Nguyen Van Man.
Now let me talk about the topic of the fall of Saigon. And my being transported to the northern part of Vietnam. Now see when our four battalions of MPs were relieved of our duties guarding the prisoners, then the northern soldiers captured and became our prisoners, when we were relieved of that duty, our four battalions were transferred to the rangers, and we were not deployed to MR I because the joint general staff later on created two regiments, 8 and 9, and these two regiments stayed within the Saigon area on the outskirts of Saigon. These regiments were not kept in Saigon in order to protect President Thieu against any coup, but according to my knowledge, the south Vietnamese military system used to have general reserve units within stationed within the Saigon area, for example, like the battalion of marines and a division of airborne and rangers, also. And what happened was that when there were areas where heavy fighting was going on and we wee being attacked by the communist forces, then the joint general staff would deploy these special reserved forces to those areas to fight off the communists, and they were not by any means kept in Saigon to protect Thieu against anybody.
For example, as far as the work of these reserve units, in Lam Son 719, in the lower part of Laos, when there was heavy fighting when we had the operation to march over to Laos to fight the communists, and the general Hoang Xuan Lam, who was the commander of MR I and whose headquarters were stationed in Khe Sanh, his job and his cooperation was supposed to be in Khe San and be ready to march over to Ha Lao, and at that time the fighting was intense, so the general staff in Saigon decided to supply him with more troops, so they deployed the rangers and the marines and airborne people who were in the reserve, the general reserve units, back in the Saigon area, so that is an example to show you how these troops were used.
So our four batallions of MPs were placed into the general reserve units here in Saigon, and in order to increase the fighting forces to other units. And after a period of retraining, after rangers training in Duc My, my battalion was placed with regiment 8 of the rangers, and while the rangers did not have in terms of size, didn't have a division like the other branches in the military, but instead of a division it had what was called a regiment, which was about as big as a corps, and the infantry branch, it would have like 3000 people in one regiment of rangers, so I was stationed with regiment 8 on the outskirts of Saigon.
Our regiment didn't get deployed to An Loc, what happened was the third regiment of rangers was deployed there, and as for us, the two new regiments of rangers, 8 and 9, we didn't have a chance, see we got retrained in January of 1975, and the training period was going on in Saigon and started to fall apart in the month of April and so really we didn't have the opportunity to be deployed anywhere. You meant Xuan Loc, that was the area where the third regiment of rangers was deployed to, that was the general area where they were asked to fight, and Xuan Loc, was a county within the region of Long Khanh, yes the third regiment was there. Our four battalions of MPs started out training in January of 1975 and we by March we got done and we were deployed back to Saigon in the Ba Hon area. While Ban Me Thuot was in a shaky position, see, by that time I think that president Thieu's statement and General Phu had already withdrawn to Nha Trang. I believe that I came to regiment 8 in February, and I think that Ban Me Thuot and the withdrawal decision happened a few weeks before that. If you want to know for sure what was happening there then you should talk to Lt Col Ngo Le Tinh who is now living in Nevada and who was then the chief commander of regiment 2 of the engineer corps, which took care of building and repairing roads and bridges to facilities the movement of the army trucks and equipment. And he was also sent to the northern part of Vietnam for reeducation for six years at the end of the war butnow he is in the US. He would be a good source of information and could describe what went on during the withdrawal of the troops because he was working directly under the command of General Phu.
So let's start back when I was in my home, I and other rangers, what happened to us when Prsident Thieu resigned and handed over the administration to prime minister Tran Van Huong, and then later on Huong would hand it over to Duong Van Minh. But let's talk about it the time when he handed it over to Huong. By that time, when Thieu resigned, the situation in Saigon started to become fairly chaotic and fearful in a way, not just the people but also within the military system, too. When he resigned and talked about his resignation on television, then the situation in Saigon became very shaky and people were very anxious and nervous.
Personally, speaking for myself, for me and my close friends, when we heard that three star general Nguyen Vinh Nghi was ordered by Mr Thieu at that time, at that time he was still president, to Phan Thiet to form a headquarters, front line, we knew that something was cooking and that Saigon was not as stable and as safe as it was before. Also looking at the aspect of foreign aid from the US, they didn't give us very many ammunition or weapons to sustain the ongoing fighting in Vietnam and they gave us instead other tings, such as like, bunk beds and shovels and that kind of thing, so looking at both events, the deploying of General Nghi to Phan Thiet plus the cut down in military aid or the nonexistence of military aid from the US, I knew that Saigon was in great danger.
During the last months of the war, the situation in the South was rippling sort of unrest and like the ranking officers, the higher ranking men, like in my forces, the commander of the battalion, already knew that something was going to happen , some awful things would happen, yet when Thieu handed the administration over to Huong there was a dream of hope, and according to the agreement or the treaty and to the higher ups, within the administration, there was a belief that we would become a neutral state, so that therefore I did not have the idea of leaving the country at all, and according to certain treaty agreement starting from the thirteen longitudinal line, there would be a committee of inter-governmental powers of the Southeast Asian region, that there was such a committee formed and finally Vietnam would become a neutral country. Because of that belief on the part of many people in the military, and many of the ministers of different department of the administration and also many generals, they all decided to stay in Vietnam and not to flee from Vietnam.
While it wasn't our regiment that wasn't deployed in Bien Hoa, but we were stationed in Ba Hon, which was a strategic point, Bien Hoa and Ba Hom belonged to the outskirts of Saigon, and Ba Hom was the strategic point where we could fend off the invasion by the communists, and stop them from shelling Saigon and to fight them off and we ran into them all the time, especially at night, they would come out and open fire on us and we would return their fire. And then we had been having fights with them all the time, early in the year, as soon as I was stationed there we started fighting, so we had to be there to prevent them from entering the city and creating chaos. And Ba Hom situated on the west side of Saigon, the road toward Route 4, which was going to the Delta Region, so it was a very important point, it was near to Route 4, going into the Delta, and the area of Phu Lam and Me Tho, and see, we were on the outskirts of Saigon and Bien Hoa was only 32 Km from Saigon, Ba Hom is farther from Saigon to the west of Saigon and we were stationed here to protect the air bases of Bien Hoa and Tan Son Nhut, because this is where the communists wanted to gather forces in order to shell those two air bases. So it was very important, and the Newport Bridge was very very near to Saigon, and we were the front line coming from the Delta Region, so we were the front force to meet with the Communists in that area, in that geographical area, and if I am not mistaken, then the division of Airborne at that time, toward the end of the 22nd of April, 1975, they came from Canh Duong, they withdrew from MR II and they were finally stationed in Bien Hoa in order to protect that area.
In terms of meeting with having fighting with the communists forces in the outskirts of Saigon, we had been fighting with them for almost every night started in the beginning as soon as I was stationed there, but the fighting was small and not very intense, but toward the first week or so of April the 7th or the 8th, the fighting intensified, they fought us mainly with heavy shelling, heavy heavy shelling, they kept it up and they did it very hard and that is where Major Thieu of the 17th graduating class Dalat Military School of Officers, died, and that is where one of our batallion of rangers had to face them, they really fought hard, they increased the amount of shelling and shooting. And we couldn't withdraw, so we stayed there until the end of the war. We fought until the 30th of April, 1975, and well, it was intense fighting, but they used the tactic of fighting us for three or four days really intense fighting and then they would stop and then two days later they would pick up and then they fight like that again, shell us again, it was just that their tactic of keeping us there, they fought like that and so we stayed there and fought with them, responding to their fighting until Duong Van Minh declared his unconditional surrender, and so we stopped the fighting then, but not until the 30th of April, 1975. My friend, the Major, he died right there.
How did the military follow the orders of Duong Van Minh. Well let me talk about remember how my own thinking went about having this hope that our country would become a neutral state, and so according to many different assessments from different people, but a majority of the high ranking officials in the administration, and also a number of high ranking officers in the military, and they also believed in the possibility of developing a neutral state, and that is why about 33 generals stayed and fought until the end. And that is why they are still now in prison by the communists in Son Tay, and then the ministers and the generals and many of the officers in the military, we stayed, and that is why it happened, we all had to be imprisoned. We had to be subjected then to being reeducated after that.
Duong Van Minh and one star general Hanh, who, let me tell you about him. He was retired, he was discharged from the military and he belonged to the South Vietnamese Liberation Front. And at that time, I don't know what happened, but when Duong Van Minh came to power, and Cao Van Vinh left his post as chairman of the Joint General Staff, so he put in General Vinh Loc to replace General Vien, and so as Vien left the country, Vinh Loc also soon fled from Vietnam, and when Minh declared the unconditional surrender to the Northern government, then this one star general Nguyen Huu Hanh, came into power and took over General Vinh Loc's post and he was the one who came onto the radio to tell us, all of the military peopoe to lay down our arms. Son Duong Van Minh was the one who declared the surrender, and Hanh was the one who took over and told people to lay down their arms, which was ridiculous, because he was no longer in the military, he was discharged from the military because he was a communist, Viet Cong. When Huu Hanh used to be assistant commander to the commander in the 4th corps, before he was discharged.
Also the order to lay down our arms came from the general staff and so people, the military personnel within the Saigon area and around the Saigon area obeyed the order in the place where we were and where I was in Ba Hon, nobody committed suicide, but we just dropped our arms and walked away from it, like that, yes, we did not surrender, we just disbanded. And everybody went his or her way, went home.
So I went home to Bien Hoa to visit my family and on the way past the Newport Bridge I did see newly made graves for the Airborne people who committed suicide there, and the tombs and a heap of dirt and with a gun and the hat of the airborne on the gun, so it is true that a number of them committed suicide, but not all of them. There were different people, some killed themselves and some just walked away. But on my way to Saigon to report to the Communists, that was the image that hit me in the face and that stayed with me, looking at the graves of the airborne, until today and always. I also say some unburied corpses of the airborne men who died, and the graves were on the left side of the Newport Bridge coming from Bien Hoa, and the communists government ordered that all of the military officers had to turn themselves in int Saigon, I could have done that in Bien Hoa, but I decided not to since they knew the local fifth column and the infiltrators and what have you, the pro communists people, knew that who I was and what I did, and so it would be more difficult for me there, they might just kill me off, so I decided to go to Saigon to turn myself in and to report myself to them. And that is why I saw on the way.
And that was on the first of May, 1975.
The communists ordered all of the military personnel to report to them at 91 Tran Hoang Huan Street, so when I went there , see they did it in waves, and when I was there I saw a number of generals and others who ranked in the majors and up, so then they registered us and gave us some papers and then they told us to go home. And within a month we received new orders to report ortselves to different locations, for example, the Phu Tho race track and Le Qui Don school, remember, I am talking about the military personnel only, so we received orders to report ourselves at the different locations two of the places I just named were examples, and they told us to take along 13,000 piasters, and at that time they had not changed the monetary system, in South Vietnam. And to prepare for one-month rations, dry goods for eating rations, and so all of us thought that if they told us to bring along one-month worth of food and 13,000 piasters, then that would mean that we would be going only for a month. But little did we know that this wasn't true and many of my combat friends, many of these military people, the South Vietnamese military personnel, still to this day are in reeducation camps and many have died.
One month then turned into an indefinite period of time, and so this was one thing that proved to me that I don't know who wrote it but, President Thieu used to say back then, that this is the quote, "Don't trust what the communists say, just look at what they really do." And this was appropriate, it just proved that they could not be trusted. They were too unreliable, never could trust what they tell you. And so it went. They told us that we would be gone for thirty days. Not only to the military personnel but to the office workers and other non military personnel like judges, ministers, congressmen, and senators and so on, they told everybody that we would be gone for only thirty days and look what happened. It has been eight or ten years and people are still in prison from them and many have died at their hands.
After I and others reported to them, they took us back to detention center where we used to hold the Northern prisoners here, and it was in Bien Hoa, Tam Hiep and see at that time I was in the MP force and I was the chief commander of battalion of battalion 12 of the MP and I was at Bien Hoa for two years, from 1969 until 1971 and then I moved on to Phu Quoc.
My report place was in Hoc Mon and then they took me to a detention center in Bien Hoa - Tam Hiep and then I stayed there until May of 1976 and that is when they took me North.
So that night, a very dark night, around midnight, around May in 1976, they took us, me and others, to the Newport Bridge, they transported us using a Molotova Russian truck, which the Russian people gave to the communists, it was like a big GMC, an equivalent of an American truck, so it was called a Molotova instead. With our eyes blindfolded and our hands shackled. They took us to the Newport Bridge where the airmen died, they transported us from the detention center to the Newport Bridge and then they boarded us on a ship called Song Huong before we boarded us the ship they gave us each a bag of dried rice, instant rice, when you pour hot water on it you can eat it. They herded us down to the bottom of the ship in a room, the room was a square one about 12 meters by 12 meters and they put 100 of us there, 100 south Vietnamese officers in that room. Space was very tight so we could only sit down with our knees to our chin with our belongings stuffed in against us because it was so crowded in that area of the room. And to be accurate, by the time they herded us onto the ship, we were not longer blindfolded or shackled, we just had our sack of belongings with us. I can't remember when the boat left the port, but it took two nights and three days before we reached Haiphong Port in North Port. However, let me tell you about the trip itself. During the time that the boat was going to Haiphong, we started to realize the treatment of the communists toward us. An example is that when we were thirsty they didn't just give us water but they stood up above and used a hose and sprayed water down onto us and we got all wet, and it was as though we were a herd of animals. We were not treated like human beings. So for eating they just threw down plastic bowls and that is how they treated us all the way to north Vietnam, they treated us like animals. And in terms of going to the toilet, if we wanted to g pass water or if when we had a bowl movement, we had to stand in line from the bottom of the ship, we had to stand in line for hours, the line would start at eight in the morning and it would not be until 4 in the afternoon that you could go to the bathroom. It wasn't any bathroom, we went upstairs and on the deck, toward the sea, they used a big metal can they used for storing water or gasoline, they used it and turned it into a sort of an outhouse and you had to be in line for hours on end in order to use it. By the time you got to that latrine they would give you only one minute to do what you had to do. Many times people who could not hold until their turn and would piss all over the place where we had to sit or sleep. So it was not very sanitary. That is how it was during the two night and three day trip to Haiphong.
Also during those days we were given C rations, 701, given by China, and which they threw to us from the top to the bottom of the ship.
The ration was a rice cake made of hard and packed rice and it was sugary and it was made of a mixture of sugar and sort of fine wheat or rice, the kind that we in Vietnam used to feed pigs. The Chinese soldiers got these also, I think. This is what they ate.
On the trip to Haiphong we already started to get an idea of how we would be treated. The situation was already uncomfortable in terms of space, food and drinking and going to the bathroom, how they fed us and how they treated us, spraying water on us, so we were sort of apprehensive about the future.
By the time the ship reached Haiphong Bay, it didn't go to the Haiphong port itself, but it stayed out in the Bay, toward another military port, and so there were long boats coming out to pick us up and as soon as we boarded the long boats we were ordered to take off our clothes and then they gave us each a shot in our right arm, and we didn't know what that shot was for.
In my room, 12 by 12, there were 100 people, and I think the ship carried at least 4 to 5 100 people. You see many people wanted me to write about my experience, but I didn't have the time or the means to do it, so it is fortunate now that you want to know about it. I want to tell you every single thing in a very accurate and a very truthful manner because I was the one inside, I was the one who had experienced these things, so I wanted you to know about it and it would be up to you as to how you would write it, but I would tell you all about it, all of it, the very accurate truth.
So anyway, as soon as we got our clothes taken off and our shots on the arms, there was a northern military officer telling us something like this, "Now you guys are on socialist land." After he announced to us that we were on socialist land, they let us go to the restrooms and we were guarded by the military soldiers and also by the special police force, called Cong An, and so after that they put us into groups of 50 people each and put us in train compartments, and they they transported us by train. Before we boarded the train they gave us each a a fan, a banana, and two loves of bread with dried meat inside. The trip on the train comparing to the trip on the ship, it was worse. What happened was that they put us on the train compartment, actually those were not the passenger compartments. The train did not just carry us the prisoners, but also the civilians, and the civilians stayed in the passenger compartments, where it was clean, and they put us in the compartments at the back of the train which were used to transport animals like in our country, they would put chickens and ducks and other domestic animals that they wanted to sell at the market. And that is where they put us. And the whole place wreaked with animal smell and droppings and urine smell, and whatever, because the animals had lived there. At that time the compartments were without animals, but their residue, shit, was still there for us to breath in and to sit and stand on. And those compartments had no windows or anything, just one big door on the side.
The trip on the train was very very uncomfortable because we did not have any window and the doors were locked, and it was very stuffy in their, plus there was no fresh air coming in and plus the smell of the animals and their droppings and the difficult thing was that we had no restroom area in those cars, so it was really hard. So the train took us from Haiphong to Yen Bai, it was one day and one night before we reached Yen Bai.
The train that the compartment that carried them did not get to stop at the main train station because the communists were afraid that they would get in touch with the civilians, so the train stopped about 2 kilometers from the main train station. And so they made us step off the train and by now we were shackled again and we were made to walk in rows of five and as soon as we were assembled we received a stoning -- we were stoned by the civilians. Look, look at the scar on my head, it is still here, where they hit me with stones at that time. The civilians stoned us and I could not tell if they did it on their own or if they were ordered to do it. But it could be that they just did it on their own, because from the time that Ho Chi Minh took over in 1954, until the time that Saigon fell in 1975, it was along period of time and the people could be brainwashed into believing the things that they said about us, the Southerners, and besides from the Ben Hai River up to the Northern area, they had a saying that ever civilian was a guerrilla, so I could not tell you know the thing why they did it, they could have been doing it on their own or they could have been incited to do this to us.
And according to my own assessment of the situation, I could say that maybe 2/3 of them were incited to do this. If you have ever watched the movie that was titled, "We Want to Live," that was then on the situation after the 1954 Geneva Treaty, and in the North the people, the landowners, and the business people, they were being buried alive and stoned, and the people who did this were mainly being instructed and incited into doing so. So what happened to the Southern Vietnamese officials when they came North after 1975, the same thing repeated itself, like history repeated itself, and that was my deduction.
Anyway, we got on the Molotovas, about 20 of them, carried us to the bank of the Hong River, a very big river, and this river has no bridge between the two banks and so there was a ferry waiting for us there, and at this time they divided our group of fifty people into two groups, twenty five into each group, they did it just like that, they didn't do it according to rank or anything like that, just split us into halves. The 25 people in one group stayed on this bank and later on I learned that they had been sent to to Thap Ba in Yen Bai, whereas our group crossed over and went to Nghia Lo.
As soon as we crossed the river and got off the ferry, we got stoned again. The people, the civilians were there waiting for us with stones in hands, and at that time it was at noon, it was so terribly hot and humid and they were waiting for us already, waiting to stone us again.
After the stoning, then one Molotova took 25 of us, I was in that group, the truck drove us to a jungle area within the Nghia Lo town, and as soon as we reached that place, which didn't have any civilians around at all, just us and soldiers, they made us get off the truck and ordered and us to sit in a rice paddy that had been harvested and which still had some of the bottom of the part of the rice stalks and water left in it, and so there were about sixty soldiers guarding us, they were surrounding us, they are called Bo Doi, and that night they gave us a boiled rice cake with dab of salt and a dab of cow fat and that was the first night in the North and that is what we got to eat.
The next morning they broke us up into squads of twelve men each and then they distributed us each a knife and a we were told to cut down 100 bamboo trees, it is the kind of bamboo trees that you can break it down and use it to make into thatched roofs and things like that.
And for us, those people had been commanders in their lives and who had not done any hard physical work, it was difficult. And by the way, during our work, they had us watched all the time, they assigned two Northern soldiers to each officer, the thing was that in the beginning the bamboo trees were close to the road, so the walking distance was not too bad, and as we cut down those bamboo trees, then we cleared space and we had to go deeper into the jungle to cut down more, and therefore the walking distance increased, and with the way they fed us every night, just one small rice cake, with some salt and some fat, it was not enough to sustain our stamina, our strength, and the labor was too much.
But there were other things, too, and it would take too long to describe the way they treated us and the way they made us work. I just want to say, another thing, the northern soldiers, didn't eat the same ration we did, they had rice. We never had rice, but only a sort of dumpling a boiled rice cake.
In short, they moved us around a lot during my five years in the North. And on the average they moved us every six months from one reeducation camp to another labor camp. And it was so cold, in the Northern part of the country, and they didn't feed us enough.
On the average of the five years tht I was there with other southern officers, we were only fed 52 times with rice, and just a bowl filled to the rim with rice, one bowl in each of those fifty two times. There was no meat except for a few occasions, such as the communist independence day, that is when they gave us a few strips of meat, water buffalo meat. They did not have cow meat, just wter buffalo meat.
So out of 1825 days in the North, we had only 52 times that they fed us with rice. I remember the rice and those days because they were so important. They would fill it to the top and then flatten it by scraping it with a chopstick.
We had corn for food sometimes, and sometimes out of the sadness out of the way that they treated us, we would count the number of kernels of corn in the bowl, and it came to about 132 kernels for each person. Also, in the matter of supervision, there were two separate periods, at first when we came up north we were guarded by the soldiers. Later on we were transferred to the under the supervision of the special police force, the Cong An, and the time that between 1976 and 1978 we were watched by the special police force. And in terms of treating us well, the soldiers were more abusive. They beat us all the time and for any simple reason, for any excuse, small or big, they would beat us up. The reason they were so antagonistic, against us was that in the past we fought with them face to face and so they were really angry at us. They hated us. And they seized this occasion to avenge, to let go, to materialize their hatred for us, because they would try to humiliate us on any occasion, anything they could think of. And example was that, since we were not being fed properly and the amount of hard labor was so much, we were always hungry, and sometimes we would ask the civilians for some food, and one time I was so hungry so I asked them, the civilians for some food, and they gave me an ear of corn, but then the communist guards caught me and so they made me kneel down in the middle of the road, in front of the civilians and for all to see, because I had asked for food when I was hungry, but not only myself but many officers also had to do this to be humiliated.
Now let me talk about the way in which the two regimes treated their prisoners. In the North, as a prisoner, and I and others were given only about 12 kilograms of rice per month, without any greens or any medication. Remember, when I talk about 12 kilograms of rice, I didn't mean that it was real rice, but the boiled cake. Whereas in the south, when they were prisoners of us, we fed them and they were given 21 kilograms of rice per person, but not only just the rice but also greens and medication. And now, as prisoners, we did not receive that kind of treatment we had only 12 kilograms per person per month. We had just salt water to go with whatever they gave us. Even the medications that our families sent to us were confiscated. And even like the metal containers that our families put food in, these were also confiscated. And so each day, they in the north gave us 400 grams of nutrition, whereas in the past as prisoners of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam of the South, they were given 700 grams of nutrition per day. Anyway, let me talk about the 12 kilograms that we got each day. But according to the local area that we were in at the time, whatever they produced, they would do an exchange, instead of one, for example they would have yams or manioc, they would equate one kilogram of rice ration into 4 kilograms of manioc, since they didn't so it happened, during the time that I was prisoners, out of 1825 days I only got to eat 52 times real rice.
One different thing was that as prisoners we had to do forced hard labor, whereas when they were prisoners in the south, especially in the Phu Quoc Area, they did not have to do labor. They refused to do any work at all, unless they wanted to steal weapons or ammunition, then they would volunteer to do work so they could carry out their schemes. Otherwise, they would not do anything. They would demonstrate and would not comply with our request, citing the clauses in the Geneva treaty saying that prisoners of war should be given these humane considerations. They used that on us, and they would not want to do the building of a fence, because they then would be able to monitor our actions, and they might get shot if they didn't watch us closely. But they used the Geneva treaty not to do any labor at all.
The kind of work they made us do. The soldiers who guarded us made us fell trees a lot, big trees, and they assigned four people to a tree and they did a lot of building of houses, and they assigned us to that kind of work, cutting down trees and building houses and also planting rice. And then when we got transferred to the special police force, they had more variety of tasks to do, we would be maybe watching herding cows,water buffalo, goats, or planting rice or greens or we would be building houses, and the thing that they had us do a lot was to fertilize the fields with organic fertilizer, and their source of fertilizer was human excrement. They would order us to our hands and to hold the dried or wet human waste and then throw it onto the fields, so that the fields would be fertilized.
The hours that we had to work it often depended on who was guarding us. When we were with the special police force we would work from seven o clock to five o clock in the evening. Then there was a break at noon time for eating. And when we were with the soldiers they would just hand us a knife and we would just go and do our things, but they didn't have a set hour, set working ours, they would a quota, and so if we filled up our quota, then we could stop, and if we did not, then it would take however much time they didn't care, the main thing was the quota that they had to comply, too. And if we did not meet a quota then we would have to work twenty four hours a day and they didn't care. Usually we worked six days a week and they would let us rest on Sunday. But many times they would say, o work another extra day, and that would be Sunday and they would call that the work day for socialism, so it was a sort of free volunteer day when you contributed to the building of socialism, and of course we had no say about whether or not we wanted to volunteer and anyway, during the three to four years that I was in the care of the special police force, I never got to see the moonlight at night because every day, at five in the evening, they herded us into rooms and each room had about 80 people with may six centimeters per person, and it was on hard cement floor, just hard rock, not really cement, that they had, and then I could never see the moonlight at night, but then when I was guarded by the soldiers, I could at least see the sun and the moon at night, and it was the same pattern where ever we went. But let me talk again about the issue of nutrition. You see when they said one kilogram of grain or rice and they didn't have that they had to equate that into four kilograms of manioc, so that was 400 grams per day per person, breaking into lunch and dinner, for each diner and lunch it would be 200 grams for each meal, and when that was on theory, because when we got manioc, you have to take into account the measuring and the cooking and the peeling off the skin and so in fact we didn't have even 200 grams of food for any meal. It came out to be two small pieces of manioc per meal, and with that we had salt water to eat it, to give it some spice, they didn't give us any solid salt or grainy salt, because they were afraid that if they gave us salt in the form of solid, grains, then we would accumulate and save the salt for an occasion to escape from the forced labor camp, and that is why they gave us salt water instead of solid salt. They fed us with those skimpy and non nutritious meals and the amount of forced labor that they made us do resulted in the weakening of the body and many people died of starvation or of malnutrition. A case in point is my friend, Major My. One day he was just gotten his meal, which was a bowl of barley, and he was just walking and his hands were shaking so much because he was so hungry, and then he didn't even have time to eat his barley, but he just fell his holding his bowl of barley and he fell with it onto the floor and was dead right there. I saw him. So to supplement our intake of food we had to eat a lot of greens that we found that stole that we were not supposed to have. There was a kind of green that a lot of us ate, it was called Thau Bay, eating that day in and day out, you get tired of it, so we switched to eating the leaves of the manioc, the new leaves that just sprouted, we could not cook them, but we had to take them out to a mountain stream and then wash them, and then we ate them like that, after we stole them, because they would not want us to have anything. And that was the part for greens. And the things for our protein need, we would eat everything from frogs to insects to mice to whatever we could find, anything. That was our very precious foods, they were our source of protein, and we just ate anything we could get our hands. To sooth our hunger. And in the two years that we were guarded by the soldiers, well, in those two years, we didn't have any sweets at all, for two years, without anything sweet, and we craved the taste of sweetness so much, sometimes people working the jungle and the found some trees and the taste was sweet and so they ate the leaves, and so they died because those leaves were poisonous and they didn't know it, but it gave out a sweet taste and we craved so much for something sweet and so we ate it. And I did not eat it but they did and they died because of the poisoning. Sometimes when we got a supply from home, like one guy had a pound of sugar in a form of tablets, 54 tablets of sugar, and he ate it within two minutes, he ate all 54 in two minutes, and that is to show you how much we needed something sweet. And for two years we went without anything sweet. And remember the salt water. They didn't want us to have the solid salt because we would be able to horde that and escape from the camp, and a little bit of salt can go a long way, and it gave a taste to other food that we might find, too.
Of the two reasons that killed many prisoners, there was first the issue of not being able to adjust to the climate. Not just to the weather or anything, but even the water, and the inability of the body to face such a big change, without adequate nutrition. And the second reason was that we died of hunger a lot, we did not have enough food to eat and our body became bloated and we had no medication and so we went on dying like that, and you must remember that not all of the people who were sent north stayed in Hanoi or in the nearby regions, most of us were sent into the jungle areas, into the highlands or into the border areas that were so isolated and were so harsh, and conditions and in climate and that was really hard, now about the visitation and the supply from the families.
For those who were jailed in the south, it was much easier on them on and on their families because of the transportation, because of the closeness of families in a way and because of the southern people, the common people were nice and kind, and so for their families, just to supply them with food and mediation, it was much easier, where as for those of us who were jailed in the north it was really hard on our families because of the distance and because of the cost. First you would have to go from Saigon to Hanoi and then from Hanoi up north into the jungle area and into those very isolated areas of the country and first of all, the families just could not carry the goods by themselves walking such long distances and so they had to hire people to help them transport the goods and that cost the mmany money, and sometimes it took them many months to reach us, so it was very costly, and I got to meet my family and to get supplies from them just once during the years that I was in the camps.
The prisoners in the south were fortunate in that the civilians did not hate them, and in the north, since 1954, and they got brainwashed and they didn't know us and they only knew hatred to us, and so when we got out of there for the first time, we met with rains of stones and they stoned us and when they saw us they acted as though they were seeing lepers, they wanted either to hurt us or to stay away from us. They had no compassion and no love, and we could ask nothing of them, even if we were thirsty, even if we wanted a drop of water from them, so it was very hard.
So having been a guard of prisoners and now a prisoner myself, I had time ponder on the two policies and the two philosophies of the two regimes in Vietnam, and I really appreciated what we had done for the prisoners, and got to appreciate what the communists were really like in the way they treated their prisoners.
On the release of me from the reeducation forced labor camp, when I told you about how we never got settled in one place and they moved. So we started out in Nghia Lo, they moved us to Bac Can Thai, Nguyen then we moved to Nghe An and it was there, in Nghe An that I got released. Sometime in December, 1980, the communist government said that they started moving people south from the border of China up in those highlands where I was, they moved a number of prisoners south to Phan Thiet, and they gave the reason that in the North they did not have enough food to feed the prisoners and also the climate was not what the prisoners were used to, so they moved a number of people South to Z30C and Z30B were moved from the border of Vietnam and China from the jungle area.
Also there were in January, 1981, there were a lot of prisoners being released by them aand they had been in the high ranking positions in the past such as cols and lts and so on, but the people that they released were almost dead or who were half dead.
Half dead or who were really ill, like at one camp in Vinh Phu, they released a 167 prisoners, including the highly ranked officers that I mentioned earlier, but they were very ill, and so during the first two months of 1981 they released many people.
In December of 1980 they transported a lot of prisoners south to Ham Tan and those camps I talked about, 30c,30d, those who did not get transferred south were released in the first two months of 1981 and the reasons they released people were first because the people were so ill and dying, and secondly because of pressure from other governments, overseas, that is why they released so many people during that times from the camps in the North. I knew of camps like Vinh Phu, other camps released eighty or a hundred people nd from my own camp they released sixty seven people, thirty of whom were really ill. I was one of those thirty people who were really ill.
(The release of prisoners he said was for two reasons. Pressure and illness, and then he was asked if it was because of the Chinese fighting with the Vietnamese, near the border and the Vietnamese government was afraid that the southern officers would join forces with the Chinese, and he said that was also a possible reason that the prisoners talked about, "Well, on the 17th of February, 1979, the Chinese forces invaded a criminal reeducation camp, for the northerners and not the southern prisoners camps, and at that time, they fought along the borders and they crossed over into Vietnamese territory and invaded that camp, which was in Phong Quan, and at that time I was in Bac Cang in a location called Phu Song Vong, when I was at that place these criminals whose camp was invaded by the Chinese, they escaped to our place, their location was in Phong Quong Lao Cai, so when their camp was invaded by the Chinese soldiers they ran on foot to our area, and however, Iheard about half of these prisoners population, ran to the Chinese soldiers and went with them at that time. But remember, these people were criminals and were civilians in the north, and that was the camp that got hit by the Chinese soldiers.
As to the issue of if there were live American prisoners up North. I could not say because our lives were so restricted we were always watched and guarded in our every movement and there was no way we could communicate with the civilians in the Northern Area, because since 1954, each person, each civilian was a soldier, a guerrilla, and so there was no communication going on between us the southern prisoners and the civilian population.
I was released in Nghe An, and upon my release they gave me 25 dong and 5 kilograms of barley,and so I went to the train station to get a ticket and you know what, as soon as I got to the train station, the civilians, the southerners who had come north to do business, they spotted me and others who got released, and they knew that we were southern officers who had just been released from the prison camp so they started to supply us with food and throughout the way from Nghe An to the south they continually supplied us and bought food for us to help us out so that we could get to the south to our land.
These people helped us out with food and money so I could get back to the South. Six months after my release I escaped from Vietnam, every single day that I was after six months that I was in the South I had to report myself, every day, to the local special police force, for each neighborhood there was a police force assigned to that neighborhood, and so I had to report myself there very single day, and so after six months I decided to escape and so it was from there from the rear area that I escaped by boat, which was about 10.5 meters long and which carried 87 people, and Ba Ria was where I escaped from.
Our boat escaped for Malaysia and I stayed in Pulau Bidong camp, after that I went to the Philippines I went to the US, here and what was my feeling when I left on the boat that day.
Two things, of course I was really sad. Because of two things. I had to leave my family, my wife and my children there, and second because I was leaving my country. I was leaving them and my country for my own survival and because of my own freedom. There is nothing happy about having to leave your family and your country like that, but you need to be free and you need to be able to live in freedom in a free place, and so I had to leave. If I were to stay in Vietnam, the issue was not of economics, but because of my desire to be free, and to live as a free man in a free country. If I were to stay in Vietnam I would still be able to make a living with my own two hands, however it would be much harder because it is a communist society, and over here, it wasn't much the issue of the economy, but the issue was freedom, it was freedom that I wanted. And it is good to be free. And as far as making a living, you have to work anywhere in order to be able to live. But freedom is the thing, I wanted.
I still have a wife and a daughter in Vietnam. Here in the US I have my three sons. One is working, one is in the University and one is in high school. If we had stayed in Vietnam, they would be forced to join the military and they would die. The one son who is in college, he left in 1978 and the other two came with me when I left.
Do I ever dream of Vietnam? Of course, that is the hope, to go back their some day. To return. But as far as personal dreams, I always dream of Vietnam like, I think, I see my house, I can visually see my house and the inside of my house and where I slept with my wife, and I see my parents in Danang, and my brothers and sisters, and my friends, I see how they live and how they can make a living, and my friends and my family, they are always with me in my mind. And the hope to return is there.
You know, I am going to talk about my experience and my observation of the events that happened in Vietnam and of the way that the communists treated prisoners. The things I am going to tell you are very accurate and factual and I hope that you can use them and write about them so people will understand.
I was born in 1936 in Danang, in Vietnam. There are three things we can talk about. First is the historical and political developments in Vietnam after the Paris Treaty in 1973, my own observation. The second topic is we can talk about the prisoners of war, treatment, how the South Vietnamese government carried out its policy of caring for the prisoners of war, the Northern soldiers who were captured. And the third topic that we can talk about is the way that the Northern Communist government treats the Southern military personnel and other people, just us, the prisoners. And after five or six years in the North, living in that system, I could tell you what it was like, how they abused us and how they treated us, me and my comrades from combat days.
In short the southerners who became their prisoners, be it military or civilian or governmental workers, how we were treated. I will tell you about the issue of humanity and humane treaty, based upon the treaty of 1973 and how we carried it out and how they carried it out and maybe we can also talk about the issue of the exchange of prisoners before Saigon fell.
In the year that the Paris Treaty was signed, I was then a battalion commander of the 7th battalion of MPs stationed at Phu Quoc. First I want to talk about the issue of prisoners of war. According to the Geneva treaty, in time of war, there would always be the issue of prisoners of war and these people must be given humane treatment. So the Vietnamese military system had reserved a center, a special center, in each military zone in South Vietnam to house the prisoners of war. And so the South Vietnamese government tried to follow closely the humane treatment, conditions that were dictated, that were spelled out by the Geneva Treaty in 1949. So in total, South Vietnam, in each MR had one center for prisoners of war, but there was also a center a special one in Qui Nhon, to house the female prisoners of war. And the reason Phu Quoc became an extra detention center was that it usually happened that the prisoners who were captured during war in each region would be turned over to the detention center in each region, and after that interrogated, and after the Second bureau, the intelligence bureau was through with them, they would hand them over to the MPs, and but as the number of prisoners increased, dramatically, throughout the year, the Centers became so full and we needed another place to house them, so Phu Quoc was established as the main detention center for the prisoners ofr war. Structure at this central detention center was like this. The center had four battalions of MPs, a battalion 7,8,9, and 14, plus an administrative body like a headquarters component to run the detention center. After four battalions, the 7,8,9 were in charge of the direct supervision of the prisoners of war, and the 14th was acted as a reserve unit. By the end of 1973 we had about 36,000 prisoners of war at Phu Quoc, and each battalion had 600 men in it. So we had four battalions stationed in Phu Quoc. Close to the time that the Paris Treaty was going to be signed, the signed, the situation in Phu Quoc was very stuffy, if I remember correctly, the treaty was signed in January, 1973, starting in December of 1972 and on the prisoners rebelled. They became very restless and the atmosphere in Phu Quoc was very grave and serious and difficult. The prisoners became so restless, and the reason they acted up and increased the amount of restlessness was that to try to lower our morale, and to confuse us, and the issue of whether they acted up to return to the North or not wanting to return to the North was not a central issue. They just wanted to create chaos and drive us bananas, and make us in degrees sort of psychological warfare and to make us confused and fearful, and that is why they stepped up their efforts, creating restlessness in the center. And how did they learn about the negotiations in Paris. They were a few small crews who worked at the airbase in Phu Quoc and when they were working, they picked up the newspapers, the passengers and civilians and soldiers who came through the airbase and who left the newspapers there, and they read the news and the developments in Paris and so they came back into the center and started to share the news with their fellow inmates and at that time we didn't tell them about the Paris treaty because we were still under negotiations and we didn't know exactly what the terms of the treaty would be. To go on with the situation in Phu Quoc, I want to talk about the issues of how the South Vietnamese government treated prisoners of war.
And how the Geneva convention was honored and how the prisoners treated themselves among fellow inmates of the prison.
The first thing I want to talk about is how the South Vietnamese military people treated the prisoners. In Phu Quoc we had four battalions of MPs and for each battalion we had four American advisers, more than any other MPS on land.The order from the Joint General Staff was for us to adhere to the Geneva rules and regulations in terms of treating POWS. On the aspect of medical care, which was also a humane treatment condition that we adhered to, in this aspect we had four doctors, 52 medics who were officers and one dentist, one pharmacist, and these people were in charge of caring for the physical health of the prisoners. And one thing was that even though at the end of the year of 1973, we had 36,000 prisoners, it had not always been that true, and the number of prisoners varied, however, we always had the full medical staff there to care for them. I think even without the four doctors we could care for them with the 52 medics who were really well trained officers, they were like practical nurses here in the US. And one decisive thing is that we had plenty of medications of any kind and we were well stocked and equipped to care for the prisoners. Besides the provision of medical care, generated by the medical staff, in Phu Quoc, there were also teams of medical staff American medical staff coming out now and then to give dental care and physical check ups to the prisoners. And these people were the military medical staff, and if you wanted more information and wanted proof of this you could contact the MP training school in the US at Fort Gordon, they must have the documents on these trips to treat the POWs. Also, on the issue of giving medical care, I as the commander of a battalion, had an officer who each day checked with the prisoners to see who needed medical care and he would make a list of the prisoners to see who wanted to seek medical care and there was no limit on the number of times that they could seek medical care, that is an important that you need to remember, there was no restriction on the prisoners in terms of seeking medical care. And it was also up to the battalion commander to have the officer, medics, to examine the prisoners first and then for serious illnesses and cases they would be send to the doctors at the hospital to take care of them. Anyway, because of this, the easy way that we treated them and let them have medical care, the way that we did not restrict that the number of times that they wanted medical care, many of the prisoners took advantage of the situation and hoarded medications and escaped from the center.
This was only one small factor, but taken as a whole, the human way of treating the prisoners of war at Phu Quoc enabled these people, the POWs to escape from the Center and they would horde medicine and food and water to escape from the center. What I am about to say is very accurate.
So we had these people who wanted to escape from the camp, sometimes for medical cases that required hospitalization and the doctors thought that hospitalization was necessary, that person stayed in the hospital for at least two days and what happened, in a big camp like the one at Phu Quoc, the minimum among of people in the hospital was 20 and they wore two or three layers of clothes and they hid the different maps of the each area of the camp, and so at night when nobody was there, these people would, all 20 of them, they would get together and take out their maps and show each other how to escape from the camp. They were thorough on each map, and they would show where the lights were and how exactly an individual would escape, showing kilometers and lights and guards and so on and they very carefully panned. And then they would show you how to join the people, the other escapees in the Mac Quy (99 Peaks) mountains. This is the way that the prisoners got the information. They would try to get people to be hospitalized so that they could then share the information and share the maps and then escape. and these people, those who were able to escape would go up to the mountains where they formed a specialized battalion who had encounters with us. And where did they get their ammunition. Nobody has ever talked about the treatment of prisoners before Saigon fell. I was a battalion commander who was stationed in Phu Quoc for three years, so I knew the situation there, I knew the way the South Vietnamese government treated its prisoners. Maybe you can tell about the differences the way prisoners of war were treated. You can tell how the policie is were different. Then you can write about how about the Northern government treated Vietnamese from the South. When we were sent up North. I am telling the truth, in a very accurate manner, because I have been on both sides, I commanded an MP battalion and watched over POWS and then I was a prisoner to the Northern government after the fall of Saigon and subjected to their kind of treatment.
In Phu Quoc,for each battalion there would be an officer medic. In the camps in different smaller units that the camp was broken up into, what happened was the prisoners themselves formed in their own section, a labor communist party member representative, they chose among themselves, somebody who had been a member of the communist party and this person was then in charge of their own section. It was he who would be the one to tell within his group to seek medical care. This way he could chose the members who could be sent to the hospital and get connections and then escape. They had worked out a really good channel of communication within the camp. When they were in the hospital they would be doing their things. Another thing that amazed me was how they could dig tunnels out of the prison. It was sort of unbelievable to me during my years working in Phu Quoc. Before it became a detention center, the engineer corp built foundations for houses, 16 by 12 meter long, and the foundation and the thickness of the cement at the foundation was very thick, but they could still dig tunnels from that kind of ground. What happened was during the day time, when the MPs were marching back and forth and watching them, they would be sitting there playing Chinese chess, but as soon as the MP was out of sight they would work on digging the tunnels. They pretended to play chess and since the cement floor had no marking, they used barbed wire to draw the chess board, and when the mp walked by, all he saw was a chess board with people playing. As soon as the guy left, they would continue ti dig in the lines that they drew, just deeper and deeper, and within three months they could actually dig through the cement floor. How did they do that without MPs knowing. It was a psychological game that they played. When they cut through the cement floor, they had boards that they would used todig with after they were through the cement floor. the hole they dug was in a bright area, but the thing was first that they dug in the bright area, and the MP thought that they would never do to do that. And the MP did not think they would be able to dig through such deep cement floor when they had no sharp instruments to do so. And because the way the prisoners lived, they never wanted to clean up their place. When the MPs saw the dirt they thought they got it from the outside.
In 3 months they dug through the cement and got through the opening. The question is how did they do away with the dirt they dug up. How did they dispose of it. Each barrack held 18 to 100 prisoners, and each zone held 1000 prisoners. Each prisoner was given a brown shirt with two pockets. They made two or three holes inthe pocket. and for each prisoner they would put two fistfuls of dirt in their pockets, and usually at 7 in the morning the mp would ring the bell for the
[LONG SECTION ON TAPE TWO SKIPPED ON DETAILS OF PRISONER TREATMENT ON PHU QUOC ISLAND. THIS IS IRRELEVANT.]
The exchange of prisoners. The issue of exchanging prisoners was based upon the treaty of 1973, it was one of the clauses of the treaty. The exchange of the prisoners that I took was involved in took place in was in Quang Tri by the Thach Han River. I am fairly knowledgeable of the process because I was involved in this, the Thach Han River was one of the exchange locations for prisoners at that time. When the Paris Agreement was finalized, the MP, I was involved in the process of exchanging prisoners. The exchange took place in several places, two in the South and one in the center of Vietnam. Those three were Loc Ninh and Thien Ngon, these two locations were in the South. And one in the center region was the Thach River. Usually the plan for exchanging prisoners was formed in the headquarters in Saigon. And the four side committee was the one that issued the schedule of exchange of prisoners. So the four groups involved in this issue were the South Vietnamese, the Americans, the Northern Vietnamese and the NFL.
I was one of the members who processed the schedule of prisoners exhanged. The chief commander of the MP in Phu Quoc would tell us on each day, what section would be going and how many prisoners in the section would be leaving. Usually it would be 100 prisoners for departure. The method for transportation was that the American government would fly a C130 from Thailand to Phuy Quoc to pick up the prisoners and deliver them to the exchange location. With each group of prisoners there was a staff of 12 with them, 2 nurses, one doctor, one political warfare officer, one MP officer and the rest were MP personnel. We left with the prisoners and the MP officer held the files on the prisoners. We flew to the air base in Quang Tri, that had an American name, even then, and from that air base there were GMCs coming to pick them up and drive them to the river where the exchange took place. The river ran from East to West, so it divided the country in two. We stayed on the South side of the river and they crossed the river to the North and then they were on the North Vietnamese territory. So when we took the prisoners to the riverside there were motorboats supplied by the South Vietnamese engineer corps ready to take them across the river. And to hand them to the Northern government. The MP personnel were supposed to go on each crossing with with. But before this was carried out, there was an obstacle for the MP because the prisoners when they got to the river bank, they became disruptive. They did not obey the rules that were established by the four party committee. Nor did they obey the orders of the MP who was still in charge of them. At the river bank, we had put up a gate with the South Vietnamese flag flying on it, and so when they walked to the river bank, instead of going through the gate, as was planned, they refused to comply and they just sat down and took off their clothes. The prisoners were also disruptive and disobeyed us. On the south side of the river, with our motorboats to transport them, and on our boats we had our flags flying, and they completely refused to use the boats unless we took off the flags. And it was kind of ridiculous, because the territory belonged to us and the boats were our boats, so we put the flags down, but they wanted us to take them down before they would be transported in the boats across the river.
So to resolve this problem I had a meeting with members from the South Vietnamese government and the NLF representative, and even though the representative came and showed the prisoners the documents signed by a general Hoa of the Northern Vietnamese Army, the documents that had the procedures and agreements on them, and still the prisoners did not want to comply and obey. Also the meeting that I had had other representatives there, like Canadian representative, Indonesian and Hungarian representatives there, anyway, the meeting was to dissect and discuss the problem and to see how to carry out the process, and so finally they agreed on getting somebody from the northern regime to come over and talk to the prisoners and show them the documents signed by General Hoa, of the North Vietnamese Army. Finally the prisoners decided to listen and to proceed with the exchange process. And that took us the whole two days to resolve the situation. another obstacle for the MP in carrying out the exchange process, when the motorboats carried the prisoners half way over the river and started to approach the other side of the river the prisoners just jumped off the motorboats and the soldiers waiting on the other side would run out and help those who jumped off the boats, and brought them back to land and then land off into the woods on the other side of the territory. So when the motorboats reached the other side of the river they did not have the full number of 100 people that they started out with. So now we had left only 70 to 80 prisoners to exchange, so we lost like 20 to 30 because they jumped out of the boats and swam ashore. And so many times the representatives of the Northern government refused to sign the list of the prisoners exchanged, and said that he did not receive a full 100 people as stated on the list. They were really stubborn, the prisoners. They didn't want to comply with any rules or regulations, even if those rules came from the agreement made by their government, and the liberation front of the south. The procedure would have been that we would transport them over to the other side of the river and then they would be gathered in one special place and their names could be read and Checked off the the list. And then the list would be signed by a representative of the northern government. But the things that they did made it really difficult to follow through with our procedures and it made our job as MPs very hard that time.
The Thach Han River is only 80 meters wide, so when they got past half the river, it was the territory of the Northern communist government, and when they jumped into the river and swam to the other side, their comrades would help them and carry them deeper into the territory without waiting to check the list. Each motorboat carried only 20 prisoners at a time. So a row of motorboats would be going across with the prisoners. But we could never account for all the 100 people we were supposed to hand over. Using that act, they kept us at bay and they would argue with us over the missing people, knowing full well that they had already arrived back in the North. So it was a very sly and calculating move on the part of the communists. The reason I wanted to emphasize this factor, how they jumped off the boats and would not sign the list, the actual number did not match the list, by the river bank, I wanted to emphasize this point for you to see how sly and calculating the communists were and how they always wanted to extract every ounce of advantage for themselves and they always wanted to create difficulty and chaos for us, whereby our southern government and us were so sincere in our training and in our efforts to carry out the Paris agreement and the exchange of prisoners,but it wasn't so on the part of the communists from the very start of the agreement and they never dealt on good faith with us. They were too sly and we were too sincere, trying to follow the procedures.
Another example of how they were not trustworthy. There was a case, one day at the Thach Han River. There was one prisoner named Trinh Van Khi, who was a corporal in the Northern military system, and who made a request to the MP captain in charge, saying that he wanted to be allowed to stay in the South, so this MP captain relayed this message to me and I made the request made known to the people of the four part committee, so the request was refused, but the attention was then to have this prisoner back to their territory and to execute him for expressing this desire to remain in the South. And so make sure that this prisoner crossed the river, five other prisoners were ordered to surround him and to keep an eye non him until the time for the crossing came. When he made the crossing I thought that I should try harder to help him. So I called for a meeting of all the members involved in this committee, to present his case and to argue in his behalf. the meeting last from 4 to 8 in the evening, finally the Northern government agreed to the request to hand him back to me. The meeting at that time, I was using the guidelines on the humane treatment of POWS generated by the Paris Treaty of 1973. So he was allowed to make another crossing and to come back to the South bank of the River. But knowing the Com people, I knew that they would not let us go easy. So I asked for assistance from the Indonesian delegation. And Lt. Col. Jensen of the Am delegation, Phan Nhat Nam, two female medical officers and myself to go across the river to welcome this prisoner back to the South. But as soon as we were ready to leave and we were about to get back in the boat, about 200 communists ran down after us and started to beat us up. They beat me and the other guy, the corporal of the NVA, and the two female medic officers, they left the foreigners alone because they didn't dare beat up the foreign delegation. The reason I asked for two female medical officers for this trip, I figured that they would make trouble but that they would do nothing to the females, and I wanted them to go with the corporal and protect him. So my idea was to have them protect this guy. But it was out of my anticipation that they would beat all of us up, even the females. That night we got away, but by the time we got to the south bank of the river, we were all injured. The corporal himself was doing all right, but that night we were so tired, it was just unbelievable and we were so lucky to be alive and to return to our own side safely. I wanted to show you how the minds of the communists work.
The treaty was signed but they didn't want to follow through with their own agreement. I wanted to show you the difference in what they say and what they actually do.
We always tried to work on good faith. And they never wanted to adhere to what they agreed to on paper. You should know that.
They were returned in good health to the North. And they were in good health. But of my own people, my comrades, who had been captured and returned to the South, they I received all of them in stretchers, they wee so weak and physically unfit and ill. They were not like the prisoners that were turned to the communists in good health.
The number that were exchanged at the river, it was 16,800 people alone in that one location. At the other locations, I don't know how many were returned in those exchanges.
Also, I only received 2500 of our soldiers at that location. Remember the differences in numbers. We gave them 16,800 and they returned only 2500, most on stretchers. Of those we received back, one day one soldier returning from the North, he brought with a a letter, from my friend Lt. Col. Nguyen Khuong, who was the commander of the first battalion of the supply unit that was captured. The government refused to return this person to us. I point out this case because I wanted to show you the similarity between the Am soldiers who were captured by the northern government, and who were not returned to the American government.
As far as Lt. Col. Nguyen Khuong, he was on his way of carrying out his duties when he was captured in MR1, so he was held in the same center where the other prisoners were held, and yet these people werereleased and he was not released. He wrote a long letter in English to the committee which this soldier carried back. I had a question mark in my mind when I became aware of the situation. I thought at the time since they did not want to release him, then I suspected that the northern government had some other things up their sleeves, maybe they wanted more or there would be other conditions for the release of these people. And I thought if they did that, would the south Vietnamese officers that were captured by them, then the fate of the Am officers and prisoners held by them would be the same or worse, but not any better. Yes, I do believe that the northerners are still holding American prisoners and they are still held by the communist government. I don't know what ever happened to Khuong. We never saw him again.
Then there is the case of a south Vietnamese officer who bombed the north and was held captive by them. His name is Nguyen Quoc Dat. He, according to the Paris Treaty of 1973, the exchange of prisoners would involve only those who fought in the South and were captured, but not any of those who were fighting in the North and were held captive there. This guy, who bombed the north and was held captive, and was released, which was against the agreement. I remember one clause in the treaty, 21b clause, that stated that the northern government would not release anyone who was captured in the north who was south Vietnamese military persons. only those they captured in the south would be returned. But this guy was released.
Lam Son 719 operation, in the lower Lao area. Col Thong of the airborne troops and also many of the airborne men who fought in this area, which is situated west of Vietnam, was released. Why did they release him. Later on I found that when he was captured in North Vietnam he acted as a translator for the communist government in the interrogation of the American officers and soldiers who were held captive in the Hanoi Hilton, the Hoa Lo. So this case was to show you how they were not respect for the terms of the treaty. They were just acting the way they wanted to and in a way that was profitable to them, irrespective of any orders or treaties that they signed and agreed to. And not like the way they crossed the Ben Hai River. As stated in the Geneva Treaty of 1954 that they would not cross over the Ben Hai River that divided the country into North and South. This goes to show you that they were not adhering to anything and that they are not to be trusted.