Gifts of friendship

Despite his old age (101 years old this year), Senior Colonel Nguyen Khac Tiep, former Deputy Head of the Division for International News under the People’s Army Newspaper (PAN) still has sharp mind. The veteran journalist directly covered news on big events and campaigns of the country and the military. He was one of the main reporters of the front-line office of the PAN on the Dien Bien Phu theater in the 1953-1954 period.

Veteran journalist Nguyen Khac Tiep

He recalled that in 1954, the whole country pro-actively prepared for the Winter-Spring Strategic Offensive and the historic Dien Bien Phu Campaign. This special battle, as Uncle Ho emphasized, was very important. So, all officers and troops welcomed the lunar New Year (Tet) holiday right in the trenches with high sense of combat readiness. No joyful Tet celebration scenes were recorded like those in the liberated areas. However, the preparations of forces, weapons, food and foodstuff for the big battle were prompt. Tet gifts for troops were food canteen and braised meat, donated by the Soviet Union and China through the program “Vietnam-China-Soviet Union Friendship Tet” on the occasion of the friendship month of the three sides.

“We, reporters, editors, painters, and printing cadres of the PAN also received a big box of braised meat. Actually, it was precious for the soldiers at that time to have such a box of meat because they had spent long time in the trenches, eating and drinking poorly. Now thinking about it, I still remember the delicious taste of the friendship meat box that day,” he smiled happily.

Spending many months in all corners of the Dien Bien Phu theater, journalist Nguyen Khac Tiep had many special memories. What impressed him most was the spirit of resilient combat, overcoming difficulties, hardships, and the sacrifice of our troops and people.

He said that he often talked to troops before each battle. Some died the next day. There were times half of the meals were left over since troops did not return.

Witnessing losses, sacrifice of troops and joy of victory when receiving the news that our troops defeated the enemy and captured General De Castries alive, journalist Tiep was more aware of the value of peace and happiness.

The monument of Dien Bien Phu Victory on D1 Hill in Dien Bien Phu city, Dien Bien province

“At that time, the Commanding Post was quiet. Suddenly, all people from the trenches ran out and cheered. General Vo Nguyen Giap gave Le Trong Tan, Commander of Division 312, a call to ask whether it was really General De Castries. On receiving the correct answer, the General and other people burst into tears and were extremely happy. Everyone lifted General Vo Nguyen Giap up,” he recalled.

For journalist Tiep, the Dien Bien Phu Victory was a special miracle in all aspects. That was a typical victory of the people’s warfare and of the close troops-people relations.

Spring on marching route

Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, Senior Colonel Dinh The Van, former Dien Bien soldier, former head of the Operation Training Division under the Air Defense - Air Force Service, is a special veteran. He engaged in the two campaigns namely the Dien Bien Phu Campaign in 1954 and the Dien Bien Phu in the Air Campaign (Linebacker II) in 1972.

The 86-year-old veteran said that in the early 1954, he was a volunteer in Cao Bang and Bac Kan and then his unit was enlisted to the military to prepare for the Winter-Spring Strategic Offensive. After more than over a month training at Regiment 77, Unit 99 in Phu Tho, his unit was commissioned to Company 268 of Battalion 531, Division 312 and immediately marched to Dien Bien for the big campaign.

On first days of Spring 1954, he and his comrades marched hundreds of kilometers from Phu Tho to Dien Bien. In their backpacks were bars of rotted wood containing a luminescent phosphorescent substance to help those walking behind see those walking ahead. At that time, he was able to carry weapons heavier than his weight (38kg) and what always went along with him was a guitar.

Hero of the People’s Armed Forces, Senior Colonel Dinh The Van

In the Dien Bien Phu Campaign, his unit was on duty at the 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun battlefield, protecting and supporting infantry units under Division 312 at Him Lam fortification. His main task was to scout, grasp the enemy situation on Him Lam hill and other fortifications, and monitor enemy aircraft entering the Dien Bien Phu area to report to his superiors.

Veteran Van recalled that he felt painful each time he shouldered a dead comrade back to the designated area because he felt as losing a family member. How fierce Dien Bien Phu theater was!

However, his comrades and he were always proud of the feats-of-arms they achieved, including the downing of 20 enemy aircraft, contributing to Division 312’s resounding feats-of-arms, including the first battle on Him Lam hill and the battle to take over the bunker of and capture alive French commanding general De Castries.

Now, whenever he thinks of Dien Bien Phu, veteran Dinh The Van thinks of the image of the ants patiently building a colony. Our troops made a miracle when digging trenches to the enemy strongholds in Dien Bien Phu under their nose using just a simple pickaxe and a shovel. Thanks to their wisdom, creativity, perseverance and determination, our older generations created a famous Dien Bien Phu Victory that resounded throughout five continents.

Translated by Mai Huong