Crew discovers urn believed to belong to war hero

RYAN HUTTON/Staff photoThe urn believed to contain the remains of Truong Ngoc Nguyen, 88, sits next to an old motorcycle after both items were pulled from the Merrimack River in Lawrence by workers with the Clean River Project.

LAWRENCE — Rocky Morrison of the Methuen-based Clean River Project has found a lot of unusual items in the Merrimack River when removing debris, but never anything like this.

He recently discovered a rectangular marble urn with a man’s ashes still inside while cleaning near the Lawrence boat ramp.

An inscription on the side of the urn reads, “In Loving Memory, Truong Ngoc Nguyen, Jan. 1, 1928 - Oct. 26, 2016.” The urn also features an image of the man.

A plug at the bottom of the urn was broken and as it was being lifted out of the water, residue streamed out.

“We tried to preserve what was left so we leaned it on its side,” Morrison said. “We let it drain a bit then we brought it back to our office in hopes of finding the person’s family.”

Morrison found the urn Friday, Oct. 18, while clearing the banks of the river.

“We’re contracted with the city to clean this section of the river near the boat ramp to keep it clean,” he said.

He found the urn about 5 feet from the banks in several feet of water.

“It was glowing white and I told a crew member to use a hook to grab it,” he said.

According to his obituary, Nguyen, 88, spent the majority of his life defending freedom in the armed forces for the Republic of South Vietnam, fighting the communist regime from the northern border to the southern tips.

He was promoted through the ranks to major and commanded a region in the southern tip of Vietnam with important ports along the coast.

After the war, he spent eight years in rehabilitation camp, his obituary states. He fled from political persecution and came to Lawrence in 1989 and later was honored as a lieutenant colonel by the U.S. armed forces.

Nguyen was survived by his wife, two sons, six daughters and 15 grandchildren.

After finding the urn, Morrison launched a search for Nguyen’s family.

He posted pictures of it on social media and in less than an hour, he was contacted by several people, including one who found the man’s obituary and another who located a funeral home in Lawrence that handled Nguyen’s arrangements.

“One of our volunteers called the funeral home and they told her they’d received 15 calls and that a man who’d picked up the ashes was supposed to ship them to his native country, Vietnam,” Morrison said.

Morrison said a friend of the man’s family contacted him to say a family member had transferred the ashes from the marble urn into a smaller container, but that he doesn’t know how the marble urn ended up in the river.

“I still have the urn,” Morrison said. “We’ll hold onto it in hopes that a family member comes and claims it.”

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