Memories: The English
translation of the memoirs of General Hoang Van Thai.
How South Viet Nam Was
Liberated is a recently released English translation of the memoirs
of General Hoang Van Thai, Deputy Minister of National Defense and First
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnam People�s Army (VPA), during the
South�s liberation and the country�s reunification.
Beginning in the last years of the American War, the book focuses on the
front lines of the battles for the Mekong Delta, and ultimately, Saigon.
Southern Liberation troops were guided to stir up popular uprisings to
coincide with offensive attacks, and were trained and supplied by forces
in the north and center of the country. Using these methods of engaging
the people in their own struggle, southern forces were able to clinch
their goal of toppling the U.S.-backed Saigon regime and reclaiming the
Born in 1915 into a poor family in Thai Binh Province, Thai was a
founding member of the Viet Nam Liberation Armed Unit in 1944, the
predecessor of the VPA and one year later he was chief of staff of the
During the American War, Thai was commander and commissar of the
liberation forces in Military Zone 5 (Danang City and Quang Nam, Quang
Ngai, Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces) in 1966, and then commander of
the liberation army of the whole of South Vietnam.
The memoirs describe how officers and men traveled along the Ho Chi Minh
Trail to Hanoi to issue reports to senior officers and inspect army
columns. In the book, translated fairly well by The Gioi Publishers,
descriptions abound of the construction of the famous road that helped
the liberation army continually supply weapons, food and men to the
southern battlefields. Army engineers are credited for building,
protecting and maintaining the vital lifeline for the troops, and
thereby winning the war. In one passage an army slogan recalling the
toil of the young men and women who constructed and safeguarded the
trail is offered: "Let us carve up the Truong Son mountain range and
march on to save the nation."
In another compelling section, the book presents various officers�
personal meetings with President Ho, and the deep impact these meetings
had. In one meeting, President Ho inquired as to when he could visit the
south; something he anxiously wanted to do.
President Ho complained: "Why haven�t you arranged for me to visit the
south despite my repeated requests? So many others like Comrade Thai
here can go south, so why can�t I?"
Due to his failing health, President Ho was not able to make the arduous
trip along the Truong Son path. Again he complained to his
right-hand-man in the south that he longed to see what was going on
there. After the President�s death in 1969, the book describes how he
was laid in state and the extent of the sorrow felt by all who came to
pay their respects. The author theorizes that President�s Ho�s sincere
wish to see a unified and strong nation compelled his liberation
soldiers and all his comrades to push on with the war, and in a few
short years, plant the liberation flag atop the Saigon presidential
In the final stages of the push towards Saigon, General Thai�s health
was failing and he was forced to remain in Hanoi as Deputy Minister of
National Defense. He joined the General Staff the strategic plan for the
liberation of the South, and particularly in charge of instruction for
operations and supplies to the front.
The book describes vividly the army�s advance on Buon Ma Thuot (a
surprise attack, as U.S. forces were expecting an offensive at Pleiku or
elsewhere) and eventually Saigon. Descriptions of the Saigon victory are
particularly enthralling as it seems even the soldiers and military
commanders were shocked at how quickly the troops were advancing. Though
military headquarters in Hanoi had bargained for at least two years of
fierce fighting, the south was won in a spectacularly short 55 days.
In particular the book examines the fatal mistakes made by the
retreating American forces. The U.S.� supplying of weapons and material
to the Saigon army despite the signing of the Paris Agreement is
outlined, as well as the delicate balance between maintaining political
validity and ensuring Saigon forces did not steal back formerly
liberated areas in their land-grab campaigns.
How the South Was Liberated is a good read for anyone interested
in the mechanics of military strategy. Replete with army-speak, the
story still manages to entertain and educate while describing the
detailed maneuvers of a guerrilla war. General Hoang Van Thai and other
senior officials all think like soldiers, but maintain their humanity in
a story of a prolonged struggle for independence.