Sunday, December 16, 2012
Gen. Ly Tong Ba Remembers the Fall of Saigon
LY TONG BA.
Commander of the ARVN 25th Division.
I was commander of the ARVN 25th Division in Cu Chi. I was chief commander of ARVN armor before then. Then at the end of 1974, they asked me to take command of the of the 25th Division, I replaced a Col. Toan, who had been commander of the Division. I was five months, then, with the 25th Division.
When the attack came on the Ban Me Thuot, I was directed to the Northern Part of Tay Ninh Province to stabilize the situation. The communist forces tried to block us there, in Tay Ninh, to hold us there.
We received reports of what was happening in other areas. And we were reinforced in our area, I thought, but there was no movement, no redeployment. But I didn't know what happened to those forces.
When I heard that the Central Highlands were being abandoned, I knew that would create a very big problem. I thought that maybe later on they would stabilize and turn around. I know that we had the forces to form a front somewhere. But nothing happened. They never turned around and fight. I don't know what happened.
Meanwhile, we were fighting them near Cu Chi. They were trying to push their way to Saigon. And my men fought against them.
I heard that other generals were abandoning their forces. I wasn't surprised at all, because I knew my men, I knew my army, I knew my leader. I had confidence in my men and they had confidence in me. I knew who the enemy was and who they were and what they were trying to do.
I tried to contact my chiefs, Nguyen Van Thieu, Cao Van Vien, to tell them what was happening. I wanted to tell them that we couldn't do it and that everything was going wrong. The 25th Division was fighting one full division, but after several days we were facing three divisions with armor.
The 18th Division was fighting at Xuan Loc with Le Minh Dao. We were blocking the highway from Saigon to Tay Ninh. On the morning of the 28th of April, the early morning, on the 29th I led my last task force in Ben Tre, but I had no more troops, nothing more to do, the rest of my men were spread out. I wanted to group my remaining forces together. I wanted to put what was left of my division together and continue to fight. I asked General Toan to let me put my Division back together, give it back to me, and the Communists continued to attack us. But our ARVN soldiers they didn't worry about the jungle, we continued to fall back and to fight them. We continued to fight them as we backed up.
One tactic I applied, I just moved back, I said don't worry about it, just do it, and make them pay dearly for everything.
My men continued to try to maneuver and fight and counterattack. But the soldiers were finally infected by the lying and psychologically eventually they were worn down in the fighting. The soldiers had a kind of sickness, a mental sickness. They were infected by the idea, the soldiers of ARVN, they had been lied to. They were in a bad situation. To fight a good war, they could not be led by a man like General Thieu. Americans were not helping them any more and their own government was not helping them either.
Some of my soldiers finally started to run. The sickness got them. And when I saw that I could not do anything else, that my army was gone, I decided to walk back on foot from Cu Chi to Saigon.
I wanted to find my soldiers and to regroup them at Hoc Mon, and to draw a defense line there. But before I could do that, I was captured by the communist forces, who had already occupied everywhere between Cu Chi and Saigon.
The mentality of the Vietnamese Army. The society of Vietnam had become corrupted and chaotic, and that kind of attitude got into the Vietnamese army and soldiers, too. The commanders, the high ranking officers, their mentality was not a fighting. When the the fight became tough, they they didn't want to fight any more. They wanted to depend on America and when they could not depend on America they ran away. That was the sickness that they had caught.
I am a fighter. My leaders had their own problems. But I had been fighting since I was a young soldier. And now I find that the Army leaders wren't doing their job. I was doing my job, but they weren't doing there job. That is the wrong kind of man to be a leader.
I tried to escape and found that they had surrounded me and my men. So many of my soldiers surrendered. So I asked my aide, who was by my side, I said you see me, you do what I do. Everything I do, you do. So when the enemy asked us to lay down our weapons, many of men just put down their weapons. But when the communist soldiers told the men to stand together. I just went into a rice paddy and went into the water and stayed under the water with my nose up above the water. Then they thought we were dead. So my bodyguard and I we stayed for three hours in the water. From three in the afternoon until six that night. Then we went to a stream that leads to the Hoc Mon bridge, a small stream. So I tried to get there in the darkness. I got into the stream. I tried to swim down to the bridge, from there I knew I could get on the road to Saigon. But when I got to the stream, swimming, I heard a lot of noise on both sides of the stream. I swam down the stream and could hear men on both sides of the stream, and they were North Vietnamese soldiers. By then it was dark. When I got there there were soldiers all over. So I got out of the stream and tried to make my way back to Cu Chi. In the night I just walked around in a big triangle and I didn't know where I was or where Saigon was because it was dark and it rained.
So in the morning, I was still with my body guard, but I could not move any more. I had been wounded in my leg. I told my bodyguard to go to try to find a doctor. But before we could find a doctor we walked into the midst of 50 or 60 North Vietnamese soldiers. I thought they were South Vietnamese soldiers, from the distance. And so I said to my bodyguard, I think we will be captured now. We can't run anymore.
My uniform was all muddy by this time and they could not see that I was a general. They did not know who I was. But one old woman saw me and she came over and said, General, what happened to you. Why are you so dirty. And several of the soldiers around they heard her and they came over and they asked me about that. Before that time they just thought I was a Lt. Col., they had no idea that I was the Binh Duong Province Chief.
Then they put me in a kitchen with barbed wire around it. And I just sat there. And they kept me there. I was thinking that they would probably kill me when they knew who I was. So my soldiers asked me if I wanted to write a letter to my wife. And I said, no. I don't want to write a letter to anybody.
Of course, the soldiers who captured me, they belonged to some of the three divisions that had fought against the 25th Division. They said that their commander was coming to see me, because the man who had been fighting against me. They said that he wanted to meet the man he was fighting about.
And I said you can do what you want. I lost my Army and you can do what you want.
And when the commander came to see me I said to him, "You see how I treated your soldiers when I captured them." And all I ask of you is tht you treat my soldiers the same way I treated your soldiers. I treated my prisoners better than you treat your prisoners."
So he said, he said, "We have nothing against you, General. But at first our troops were still very excited and maybe they didn't treat you well. But they have nothing against you." They had us sleep on the ground behind the barbed wire.
And the treatment they were giving my men I didn't like. I wasn't worried about me. I stayed one week separated from the other men. Then day by day and month and month.
By the 3rd of May my wife heard a rumor that I had been killed at Cu Chi, so she left Saigon and went to the Delta. There she found a wooden boat and they went to Malaysia. There some Americans found out who she was and brought her to America. But I didn't know about that for one year. And my wife, when she left Saigon, she thought I was dead.
I thought I would be killed, that is why I didn't write a letter. I thought if I wrote a letter she would stay and wait for me and I thought that they were going to kill me anyway. But then they didn't kill me and my wife left the country.
The soldiers that they captured they finally released and the held the officers. All of us.
The took me back to Cu Chi with my staff officers. Again, they kept us behind barbed wire. That was for one month. Then they sent me back to Saigon, where they had me report for reeducation. And then they sent me to a reeducation camp. Then I thought I would be alive, my life would be spared and I would stay alive. Then they sent me to North Vietnam to a reeducation camp. I was sent north in July of 1975 and I was released from a reeducation camp in December of 1987. I was there for 12 years.
Le Minh DAo was in my reeducation camp. In the camp they brought me a letter from my wife.
Now I am in Saigon and I have nothing to do. I have applied to go the United States and I want to join my wife and my daughter in Nevada. And my son is now a student in San Diego at the University. My youngest boy is now a football star in the United States.
I was born in 1931. I was born in the South. I attended the Dalat Academy.
I was commissioned as an officer in 1952. I served one year in the Red River Delta as a Second Lieutenant.
The role of the American Army in Vietnam, I was born in a very poor country, and sometimes I don't know who is wrong or who is right. I fought for my country. I did my duty. I did the best I could. And I lost. And I am proud, still. When I could not perform my job any more I still tried to fight. I lost my army. I lost my army, but I was never defeated. I just did my job for Vietnam. And when the NVA General said to me, "What do you think now?" And I said, I am Vietnamese. I want to see Vietnam, rich and the people happy and free. And I think that Vietnam is still fighting for freedom. The war isn't over. Still now the people want freedom.
From the time I was a second lieutenant until now, I think that is true. How about Vietnam? We Vietnamese try to decide our problems through war. And what was decided. Now the North has won and we hoped then that Vietnam would be a very good country. Vietnam lost many good citizens in the war and now look at the country. I must say that we got nothing from the war. The war is still on. And I still say to the leaders of the country, "I finished my role. I did my part. You won and I lost. And now you do what you wanted to do. If you do good, ifthe people become free and prosperous, then I have nothing against you. Nothing at all. That would be good. But now look what has happened to the country? What does your victory mean now? I am no longer a general. Now I am just a citizen. Now you have won. What are you going to do?
We are a poor country. We are a small country. We need help from outside now. Maybe we need new leaders now.
the Vietnamese people are hard working and good. And the people are ready for freedom and for prosperity. They are ready to become part of the world again. The potential is there. But again they have this sickness, the new regime has it in the way that the old regime had. Corruption, a sickness that eats away at the people. If you don't like someone, or if you don't like what he says, then put him in prison.
This society is corrupted. The people become corrupted because the leaders are corrupted.
My soldiers ran away because they had a sickness that they caught from the leaders and from the society. The society was not worth dying for. The sick soul of the society had frightened him. But if you shoot that soldier, you kill him but you do not kill the sickness. And here, when they punish people for corruption, they punish the individual but the sickness continues. The soldier does not want to run away and the common citizen does not want to be corrupt. But the leaders are corrupt and so the society is corrupt.
Suicide. Why should I commit suicide. That is very egotistical. Suicide. Who would do that. My duty is to fight. I should fight until I die or am captured. A soldier soldier should do his job. What am I, a Mandarin who is going to die for the Emperor?
I fight with my men. I didn't die. I wasn't killed. I was just defeated on the battle field. I was defeated. I am still alive.