On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the no-number-ship unit, the People’s Army Newspaper would like to introduce four unsung heroes of no-number ships to the reader. This first article is about Nguyen Phuc Vinh Man (or Phan Thang) who was seen as one of the “special stories” in the no-number-ship unit and famous for his exceptional memory and interesting and engaging talks.

Hero of the People’s Armed Forces Ho Dac Thanh, a member of the no-number-ship unit, once said that there were two exceptions about no-number ships. The first one was a French person, named Abel René (or Le Van Mot), who became the captain of the first no-number ship Phuong Dong 1. The other one was the case of Nguyen Phuc Vinh Man.

Nguyen Phuc Vinh Man

Vinh Man came from the imperial family of the Nguyen Dynasty. He was a son of Buu Trac who was known for his patriotism and hatred towards French colonialists. Buu Trac held important position in the court during the reign of King Khai Dinh (Buu Dao), but he was stripped off all titles and honors and sent to Lao Bao prison because of his unruly temperament. After being pardoned, he was reoffered titles and honorary status, but Buu Trac refused. Vinh Man's mother was Hoang Thi Le who was heavily influenced by Confucianism. Therefore, from a young age, Vinh Man and his brothers were taught about five constant virtues, including Nhan (Kindness) – Le (Decorum) – Nghia (Uprightness) – Tri (Wisdom) – Tin (Faithfulness). It also was his parents who instilled patriotism and national pride into him.

In 1946, in response to President Ho Chi Minh’s call for national resistance, many youths from the Nguyen imperial family, including Vinh Man’s eldest brother Nguyen Phuc Vinh Tap and his sister Cong Tang Ton Nu Bang Tam, joined revolutionary activities. His brother Vinh Tap died in 1946, while his sister participated in revolutionary activities in Hue and died in 1951. Following his siblings’ deed, Vinh Man also started carrying out revolutionary activities when he was only 15 and worked as a liaison in his brother’s battalion.

Nguyen Phuc Vinh Man and his wife (first and second from right) during a return-to-the-root journey in 2008

After joining the revolutionary activities, he changed his name to Phan Thang. Three years later, he was sent to study at Tran Quoc Tuan Military Training School and worked there after graduation before heading to the Southern theater to undertake another mission. After returning to the North in 1954, he worked as an education assistant at Division 338. During the time working at Tran Quoc Tuan Military Training School and Division 338, Phan Thang impressed his comrades and cadets with his interesting and engaging talks.

In 1965, on the voyage on Ho Chi Minh Trail at sea, his no-number ship transporting supplies to the Southern theater was discovered by the enemy and could not moor and had to return to Hai Phong. After the trip, Phan Thang was appointed Information and Training Chief of Brigade 125. It was an important duty in a classified unit and his appointment was considered an “special story” as he was a member of an imperial family.

Talking about his comrade, Ho Dac Thanh evaluated that Phan Thang was a close cadre. Apart from rich knowledge of history, Phan Thang had knack for telling stories and popularizing information. Through his compelling stories, resolutions, guidelines, and policies of the Party and State were no longer boring to listeners.

Thanh affirmed that it is obvious that Phan Thang was one of the contributors to the success of the voyages of no-number ships.

After retiring, despite poor health, the former crew-member of legendary no-number ships tried his best to contact with his old comrades and wanted to do something to help needy ones. After the meeting in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the foundation day of the no-number-ship unit at Brigade 125, Phan Thang and his comrades, including Hoang Phat, Tran Phong, and Dac Thanh discussed and agreed to form the Liaison Board of No-number-Ship Unit to serve as a bridge for members to update each other’s information and share hardships with needy members.

In recent years, the former soldier’s health has deteriorated because of old age and illnesses. Three strokes have made him hard to walk, while his heart has been implanted with three stents. His eyes are dim, and his hearing is poor. However, during his meeting with his comrade Ho Dac Thanh, Phan Thang always showed his strong aspiration that all crew-members of Ship 165 who sacrificed in a battle in 1968 will be bestowed posthumously the hero title. He expected that a commemorate stele will be erected at C43B mooring place on Quy Thien beach in Quang Ngai province, where four no-number ships moored, and many crew-members were killed or injured while fighting against the enemy.

(to be continued)

Translated by Tran Hoai