Despite great contribution to the revolutionary cause, Captain Le Ha’s life after war was filled with ups and downs as he was mistrusted by other people, and it took him a long time to retain his dignity and honor of a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam.  

A stormy voyage

In a recent conversation with reporters of the People’s Army Newspaper, together with stories about his successful trips, the former captain of the legendary no-number ships Le Ha kept talking about sad memories of his last voyage on Ship 645.

Le Ha (middle, back row) before the voyage to the North

Around 50 years ago, on April 12, 1972, Captain Le Ha and 21 sailors were tasked with transporting 50 tons of munitions and a ton of TNT explosive from Hai Phong to Phu Quoc, Kien Giang province to support the southern theater in the fight against U.S. imperialists and Saigon puppet government.

Like other nine trips, the tenth one on the Ho Chi Minh Trail at sea was conducted at night. In daytime, Ship 645 was camouflaged as a fishing ship to avoid the enemy’s reconnaissance aircraft and ships. According to the former captain, the success of each voyage was mostly based on sailors’ eyesight and experiences, as they had only magnetic compass to navigate.

After 11 days at sea, Ship 645 reached the waters of Ca Mau province. At 2.00p.m. on April 23, the ship’s crew-members received a message through a secret radio channel. The message read that Ship 645’s crew-members would be received by another ship at Ca Mau cape. On hearing the news, all crew-members felt delighted with the thought that they were about to complete their mission.

Unfortunately, as the night was falling, the enemy’s ship showed up and asked to check Ship 645. With the determination to protect the ship, Captain Le Ha and Political Commissar Nguyen Van Hieu stayed calm and commanded crew-members to steer the ship to the international waters and disguise themselves as "fishermen."

However, on the morning of April 24, 1972, the enemy opened fire to threaten the ship’s crew-members as they discovered that Ship 645 was a fake fishing ship. In this urgent situation, Captain Le Ha and Political Commissar Nguyen Van Hieu decided to fire back at the enemy, but their efforts were not successful. Four sailors were killed, and Ship 645 was severely damaged.  Fully aware that the ship could not escape from the enemy’s pursuance, Political Commissar Nguyen Van Hieu suggested Captain Le Ha and other sailors jump into the sea. Political Commissar Nguyen Van Hieu and sailor Tham Hong Lang volunteered to stay on the ship to detonate the explosive to destroy traces of the ship. After collecting all important documents to destroy and preparing to jump into the sea, Hieu and Lang found that all sailors were injured and could not swim far from the ship, so they decided to steer the ship away from the injured crew-members before detonating the explosive, to avoid hurting them. As the ship was away from the sailors, Political Commissar Nguyen Van Hieu ordered Tham Hong Lang to jump into the sea, but Lang pretended not to hear his superior’s order and kept destroying documents.

Nguyen Van Hieu shouted, “You go back and report to superiors that I have completed all assigned mission and send my congratulations on victory to others,” and pushed Lang into the sea. Hieu then walked to the flagpole, where he placed an electric wire connecting with the explosive fuse, and waited for the ship to be far away from his comrades before detonating it. 

A strong explosion torn off the ship, and Lieutenant Nguyen Van Hieu died. The remaining sailors, including Captain Le Ha, were captured while swimming away and detained at Saigon police office before being transferred to Bien Hoa and Phu Quoc prisons.

The path to retain dignity and honor

After one year being detained by the enemy, in March 1973, Le Ha and his comrades were released. Three years later, he was demobilized and came back to his hometown in Phuoc Hai commune of Dong Nai province’s Long Dat district (now Phuoc Hai townlet, Dat Do district of Ba Ria - Vung Tau province). However, as he lost all personal papers and Party membership certificate during his imprisonment, local authorities did not recognize him as a Party member. Many people started fake news about him and showed their mistrust of him.

Nguyen Van Chuc, who once worked with Captain Le Ha on no-number ships, recalled, “When Ha came back to his hometown, there were a lot of rumors, but all of them were completely fabricated stories. Losing personal papers was a normal in wartime.”  

Learning about Le Ha’s real stories, many Party members proposed the local Party organization to re-admit him to the Communist Party of Vietnam, but he said that he was not expelled from the Party, so he did not need being re-admitted.

Although years have passed by, the memories of the life-and-death voyages with his comrades have not faded away in the heart of the former captain of the no-number ship. Regardless of rumors, the veteran  continued to make his  contribution to local socio-economic development. As an exemplary Uncle Ho’s soldier, Le Ha was gradually entrusted to different positions, including President of Co-operative, Vice President of the Fatherland Front Committee of Phuoc Hai, President of Elderly People’s Association and President of Dat Do district’s POWs Association, among others. Many local schools have invited him to share stories about six members of no-number ships in Phuoc Hai fishing village as well as about the indomitable spirit and courage of naval troops on Ship 645.

Hundreds of stories of Le Ha have helped students, youth, militiamen and veterans understand more about the stance, intelligence, courage and loyalty to the Party, the nation and people of Uncle Ho’s soldiers of naval troops. They also inspired young people in Phuoc Hai fishing village to contribute their youth and talent to the nation in peacetime.

To prove his loyalty, Le Ha made a report on his revolutionary career, especially the time when he was captured and imprisoned. He also returned to Brigade 125 to apply for a temporary Party membership certificate. With the support of the unit’s leaders and his comrades who had witnessed the incident of Ship 645, he retained his Party membership on June 24, 1995.

Le Ha is the only survivor among six sailors of no-number ships of Phuoc Hai fishing village in Ba Ria - Vung Tau province. Although he is now over 80 years old, he is always ready to share his stories with students and local people when invited.

(To be continued)

Translated by Tran Hoai