Part 2: Hero and the legendary combat
PANO – Quynh Hoang Commune, Quynh Phu District, Thai Binh Province has 16 hamlets with 2,800 families. On average, the output of rice per capita a year reaches around 1,000kg and the local people have been enjoying a peaceful and happy life.
81 fierce days and nights at Quang Tri Ancient Citadel (Part 1)
During the two resistance wars for national independence, more than 1,200 people in Quynh Hoang Commune joined the army to fight against enemies and 176 of those never came back. Some families had even two or three martyrs and it is very rare case that there lived three heroes of the People’s armed force in a small 300m long–alley in the commune.
One of the heroes is Nguyen The Thao who was born in 1944. After joining the army for two years, in March, 1964, he demobilized and worked in the Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel Complex. In June, 1967, Thao re-enlisted the army and joined the international mission in Laos.
In March, 1972, his unit returned to Vietnam and fought in Quang Tri front line as a battalion commander. Thao and his comrades had made great contributions to the glorious page in 81 days and nights of fierce fightings at Quang Tri Ancient Citadel.
|Troops fight at Quang Tri Ancient Citadel
Noteworthy is the battle at Doi Chay in the southeast of Nhu Le Hamlet (Hai Le Commune, Hai Lang District) which was occupied by a marine unit of the Saigon puppet army. The position was well protected by many blockhouses, barbed-wire fences and minefields. The enemies called Doi Chay “the eye of Quang Tri Town” and considered it a springboard for attacking other areas. Moreover, from Doi Chay, they could easily discover and prevent our reinforcements, weapons and cargo sent from the North to Quang Tri Town.
The liberation fighters had made three assaults but could not take over the position. And the task was assigned to Battalion 6, Regiment 165 of Division 312, headed by Nguyen The Thao and they had only 2 days to fulfill the mission.
After reconnoitering the enemy barracks, Commander Nguyen The Thao and Battalion Steering Committee’ members hammered out a daring but unique plan. Instead of striking enemies at mid-night as other units had done, this time they would launch attacks from 5.00 pm when enemies were not vigilant. On September 8th, 1972, the unit deployed 300 soldiers of Companies 9, 10 and 11 up to Doi Chay, only 70m from the enemy barracks. It was a very convenient place for our troops to attack enemies and avoid enemies’ artillery and air strikes.
These troops had to hide themselves in the sand for nearly a day with empty stomach. At 3.00 pm, enemies’ aircrafts bombarded many times on the surrounding of Doi Chay but our troops were safe as they were so close to the enemy.
At 5.25 pm the next day, when enemies were preparing for dinner, all the liberation troops rose up at once to open fire at the enemy. Our B41, AK guns’ fire and grenades let have frightened the enemies but they could soon launch counter-attacks. Their artilleries had checked the advancement of the liberation fighters.
Facing this situation, soldier Hoang Dang Mien of Company 9 moved forward to silence one of the enemy’s artilleries.
Taking advantage of this, our troops rushed forwards to fight enemies but Mien was killed while he was about to silence other enemy’s artilleries with his B41. After two attacks, at 7.00 pm on September 9th, 1972, the liberation soldiers took command of the Doi Chay, killing and capturing 160 enemy troops.
Thanks to Nguyen The Thao and his comrades’ great plan, “an eye of Quang Tri Town” was perforated.
With outstanding achievements in this combat, Nguyen The Thao and martyr Hoang Dang Mien were presented the title “Hero of the People’s Armed Forces” by the State on September 23rd, 1973. They are their unit’s pride.
At the beginning of 2012, war veterans gathered at the hall of Air Defence and Air Force Museum to form the Organising Panel of the 40th anniversary of Quang Tri Campaign with Colonel Hoang The Thao as the Chairman. “40 years ago, the Summer Campaign 1972 and the Quang Tri Defence Campaign 1972 are the most violent, fiercest and longest combats. The Quang Tri battle, “Dien Bien Phu in the air” Campaign and Paris Peace Accord are immortal epics of Vietnamese revolutionary heroism. The victory of Quang Tri broke off the demarcation line that separated the North and South, making considerable contributions to the success of the Spring 1975 general offensive campaign to reunify the country”, he said.
However, behind the glorious victory, tens of thousands of soldiers and people had sacrificed their lives. Though 40 years have elapsed since the end of the war, the woeful and dramatic scene remains fresh and many issues need to be settled. These include the finding and reburying sets of remains of martyrs and taking caring of needy beneficiaries.
Recalling the past, Thao shared that in the attack on Tham Lung Airport in Lao, he was seriously wounded but he could survive. He was fainted and after coming to try to find his unit. When he approached entrance of the cave where his unit was stationing, his comrades saw and then took him to the clinic. And after recovering, Thao immediately returned to his unit and was promoted to Brigadier and Deputy Division Commander. After the restoration of peace, Nguyen The Thao returned to Hanoi with a M79 shell fragment in his left lung. After checking, doctors could not operate to take this fragment out because it locates right at the lung artery. Over 40 past years, Thao has to live with it and suffer great pains.
Colonel Nguyen The Thao intended to stay single for the whole life due to this serious wound but in 1982, when he was nearly 40 years old, he married to a doctor from Quynh Phu District, Thai Binh Province. Fortunately, the couple has a son and a daughter. Both of them graduated universities.
In last years of Vietnam's subsidy system, life of Thao’s family was very difficult. At first, they had to stay in the Guest House 354 of the army and after that, they left to a small department on Dien Bien Phu Street. He did not claim for anything because he thought that not only him but also many his comrade were living in difficult situations. Afterwards, when working in the Brigade 144, the unit filled in ponds and distributed each cadre a small plot of land and he could build his own house. His wife and children also have their stable jobs, especially his son follows Thao’s step, graduated the Academy of Military Technique to become an Uncle Ho’s soldier.
Now, as the Deputy Chairman of the Division 312 Liaison Committee, he and other veterans did many meaningful activities such as inquiring after and presenting gifts to their comrades, helping needy families develop their business, completing documents for 20 troops who were injured in combats to be recognized wounded soldiers as well as leading delegations to visit their battlefields where they fought against enemies in national wars and martyrs’ cemeteries in Quang Tri, to name but a few.
These activities help Colonel Nguyen The Thao come closer to his comrades and pay tribute to his troops who laid down their lives in combats for the national salvation and reunification.
Reported by Chi Phan
Translated by Van Hieu