Vietnamese veteran reminisces victory in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu

Updated: 2014-05-06 10:41


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HANOI - A long holiday has been declared this month in Vietnam to allow the Vietnamese people to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory in the battle of Dien Bien Phu where a small Indo-chinese country like Vietnam trounced a colonial power, a feat that has since won world recognition.

The ignominious defeat of France to the then ragtag Vietnamese Army in Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of the French colonial rule in Indochina.

Nguyen Van Kinh, alias Son Ha, now 90 years old, reminisced with pride his role in the battle in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

Son Ha was the former head of reconnaissance team under Division 312 that participated in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign in 1954.

He said that the victory in Dien Bien Phu, and the eventual independence of Vietnam, was brought about by the great vision of the late Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh and the brilliant battlefield tactics of General Vo Nguyen Giap as well as the support of international friends, especially China.

"The support of our Chinese friends during the campaign was extremely valuable. China not only supplied Vietnam with weapons, foods, but also sent a delegation of advisors who trained Vietnamese commanders on warfare techniques," Son Ha said.

Son Ha said that he still remembers a meeting with Chinese General Chen Geng, the leader of the Chinese advisory delegation, during the campaign. "He told us that if we want to have more resources for the war, we have to fight and take them from the enemy," Son Ha said.

Son Ha was mentioned in General Vo Nguyen Giap's memoirs, " Dien Bien Phu: Rendezvous with History".

General Giap wrote: "Two days prior to the fight, Son Ha, head of reconnaissance team of Division 312, organized a daring raid on an enemy's troop in Him Lam, arresting a seriously injured German officer. After receiving good care, the arrested sublieutenant revealed the system of French firepower in Beatrice (Him Lam as called by Vietnamese side)."

Son Ha directly took part in the interrogation of Christian de Castries after the French commander was captured on May 7, 1954.

"The first battle of Dien Bien Phu Campaign was of great significance. The Division's command meticulously prepared for the fight. I am so proud that I made a bit of contribution to the success of the fight," Son Ha said.

After over 50 days of intense fighting, from March 13 to May 7, 1954, Vietnamese forces successively took over several French outposts.

A massive mine explosion at A1 on May 6 night signaled the final battle. An all-out attack was launched to sweep out the enemy leading to the arrest of French commander Christian de Castries on May 7.

"After over 50 days of fighting, we finally smashed the much vaunted French military machine and brought independence and freedom to my country. I felt a surge of happiness at that time," Son Ha said.

After the campaign, Son Ha's division left Dien Bien Phu for other missions while he remained in the province for half a month to study the arrangement of bunkers and tunnels of French entrenched fortification in Dien Bien Phu.

In l994, 40 years after the Dien Bien Phu victory, Son Ha went back to the battlefield where he and his comrades had fought.

"Dien Bien Phu changed so much in 40 years. A lot of construction and new buildings made it so hard for me to recognize the place," he said.

Joining the army in 1943 at the age of 19, Son Ha retired at the age of 49 because of poor health with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His last position was vice chief of the Department of Reconnaissance under the General Staff of Vietnam People's Army.

Even at 90, he is still relatively in good mental and physical health and rides his electric bicycle to visit relatives and friends.