in the jungles and suffers from a few age-related diseases.
The younger son now lives in a newer hut, away from the conveniences of modern life. He still grows his own crops and survives off the land, but he doesn’t shun visitors or help – he’s just not the “wild man” he used to be.