Since Quoc worked on no-number ships, he experienced numerous life-and-death situations and was barbarously tortured by the enemy many times. However, for the veteran, what made him afraid the most was not the enemy’s bullets and schemes, but others’ suspicions of his loyalty. Quoc’s life after war was a journey to regain his dignity and honor and seek the State’s recognition of his comrades’ contributions.

The one who looks for heroes

As a staff of Phu Xuyen district’s Museum of Prisoners of War, veteran Nguyen Dinh Quoc has spent years looking for heroes whose contribution and sacrifices for national independence have not been recognized.

In recent years, Quoc came to different functional agencies in Hanoi and Hai Phong to complete a dossier to seek the State’s recognition of martyr Dang Hong Son as the Hero of the People’s Armed Forces. Unfortunately, when he came to Company 2 of Battalion 3 Di An under Regiment 165A where Dang Hong Son worked before he was captured in 1968, no record of the courageous official was found in the unit’s archives. Therefore, Quoc’s desire to seek the State’s recognition for his comrade had to be postponed. 

Veteran Nguyen Dinh Quoc said that looking for information about fallen soldiers is like looking for a needle in a haystack. He took the case of martyr Nguyen Dinh Xo in Bac Ninh province as a typical example. To complete the dossier on the fallen soldier, Quoc and other veterans working at Phu Xuyen district’s Museum of Prisoners of War had to relive the time when the enemy troops covered Xo’s head with a bag and poured boiled water on it. Thanks to these efforts, the dossier on martyr Nguyen Dinh Xo was approved, and he was posthumously bestowed the title of the Hero of the People’s Armed Forces in 2018. Quoc said that the State’s recognition of contribution of heroes like Xo has motivated him and his former comrades to continue the hard noble deed.

Veteran Nguyen Dinh Quoc 

Recently, despite his old age, veteran Nguyen Dinh Quoc has still travelled to different localities across the country to look for information about fallen soldiers who laid down their life for national liberation. He said that their sacrifices to the present independence, freedom and peace must be recognized by present generations.

For his contribution to social activities, the 81-year old veteran was honored with many certificates of merit.

A fierce battle

According to Nguyen Dinh Quoc, he was one of the crew-members of no-number ships transporting weapons and supplies to support the Southern theater. One of his unforgettable memories is about his last unsuccessful shipment on Ship 176 in 1970.

The veteran recalled that at 10 p.m. on November 21, 1970, when Ship 176 was about four nautical miles from a wharf in Ben Tre province, it was discovered and attacked by the enemy. From a ship and a helicopter, the enemy troops continuously fired at the ship and killed radio operator Luong.

Ngoc, who was Captain of the ship, shouted, “Comrades! Let’s fight to avenge for Luong!” Immediately, the ship’s crew-members used hand-held antitank grenade launcher RPG-2, DKZ recoilless gun and 12.7 mm machine guns to counter-attack, causing damages to the enemy’s ship. Taking the advantage of that, Ship 176 sped up and moved forward to the wharf. However, when the ship was about to reach the position, chief mechanic Tha reported to Captain Ngoc over the intercom that the spare oil tank was hit by bullets. 

Predicting that the engine would die in a few minutes due to the damage, Quoc, who was Vice Captain of the ship, gathered all important documents and threw them into the sea. Captain Ngoc ordered other crew-members to leave the ship and destroy it.

When all crew-members were swimming far away from their beloved ship, the detonated explosive on the ship exploded, ripping the ship to pieces. Unfortunately, as Vice Captains Quoc and Hoa reached the shore, they were captured and taken to the puppet military’s Division 7. That night, Quoc was barbarously tortured. The next day, he was taken to Saigon and locked in a cell. There, Quoc was repeatedly interrogated, tortured, bribed, and coerced, but he did not say a thing. Being aware that they could not get any information from Quoc, the enemy troops transferred him to a prison in Can Tho and then Phu Quoc prison. In March 1973, Quoc was released under the Paris Agreement and went to Tuyen Quang province for a convalescent leave.

Never give up

Before joining the military, Nguyen Dinh Quoc, an enthusiastic youth of Viet Hung commune of Nam Dinh district’s Truc Ninh district, had worked for Nam Dinh Textile Company for six years. Apart from fulfilling all missions as a worker, he actively participated in youth activities and was honored with many certificates of merits by different levels. In late 1961, he was admitted to the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Quoc recalled that after the successful shipment to Ben Tre in November 1964, he was sent to study to become a naval officer. After graduation, the young officer worked on no-number ships to transport military supplies to the Southern theater on the Ho Chi Minh Trail at Sea until 1970. During the time when Quoc was imprisoned, the enemy spread the news that Quoc was persuaded to work for the enemy and dispatched to the 7th fleet and promoted to the rank of commander and a naval commanding officer. They faked his voice, recorded it and played in the area where no-number ships anchored and unloaded the supplies.

Later, when he was released and on the convalescent leave, Quoc heard of the faked news, but he ignored it with the thought that a clean hand wants no washing. 

After the nation was liberated, Quoc worked at a province-level youth chapter in June, 1975, but sadly he was not accepted as a Party member. Knowing that there was something wrong, he came to Brigade 125, the Political Department of the Vietnam People’s Navy and different functional agencies in Hanoi to find the answer. Finally, his efforts paid off when he regained his Party membership in 1984. 

In 2007, thanks to a former comrade’s help, Quoc joined the Ho Chi Minh Trail at Sea Association in Hanoi. However, many members did not know about the reinstatement of his Party membership and still treated him like a traitor. In 2008, there was a policy on rewarding those who once worked in the no-number ship unit, Quoc submitted his dossier and received strong opposition from members of the association. They said that Quoc betrayed the country. Because of his former teammates’ suspicion, the veteran showed the Party membership decision. After that, the Liaison Board of the association requested the the Political Department of the People’s Navy to issue an official dispatch affirming that Quoc did not betray the country. The important document, which as Quoc said “untied” him, was read at the ceremony to confer the First-class Liberation Soldier Medal on him. The official dispatch 64/CV-CCT-BV, signed by Captain Nguyen Van Dung, Head of Internal Security Protection Division of the Political Department of the Vietnam People’s Navy on June 25, 2009, reads, “During the time being captured and detained by the enemy at Phu Quoc Prison, comrade Nguyen Dinh Quoc did not reveal any secrets, did not surrender and betray.” Listening to the dispatch, Quoc cried in joy and happiness.

More than 30 years being accused of being a traitor, veteran Nguyen Dinh Quoc did not give up hope and persisted in regaining his dignity and honor. The veteran’s persistence symbolizes the virtues of Uncle Ho’s soldiers. Noble orders, including the third-class Labor Order and President Ho Chi Minh’s Certificate of Merit, are invaluable rewards as they demonstrated that his great contribution to the revolution has been recognized.  

(To be continued)

Translated by Tran Hoai