Southern Heroes: Le Van Hung, the ARVN, and the Battle of An Loc

levanhungPhoto via Freedom For Vietnam

Introduction and Commemoration

Words cannot express the deep pain felt by the loss of our nation, South Vietnam, nor can it be expressed the endless gratitude felt for those brave soldiers who so valiantly gave their lives for a cause that was so noble, and in the face of such overwhelming odds.

On this day, April 30, 2017, we pay tribute to the fallen heroes who gave their lives to defend our nation and our freedom, as well as those blessed heroes who lived on to tell the tale of their fallen brothers and sisters in arms. Furthermore, on this day, we pay our gratitude, not only to the soldiers, but also the common citizens, those brave souls who departed from South Vietnam after its fall on April 30, 1975, and embarked into that harrowing endless blue, the Pacific Ocean, in search of freedom and a better life for the future generation of Vietnamese youth.

There is so much to be proud of as a person of South Vietnamese origin. We hail from a nation of freedom, human rights, and national pride. It was South Vietnam who stood up to China in 1974, when the Chinese invaded our islands in the eastern sea. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, we fought to take them down with us, and to keep alive our claim over these islands.

South Vietnam was the elite nation of Southeast Asia, with freedom of speech, religion, association, and press, as well as the strongest economy in the region, and numerous prestigious universities that acted as host to many students studying abroad from other neighboring nations. Moreover, South Vietnam was a nation of patriots and heroes. The soldiers of South Vietnam fought to defend the country from any invader, and were not ashamed, nor afraid to proclaim their allegiance, nationality, and citizenship as to the Republic of Vietnam.

This brief article will not come even close to covering the many accomplishments and heroics of South Vietnam and its people. Instead, it will focus on one of the myriad instances of South Vietnamese courage, honor, and strength.

As a commemoration of South Vietnam and its heroes on this April 30, I will present to you a retelling of one glorious battle of the Vietnam War, one in which the South Vietnamese soldiers were, as often the case, outnumbered by a staggering concentration of North Vietnamese troops. In the face of overwhelming odds, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), under the command of their fearless leader, Brigadier General Le Van Hung, stood their ground, stared in the face of death, and, with their trademark South Vietnamese defiance and audacity, fought and crushed the North Vietnamese in what one U.S. general lauds as “the greatest victory in the history of warfare,” (Schafer, 1999: 56).

This glorious battle, this momentous victory, took place in and around the small South Vietnamese city of An Loc in the spring of 1972. Despite its magnitude and scale, historians in the west have largely ignored the An Loc battle in the decades following the war (Schafer, 1999: 53; 55). Luckily, the Battle of An Loc has been well covered by those who fought there, by both South Vietnamese and American accounts, and numerous sources have emerged since then to tell the tale. Thus, what happened at An Loc can be told to future generation, its heroes immortalized in the annals of history.

Covered in this brief account are the heroics of the ARVN, the lopsided defeat of the communist forces despite their superior numbers, and some details about the many courageous soldiers who fought there, which includes most prominently the commander of the battle, General Le Van Hung.

The Heroes of An Loc

There were many heroes at the Battle of An Loc. Some of these heroes are recognized prominently in historical accounts, but sadly, as is the reality, many, indeed, most of the soldiers who gave their lives at An Loc remain unnamed in the pages of history. As is professed so eloquently by Van Nguyen Duong, an ARVN officer who served at An Loc, that along with all the prominent names at An Loc, “all ARVN commanders of smaller units, officers, NCOs and soldiers at An-Loc and on Route 13, were heroes,” (Duong, 2008: 160).

These famous names mentioned by Duong include Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Minh, commander of the III Corps & Region, Colonel Le Quang Luong, commander of the 1st Airborne Brigade, and, of course, Brigadier General Le Van Hung, field commander of An Loc and the commander of the ARVN 5th Infantry Division (Duong, 2008: 160). General Hung commanded all of the ARVN forces at An Loc (Duong, 2008: 150). Under him, the South Vietnamese would achieve an overwhelming victory over the communist North Vietnamese, in a battle that, despite being ignored by the west, as it did not fit their antiwar narrative, was larger than the Dien Binh Phu confrontation between the Viet Minh and the French in 1954 (Duong, 2008: 148). For his services at that battle, General Le Van Hung would be lauded in history as the Hero of An Loc (Duong, 2008: 211).

There is no mistake that there were many heroes in the Battle of An Loc. Though they cannot all be named in this brief article, it is important to understand that thousands of South Vietnamese soldiers gave their lives in defense of An Loc, and the defense of South Vietnam, its people, and its ideals. When we remember the great and prominent names in history, we must remember the unnamed soldier as well.

The Battle of An Loc

The Battle of An Loc was initiated by the North Vietnamese, and consisted of three communist assaults in the spring of 1972. The first attack commenced on April 11, the second on April 15, and the last on May 11, 1972 (Lester, 2010: 56). The An Loc confrontation was part of a greater North Vietnamese military campaign, known as the Easter Offensive of 1972, which began on March 30 of that year (Lester, 2010: 56). This ambitious military operation, orchestrated by North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap (Lester, 2010: 56), was aimed at quickly ending the war with a swift capture of Saigon (McDermott, 2012: 3).

The entire North Vietnamese military operation stretched into the summer of 1972, and proved to be an abject failure for the communists. In history, this “disastrous end of the communist Summer 1972 Offensive Campaign in South Vietnam” came to be known as “Red Summer 1972,” (Duong, 2008: 161). The Battle of An Loc is a major part of this communist failure, and South Vietnamese triumph.

At An Loc, the South Vietnamese forces, which consisted of only 7,500 troops, would stand their ground in the face of 21,000 North Vietnamese invaders and ultimately win the fight against the communists (Lester, 2010: 56).

The North Vietnamese forces encircled the city of An Loc on April 6, with South Vietnamese and U.S. bombing NVA positions commencing on April 11 (Lester, 2010: 56). It was during this phase that the North Vietnamese attackers shelled the city with artillery, while their ground enforces approached the city using civilians as human shields (Thi, 2009: 83-84). In response to this barbaric communist tactic, South Vietnamese and U.S. defenders had to operate around the civilians, shooting over and behind the hostages, and causing the hostages to scatter “in all directions” before finding refugee in An Loc. The hostages would be settled into temporary refugee camps by the South Vietnamese government (Thi, 2009: 84). It is important to stress here the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians by the North Vietnamese, who, over a course of several days, killed several hundred innocent civilians with their shelling attacks, “the majority” of these civilians “were women and children,” (Duong, 2008: 151).

Throughout the first phase of the An Loc battle, communist NVA units and tanks were quickly overrunning different sectors of the city. However, their initial advances would be pushed back by the ARVN, with major help from South Vietnamese and U.S. air support. Initially overwhelmed by the communist onslaught, the young ARVN soldiers and members of the PSDF (People’s Self-Defense Force) would recover and fight back against the NVA, actively hunting down and destroying the tanks of the North Vietnamese that were steadily rolling around the city (Thi, 2009: 89-90). In the air, the VNAF and the USAF bombed North Vietnamese positions to effectively weaken the enemy’s formations around the perimeter, while the “more versatile and maneuverable Cobra attack helicopters” handled the communist tanks inside the city (Thi, 2009: 89-90). By April 13, the ARVN held the southern sector, while the NVA held the north of An Loc. According to Lam Quang Thi, “The battle subsided somewhat by the evening of April 13 without a clear line of contact,” (2009: 97).

On April 15, the communists launched their second attack of the Battle of An Loc (Lester, 2010: 56). The onslaught consisted of once again shelling An Loc with intense amounts or artillery, as well as repeating their previous tactic of using tanks to push deeper into the city (Thi, 2009: 100-101). While the more than “1,000 artillery rounds of all calibers” devastated the city, the tanks deployed by the North Vietnamese were quickly targeted and eviscerated by the ARVN units, who learned quickly from their experiences in the first phase of An Loc (Thi, 2009: 100-101). The South Vietnamese, under General Hung, then went on the offensive.

In the evening of April 15, communists in Wendy Hill were attacked and overrun by ARVN forces. The 9th Division of the VC in the northern sector of the city was then confronted by the ARVN on April 17, and by dawn of April 18, “ninety percent of this commercial section was recaptured,” (Duong, 2008: 154-55). From this point onward, street to street fighting would endure for the next few weeks in An Loc (Duong, 2008: 155).

The communists would try to reverse their fortunes in these faltering offensive efforts, which, up to that point, were all ending in failure (Duong, 2008: 155). Concentrating a staggering 10,000 troops, 5,000 rounds of artillery, and twenty tanks, the NVA attacked the South Vietnamese at Wendy Hill and Hill 169. With initial short-lived successes, the ferocious and heavy communist onslaught would ultimately be crushed like their previous attempts. Over the course of three days, April 19-21, the North Vietnamese would lose 2,000 troops and all twenty tanks, rendering them unable to launch their third offensive for the next three weeks, all the while “unable to advance on inch” against the ARVN and General Hung (Duong, 2008: 155-56). During this hiatus, the North Vietnamese continued to fire indiscriminately into An Loc “nearly 2,000 rounds a day from heavy artillery guns,” killing not only some defenders, but also the civilian residents of An Loc (Duong, 2008: 156).

Finally, the last offensive launched by the communists in the Battle of An Loc happened on May 11, and was the largest NVA attack to be thrown against the city (Lester, 2010: 56). This third offensive by the North Vietnamese was “the most devastating” concentration of artillery shelling by the communists throughout the entire Vietnam War (Duong, 2008: 156).

The massive communist assault on May 11 saw the launching of 11,000 rounds of artillery at An Loc, nearly leveling the entire city, with only the “iron morale of the defenders” standing strong (Duong, 2008: 156). However, despite the heavy artillery shelling and their attacking of the defenders on every front, the communists did not change their tactics, and thus, in this third and largest assault, their troops and tanks were again slaughtered and crushed by the South Vietnamese and their U.S. allies (Duong, 2008: 156). Although the attack lasted until May 14, the brunt of the communist attack was repelled by mid-day of May 11, with the failure of the NVA troops to capture any of their objectives. All the NVA had to show as a result were their “Panicked” communist troops fleeing from VNAF and U.S. airstrikes, and “all forty tanks” from the communists laying “dead on the battlefield,” (Lester, 2010: 156).

By May 14, the third phase of the North Vietnamese attempt to capture An Loc was completely and utterly defeated by South Vietnam with the help of U.S. air support. The losses incurred by the North Vietnamese were so enormous that another attack was no longer possible (Duong, 2008: 157). Thus, the worst fighting of the battle at An Loc was over. The ARVN had won, and the communists had lost.

The following month saw the ARVN carry out search and destroy operations in and around An Loc to clear the area of communist presence, a task made much easier with the help of U.S. air support (Duong, 2008: 157-58). By the latter portion of May, the majority of communist anti-air defenses were eliminated from the vicinity of An Loc, and in the early part of June, helicopters were able to land for medivac and resupplying (Lester, 2010: 56).

The victory of the South Vietnamese would be marked on the afternoon of June 12, with the raising of the national flag at the top of Dong-Long Hill. The President of South Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thieu, would fly to An Loc on July 7, 1972 “to honor the ARVN heroes who had fought the biggest battle of the Vietnam War,” (Duong, 2008: 158).

The Significance of An Loc

The Battle of An Loc was the biggest battle of the Vietnam War, an engagement in which the allied forces of South Vietnam and U.S. air support crushed the invading forces of the North Vietnamese. As shown earlier in the article, the North Vietnamese outnumbered the South Vietnamese threefold, with a mere 7,500 South Vietnamese defenders up against 21,000 communist invaders. Despite these odds, and to not underplay the substantial help of U.S. air support, the South Vietnamese were able to hold An Loc against the invaders, dealing staggering blows to the communists. By the measures of former ARVN officer Van Nguyen Duong, the North Vietnamese lost five times more than the South Vietnamese overall in the Easter Offensive, with a large portion of these losses coming from An Loc (Duong, 2008: 159). At An Loc alone, communist losses amounted to 6,500 dead, compared to 2,300 South Vietnamese killed in action (Lester, 2010: 56).

In the words of George J. Veith, “the heroic defense of An Loc in 1972 had been the most glorious South Vietnamese feat of arms of the war,” (Veith, 2012: 257). For all its glory, An Loc is by no means the only momentous victory achieved by the ARVN. At Kontum, as well as Quang Tri, and in the entire failed communist Easter Offensive, the North Vietnamese forces were not only “convincingly defeated,” but at times “badly mauled” by the South Vietnamese (Thi, 2009: 220). This point is raised here for the purpose of demonstrating the effectiveness of the ARVN as a fighting force, and to dispute the longstanding fallacy that South Vietnam’s armed forces were built of cowards, deserters, and incompetents.

Adding to this point of unfair treatment of South Vietnam by the U.S. media, it will be pointed out here that, despite the scale of the battle and the significance of its victory, the Battle of An Loc was largely ignored by the western media (Thi, 2009: 2). Reason for this omission comes from the fact that admitting to the fighting mettle of the ARVN and victory at “An Loc would contradict the U.S. media’s basic premise that the war cannot be won because the ARVN was a corrupt and ineffective fighting force,” (Thi, 2009: 5). In short, the media tried to weave a false narrative to slander the ARVN and South Vietnam throughout the entire war, and in so doing, refused to acknowledge the victory at An Loc (and every other South Vietnam victory, for that matter) because it would expose the media for the lie they have been cultivating for so long.

An Loc is not only a momentous and glorious victory against Communism, it is a reminder to the liberal media of the lies they have told to the American people for decades. Furthermore, the study of the Battle of An Loc is a stepping-stone for the gradual correction of biased media coverage of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s. The lies that the leftists told during the Vietnam War era endured for decades following the war. It is only late in the last decade that the truth has begun to come out. In time, with more studies from the perspective of the South Vietnamese, a more balanced understanding of the Vietnam War will eventually emerge, and the deception of the leftist media will be brought to light, in all of its shame and disgust. In time, the courage, honor, and sacrifice of the South Vietnamese people will find its rightful place in history. Coverage of An Loc is just the beginning.

In the context of the war itself, An Loc is significant for a number of reasons. If An Loc were to fall to the communists, “Saigon would be shaken and Vietnamization would fail,” and so in order to save the war effort, to save South Vietnam, it was “of vital importance” to save An Loc (Duong, 2008: 153). Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, the victory at An Loc is damning evidence of the capability of the ARVN as a fighting force, despite what the leftist media tried to lead the world to think for decades. The South Vietnamese were brave, capable, and extremely deadly fighters, and, among the many examples of this fact, An Loc shines as one of the brightest. To conclude this portion of the essay, I will include a quote by Mike McDermott, a former U.S. paratrooper who served in Vietnam, and at An Loc:

“We who served with Advisory Team 163 will never forget our Vietnamese paratrooper brothers. They demonstrated a special kind of dedication and courage throughout the long years of the war that, for them, started in 1946 and ended in 1975. They were consistently tough and resilient no matter the odds they faced, the support they received, or their battlefield prospects… I pledged myself to a righteous cause… I and so many others were betrayed by the American government,” (McDermott, 2012: 4).

General Hung, the Hero of An Loc

Brigadier General Le Van Hung was the main commander who led the South Vietnamese in the fight at An Loc. While there were many heroes at An Loc, the scope of this essay will only be able to cover one, and who more fitting than the man who, under impossible odds, stood his ground, rallied his troops, and led the ARVN charge to victory in what some laud as the most important campaign of the Vietnam War (Schafer, 1999: 56).

In his account, Lam Quang Thi describes the sentiments of the ARVN soldiers towards General Hung, who is regarded highly by his soldiers, and viewed as the man who “undoubtedly” held together the “fabric” of An Loc’s defense against the extensively larger enemy forces (2009: 209). By the accounts of the ARVN soldiers who served under him, as well as the U.S. personnel who advised him, General Hung was a man who “never buckled,” was “always calm under pressure,” and “never panicked and was in full control of the situation,” (Thi, 2009: 2010).

Adding to this, and based on the findings, I will present the argument that General Hung was a courageous and fearless leader who was not afraid to die for his country and his soldiers. One fascinating display of dogged courage by General Hung and the ARVN took place during the first phase of the communist invasion on April 12, while the North was still on the attack in An Loc. As an NVA tank approached his command post, General Hung grabbed a grenade and prepared to throw it at the tank outside his bunker, before his fellow ARVN soldier, Col. Le Nguyen Vy, “emerged from the underground bunker,” shot a rocket at the tank and destroyed it himself (Thi, 2009: 89). A South Vietnamese television reporter, who covered the entire An Loc battle, recalled that during this confrontation, as the enemy tanks drew closer to his position, General Hung assured his staff that he will not let himself be captured alive, and gave them instructions on what to do should he need to commit suicide (Thi, 2009: 89).

Several days prior on April 9, when he was too busy to meet three South Vietnamese war reporters, he relayed a message to them via one of his men: “I will defend An Loc to the death, I will never come out of the city alive, if I lose it,” (Duong, 2008: 152). In the words of Thi, “Hung’s vow to his men that he would never be taken alive had galvanized the spirits of the defenders during the darkest hours of the siege,” (Thi, 2009: 209). His courage, determination, and leadership would give his soldiers the strength, not only to prevail, but to crush the communist invasion, by staggering margins. It is because of his courage that General Le Van Hung would be known in history as the Hero of An Loc.

General Hung vowed that he would never be captured alive by the communists, and, as is shown by the tragic end to the Vietnam War, he was a man of his word. To the very end, General Hung kept his promise, to his country, to his soldiers, and to his people.

On April 30, 1975, upon receiving word that the new president of South Vietnam, Duong Van Minh, had agreed to surrender to the communist North Vietnamese, General Le Van Hung killed himself (Duong, 2008: 220). With nothing more he can do, after giving everything he could possibly give for his country, General Hung did the only thing he could do, and that was to give his life in honor of his nation.

General Hung was not the only person who committed suicide that day. Four other high-ranking South Vietnamese military leaders, Major General Nguyen Khoa Nam, Brigadier General Tran Van Hai, Brigadier General Le Nguyen Vy, and Major General Pham Van Phu, had all taken their lives that day (Duong, 2008: 220). Furthermore, many other high-ranking commanders, air force officers, low-ranking officers, NCOs, and even enlisted soldiers chose to die with their country on that Black April Day (Veith, 2012: 496; Duong, 2008: 220). Rather “than escape or prison,” (Veith, 2012: 496), and “With dignity, they sacrificed their lives for the honor of their land, regime, and army,” (2008: 220). Le Van Hung, along with these soldiers, and so many others, represents the courage, honor, and sacrifice of the nation of South Vietnam. We must never forget.

Closing Statement

South Vietnam was a nation of freedom, human rights, and national defense. Moreover, South Vietnam was a nation of heroes and patriots. On this day, April 30, 2017, we remember the fallen nation, its brave soldiers, and its people. We are proud to hail from that nation of South Vietnam.

Always and forever, we will carry on its legacy.

 

Sources:

Duong, Van Nguyen. The Tragedy of the Vietnam War: A South Vietnamese Officer’s Analysis. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2008.

Lester, Gary. Review of Hell in An Loc: The 1972 Easter Offensive and the Battle That Saved South Vietnam, by Lam Quang Thi. Air Power History (2010): 56.

McDermott, Mike. True Faith and Allegiance: An American Paratrooper and the 1972 Battle for An Loc. Tuscaloosa: Alabama University Press. 2012.

Schafer, John C. “Phan Nhat Nam and the Battle of An Loc.” Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 13 (1999): 53-75.

Thi, Lam Quang. Hell in An Loc: The 1972 Easter Offensive and the Battle That Saved South Vietnam. Denton: University of North Texas Press. 2009.

Veith, George J. Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam 1973-1975. New York: Encounter Books. 2012.

 

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One Response to “Southern Heroes: Le Van Hung, the ARVN, and the Battle of An Loc”

  1. Steffie Trinh Says:

    Learn from the past, look towards the future. But, we will never forget April 30, 1975.

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