Le Nam Phong & Nguyen Van Thai
Phong: At Dien Bien Phu in 1954 we used new tactics to defeat the French. We attacked Him Lam and Doc Lap hills and cut the airport off. The airport was like the stomach of the French. By cutting it off we cut off their means of resupply. Then we squeezed the French into one part of the base. My main responsibility was to organize our troops to dig trenches from the surrounding hills into the airport. We captured many French soldiers in the hills in the first round of the battle. The French fired artillery at our positions and injured and killed many of our soldiers. The French brought in paratroopers. They had better weapons, planes and tanks but we were determined to defeat them.
Thai: I was involved in the plans for the first attack at Dien Bien Phu. We drove the French out and years later in July 1965, I moved south of the DMZ as the American forces began to arrive in large numbers. We were stationed along Road Number 9. I was responsible for analyzing our battle plans and keeping up the morale of the troops. We surrounded the American base at Khe Sanh and attacked Tacon Airport at the start of Tet ’68. We hoped to draw many American forces from all around the south to Khe Sanh. That was our plan so Vietnamese inside cities in the south would rise up against the Saigon regime.
In April 1968, our unit broke off the siege of Khe Sanh and went to Kon Tum in the Central Highlands. We were reinforced by fresh troops from the north who remained in the area around Khe Sanh. Our goal had been to tie up American troops and resources defending the base even as we attacked cities all over the south. It was the biggest battle of the war. We used large artillery every day against the Americans. At the same time American B-52’s bombed us and American artillery shelled our positions. At first the B-52’s struck a few hours a day but by the end of the battle they were bombing around the clock. Many men died on both sides.
Phong: In March ’75, we liberated Phuoc Long province and drew closer to Saigon, 100 kilometers away. I was a Senior Lieutenant Colonel and my division was to seize the Presidential Palace and raise the Vietnamese flag on the roof but we were held up at a bridge outside the city and arrived at noon, half an hour after another unit had already captured the palace.
Thai: I was in the same division as Phong. We arrived at the Presidential Palace 30 minutes after it had been captured. We went through Bien Hoa but our tanks were too large to cross the bridge there so we had to go around a different way. Our forces approached Saigon from five directions. Our division had been given the honor of entering Saigon first, capturing the Presidential Palace and raising the flag because our unit was distinguished in the French War-we captured the French general at Dien Bien Phu and raised the flag over his bunker.
Phong was in charge of the fighting while my main role was developing strategy and encouraging the troops. We lived and fought together during the war so we developed a close friendship.
Phong: In my life as a soldier I had two major accomplishments: in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu in the decisive battle against the French and in 1975 when we liberated Saigon. Many citizens waved flags and cheered as we entered the city. The Saigon regime soldiers fled. It was the second time in my life as a soldier that I was happy. I was glad that Thai was with me to share our victory.