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April 30, 2005Sunday, 04/24/2005, 02:32

Memoir recounts Vietnam’s road to liberation

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.
Memoir recounts Vietnam

Memoir recounts Vietnam�s road to liberation
 


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 south.

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 VPA.

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 palace.

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.

 

(HCM City - April 24)
 


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