- Associated Press - Saturday, July 1, 2017

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - Robert Martin’s platoon was sent to check out an enemy bunker complex that had been hit with heavy airstrikes. He heard a coughing sound.

“In this one bunker I found three dead Vietnamese - two men and one woman,” the Coeur d’Alene man said softly. “I turned to go to the next bunker when I heard a cough from under the dead bodies.”

Under the woman’s body was a naked infant girl - perhaps 2 months old - who was shivering and had shrapnel in one of her thighs.

Martin wrapped the girl in an empty sand bag and carried her to the pickup zone.

After Martin informed his commanders via radio of the situation, his chopper was diverted to the Quang Tri Catholic Hospital, where the baby could be treated.

“Upon arrival, the nuns had me fill out an identification card asking for a name,” Martin said.

Martin didn’t have identification for the girl, but those in his platoon had a suggestion.

“They said, ‘Sarge, why don’t you name her after you?’” Martin said. “I said, ‘What do you mean? Name her Bob?’ They said, ‘Roberta - after Robert.’ And, since she was found on a Sunday, that became her last name.”

Martin’s lone contact with Roberta Sunday was that one day in August 1970. While he’s thought about her a lot over the past 47 years, he recently decided he’d like to re-connect with her.

“It would be closure for me,” said Martin, commander of VFW Post 889 in Coeur d’Alene. “I went to Vietnam four times and wasn’t happy with the way the war ended. Maybe I wouldn’t be so angry about the war.

“In the past month or two she’s really been on my mind for some reason, and I can’t seem to shake it.”

Martin was injured three times during the war - in May 1966 from shrapnel caused by a grenade, again the following May from shrapnel, and finally in November 1970 when he suffered third-degree burns from a fire on a trail.

“I call the first two my cheap Purple Hearts,” Martin joked.

He said finding Roberta Sunday would bring something positive to his war experience.

When Beverly Hanson, VFW Auxiliary president, heard Martin, 70, share his rescue story, she immediately started to research for him to find the woman.

Her research already has her on a trail.

When she searched online for Roberta Sunday and Vietnam - not a common name affiliated with Vietnam - she found an article about how a blind Asian woman who looked to be in her 40s was hired at a medical company in New Zealand. Roberta would be 47 today.

Thinking that Vietnam and New Zealand war ties would be a far stretch, Hanson dismissed the information and moved on with her search.

However, she later discovered that New Zealand sent nurses to Vietnam from 1968 to 1974 as part of the Save the Children program to bring Vietnamese orphans to that country.

Hanson is now trying to find the article again and has reached out to multiple contacts in both Vietnam and New Zealand, including a former nurse, a former member of the New Zealand Parliament and assistance agencies. She is waiting to hear back from them.

“Quang Tri has been in Communist hands since 1975,” she said. “Records are very scarce.”

Martin is hopeful the leads will help him reach Roberta Sunday. It’s possible, he said, that she may have been blinded by the blast in the bunker.

And there’s the obvious reason for optimism.

“How many Asians could there be with the name of Roberta Sunday in New Zealand?” Martin asked.

He’s seen other veterans become reconnected with people from wartime encounters, which also gives him hope.

His friend from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, Richard Luttrel, was connected with the daughter of a Vietnamese soldier Luttrel had shot. Luttrel wanted to return a photo of the girl and her father to her. The story was featured on a TV show.

“A man who had been friends with the girl’s father saw an article about it in the Hanoi newspaper, which at the time was being used to wrap fish in a marketplace,” Martin said.

Luttrel went to Vietnam to return the photo to the woman.

“It turned out that the photo was the only one she had of her father,” he said.

Luttrel and the woman became friends and wrote to each other often until his death in 2010, Martin said.

Martin said he’d love to go meet Roberta Sunday - wherever she may be.

“If she went to New Zealand, she probably speaks English,” he said with a smile.

Asked what he’d say to her, Martin briefly paused before answering:

“‘So how is life treating you? You and I go back a long way.’”

Martin said after three injuries and nationwide negativity toward the Vietnam War, finding Roberta Sunday would finally give him something positive to grasp from the wounds of war.

“Of all the things that happened to me in Vietnam, the one good thing was being able to give that girl a chance to live a full life,” he said. “It would be something else if I found her. It would bring final closure to me of the war.”

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Information from: Coeur d’Alene Press, http://www.cdapress.com

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