Nguyen Phuc Hau
"Yes. We Fought."
I was the vice chairman of the supervisory board of the city of Nha Trang and Khanh Hoa Province. I was elected to that position in 1970 for four years and then was reelected in 1974 for four more years.
Politics is in my blood. I wanted to go into politics to try to help my people. I was born in 1931, so my generation is a generation of war. When I was a boy it was the Second World War. We fought against the Japanese. Was I got older we Vietnamese were fighting the Chinese, the French, the United States, and each other. Always fighting.
I would really some day like to talk to Mike Mansfield. After Saigon collapsed I was hiding in the Saigon and I listened to the radio, to the Voice of America, and I heard Mike Mansfield say, "Vietnam is not worth a single American life." It made me feel very very sad, because I was hiding out at the time from the communists and I remembered the courage of my American advisors during the war and I loved them very much. I think the Americans that I knew that participated in the Vietnam war thought they were fighting for a noble cause -- to preserve freedom is noble. Mike Mansfield didn't know about how many people died in Vietnam fighting against the communists and he did not watch television to see how many thousands of people ran away from the towns when the communists came. He should have known what they were running from. In 1954 more than a million Vietnamese fled from the North to the South. Mike Mansfield must have known why.
I was there the day Nha Trang collapsed. I told my wife she should go to her sister in Phan Rang for safety and I'd stay in my city because of my job. I was the organizer of assistance for the refugees arriving from the other cities. Two days before that Nha Trang fell, we sent a letter to the general who commanded troops around the city and we asked to have a meeting with him in order to organize a defense for the city. Then at 9 o'clock on the day that it fell, I came to the office and had a meeting with the people in the organization for assistance of the refugees from the other cities and waited for a general to come in. But at 11 o'clock nobody called and then we called to Province headquarters and nobody was there. I called other officers. Nobody there. And then someone came to tell me they left all already. They left without saying anything.
We had many military academies for the air force, for the navy, for the army in my area, but the generals stationed there left without saying anything to their people.
I couldn't believe it. One week before that I went with my boss and the province chief to Khanh Duong on the border between Ban Me Thuot and Khanh Hoa province. The parachutists were over there. And we brought them food and supplies to promote their spirits and we talked to them and told them that all the people in the province were behind them and their mission was to keep fighting, to stand, to block and keep the area out of the hands of communists. We are proud they were doing a very good job. And we believed we could fight again, but that day, it was very sad.
After that I heard that they almost all died. The day the communists attacked them, they did not know the rear was leaving, so they called and called for assistance from the air force and they called for assistance from the supply department, and nobody answered. They kept fighting and they were surrounded by the communists and killed. They didn't want to surrender. The Airborne is very good. The best.
I was very stubborn. My wife came to me and said, "Hey, I heard about the Americans going to leave and we are losing the war." And she asked me what was my plan for the family, to escape or not? I said, "I don't believe it. That's stupid." That was in early 1975 and I said we can fight against the communists. And she said many families were moving already to the Saigon. And I said, "Let them move. We stay here."
I believed that even if they lost other provinces, they could keep Nha Trang and we would be safe.
After the commanders and province chiefs left, then we had turmoil and in the city and prisoners got out and looted broke in the stores and burned the market.
I drove south to Phan Rang and then made my way to Vung Tau and was reunited with my family there. Vung Tau was calm, no chaos, very peaceful.
The way we lose the war is very strange. The janitor at the parochial school in Nha Trang was a communist. He used the school for stocking the arms for the communists and led the communists in the city. Later he told us that the communists of Nha Trang didn't know the ARVN commander was leaving the city. If they had known that they could take over that day and the city would not have been in chaos. He said he went to Thuy Hoa, he and his friend, and talked to the commander of the Gold Star regiment and said, "Okay, the city is empty now. The people are leaving, the commanders are leaving. So we should come take over." And the commander of the regiment did not believe him.
He said the commander of the communists did not believe him, thought he was telling a lie or something like that. He convinced him to send some people with him to come back to Nha Trang to look at the situation. And that group came back to report the ARVN was leaving and then they came and took over the city. We just quit.
We just quit Vietnam like we quit Nha Trang city. The same situation. We didn't lose the war. We could have won the war. But we just quit, we just ran away. The collapse and takeover of the communists of Nha Trang city was typical for the Vietnam war. We just quit and ran away.
I don't know why. When I was in Vung Tau I came to Saigon for a supervisors meeting and we recalled the situation of every province and I had contact with some political people and then we decided, myself and my friend and some others, we wanted to organize and come back. An organization to keep South Vietnam. What did it matter if we won or not? We had a plan to move the government to Can Tho and leave Saigon empty so the communists can take over there and we would fight and save the government so we would have a legal voice to talk to the world outside.
I felt very good about this. I said, "We want to send a message to all of the people who want to fight the communists. They can go to Can Tho and we will organize our front line over there to fight against them and keep the government safe."
One week before the total collapse of Saigon I came back to look at the situation and my friend told me, "No more! The Americans don't want it."
I had very many opportunities to get out in 1975. I had many friends coming from Nha Trang with boats, but I was very disappointed with the Americans. I said, "I will stay." My mistake. That mistake will be with me for the rest of my life because of the death of my first son.
The battle came closer and closer to Vung Tau. And the Viet Cong sent rockets into the city. We had Vietnamese Marines there and they were fighting and fighting. On the day Vung Tau fell I saw two American soldiers with the Marines and they were captured by the Viet Cong. I don't know what happened to them. But I saw it.
My wife and I and our children got together and prayed and cried. The whole nation was collapsing. The worst things were about to happen to us, we thought. The communists kill the people. I had one friend who was very scared. He was with me in my city and he went to that center for refugees in Vung Tau. He went to the bathroom and locked it and stayed there the whole day. He was scared of the communists because he said he was nearly buried alive by the communists in the Tet Offensive in Hue. So he was very scared. I called him to come out and take a little food. He finally came out and ran away and I don't know what happened to him after that.
There were some machine guns firing from the hotel near us on the morning of April 30th. There was still fighting. So we listened to the radio and the people in Saigon handed over the power to the communists.
I want you to tell this story to the American people. After noontime on April 30th, after the government handed over the power to the communists, one location in Vung Tau city fought until two-thirty. It was children. The children went to the military academy, only little kids, the children of veterans, a junior military academy. They kept fighting after everyone else surrendered! They were students at the Truong Thieu Sinh Quan Vung Tau.
Many of them were killed. One day later I met one of them in the chaos of the city. I did not know him but I could recognize him because of his special style of haircut that all of the students at the academy had. I said, "What happened? Did you keep fighting over there?" He said, "Yes. We fought." He was very proud of fighting the Communists. I asked him what happened, and he said that the day before the Viet Cong got into the town, the American advisor came to the center and took the colonel of that center on the helicopter with him. And so the captain at the center then gathered all the people and he said, "Okay, now we will go to somewhere." And they left with the captain but they didn't know where they were going. The captain did not have formal orders from his colonel so he did not know what to do. So he finally stopped the students and said he wanted to lead them somewhere to get them out of the city, but didn't know where to go. So everybody now had to disperse and go away. The children did not know where to go either, though. Some were from Vung Tau, some from Da Nang, some were from Can Tho, and they don't have money to go.
So the oldest students gathered all of the other students together in the street and decided that the oldest ones would come back to the center and organize a line for fighting the communists. And they asked the little kids to run away and maybe find some families to keep them. Then about fifty of these oldest guys, who were in age from 12 to 13, broke into the storage rooms at the center and took out a machine gun and organized a defense line and a fortress for fighting when the communists came. And when the communists came in, they fought. The communists could not get into that center. They were very proud as they told this story. At noon the government handed over the power in Saigon and the cadets kept fighting. At two-thirty in the afternoon, the communists told them if they did not stop fighting, they would send a rocket into the center and kill everybody.
I asked what happened when the communists came to take over. They said they were gathered in the yard and were told to go home.
I didn't know where to go with my family. So we decided finally to take a truck and go into Saigon. And, as you know from my daughter, on the way into Saigon we had an accident and my oldest son was killed. Our truck ran into the hole made by the explosion of a rocket. The front wheel was broken. It was a pickup truck with an open back. The truck turned over. My boy was killed.
In Saigon the situation was chaos. Everybody looked like they did not understand anything. And they did not believe anything. Just like you get a shock and you don't feel anything or believe anything.
We buried my boy and the war was over.