Archive for Black April

Remembering South Vietnam: A Tribute to The Republic

Posted in Economics, IV. Columns, Modern History, Politics, Society with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2016 by Ian Pham

Remembering South VietnamPhoto via Flickr

This is just a brief tribute to the former Republic of Vietnam and all the brave men and women who fought so bravely to protect the country. We all know very well the story of its tragic fall, but we also know very well what a great nation it was.

This year, to commemorate the day that Saigon fell to the communists, I want to remind everyone of the greatness of South Vietnam. By recognizing the actions, ideals, and achievements of the Southern Republic, I aim to demonstrate to us all why April 30 is such a sad day for any Vietnamese who loves freedom.

Every year since 1975, April 30 marks the fall of a proud, vibrant, and prosperous Republic, one that flourished culturally and economically, and carried itself with courage, pride and dignity. Moreover, this day marks the fall of a democracy, a young democracy, but a true democracy nonetheless.

South Vietnam was a nation that nurtured its young. It was a nation that had a deep love for education, invested heavily in education, and went to great lengths to ensure their citizens the access to this education. In only two decades of its existence, South Vietnam successfully expanded its educational programs by leaps and bounds, growing exponentially at the elementary, secondary, and university levels. To put neatly, South Vietnam was a nation of smart people, with endless potential for advancement and growth.

In terms of economy, South Vietnam was highly competitive, a leader in the Southeast Asia region, and a contender in Asia as a whole. Starting from its humble beginnings as a postcolonial state, South Vietnam showed rapid growth immediately after its birth as an independent nation. Over the course of its lifetime, up until its fall in 1975, South Vietnam prospered economically, excelling in agriculture, heavy industry, and trade. Due to its success, its capital city Saigon garnered huge respect from the world, and earned itself the famous title of “Pearl of the Orient.”

When speaking of democracy in South Vietnam, there is no doubt that the Southern Republic was a true liberal democracy. Secret ballot elections, universal suffrage, multiple political parties, freedom of speech, expression, and association, and checks and balances between its executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, South Vietnam met all of these criteria. In all, South Vietnam was a free country, one that championed the rights of its people, adhered to the rule of law, and kept its people safe.

Lastly, I would just like to recognize South Vietnam as a brave and noble nation that fought with every ounce of its strength to defend its people, from domestic terrorism by the National Liberation Front, the all too familiar invasions from North Vietnam, as well as an abrupt naval invasion by the People’s Republic of China.

In all of these cases, South Vietnam responded, and with whatever resources it had, the Southern Republic fought. This was the nation that captured many VC terrorists, even converting many of them to forsake their communist allegiances and come over to the Republic. Moreover, this was the nation that kept the North at bay for 20 years, and, statistically speaking, eviscerated the communist forces in the majority of engagements on the battlefield.

Finally, South Vietnam was the nation to open fire on the Chinese when the latter sent their warships into Hoang Sa (Paracel) in 1974, thinking that they can push the Southern Republic around. With all that has been shown, it simply needs to be understood here that South Vietnam was a nation that stood tall and fought hard. It was a proud nation, a brave nation, and an honorable nation that kept its people safe.

The loss of this Republic on April 30, 1975 is more than just a page in history. It is a tragedy, marking the day that every freedom-loving Vietnamese person lost their home.

The sadness brought about from the loss of the Republic of Vietnam stems from the greatness of its legacy. Because of its ideals, and because of its bravery, the memory of South Vietnam continues to resonate in the hearts and minds of every freedom-loving Vietnamese person across the world, even inside Vietnam today.

South Vietnam has become a symbol of what it means to be truly Vietnamese in the modern era: smart, hardworking, brave, loyal, and living with integrity. These are the things that the Republic of Vietnam stood for, and these are the type of people who hail from its origins and carry on its legacy. The yellow flag of freedom represents our roots as people of a proud and honorable nation, and reminds us of our undying love for independence and democracy.

In all of this, we cannot forget our veterans. The troops that sacrificed themselves, paying the ultimate price both physically and mentally to defend the ideals of the Republic and keep the people safe, their sacrifice must never be forgotten.

To the soldiers of South Vietnam, the soldiers of the United States, and soldiers of the allied nations who gave their lives to defend freedom in Vietnam, we thank you, for everything.

This is a tribute to the nation of South Vietnam, and all the brave men and women who fought to defend the country and its ideals. This is for you.

Thank you.

A Short Commemoration on This First Journey to Freedom Day

Posted in IV. Columns, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2015 by Ian Pham

Journey to Freedom Day in OttawaA crowd of over 500 people gathered in downtown Ottawa today for the inaugural Journey to Freedom Day celebration. Photo via Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen

Earlier today, Canada celebrated its first annual Journey to Freedom Day, a day of commemoration for the fall of Saigon, the harrowing journey of the Vietnamese boat people in search of freedom, and their vast contributions to Canada following their arrival. The significance of this day reaches far beyond Canada, however, as Vietnamese refugees were fortunate to find a new home in many different nations across the western world since departing from South Vietnam on and after April 30, 1975.

We don’t have much time left before the day is over, so I will have to make this brief.

Today, we mourn the loss of the Republic of Vietnam to the Communist North. It is on this day, forty years ago, April 30, 1975, that the Northern tanks stormed through the gates of Saigon’s Presidential Palace, signifying the end of the Vietnam War. Without getting into the politics of it all, it is acknowledged as a day of sadness, panic, and heartbreak. On that day alone, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese people fled the country in frantic hysteria, with the sea being their only way out.

It is on that day that the journey to freedom began, and the day that a new chapter in our history commenced. For the next two decades, two million people would leave Vietnam in search of a better life. Of this two million, two hundred and fifty thousand would not make it.

For those fortunate enough, new homes would be found in distant lands such as Australia, Europe, America, and Canada. They were the lucky ones, the survivors, and they are our parents or grandparents. It is because of them, because of that journey, that we all have this life today. They risked their lives, they braved the dangers of that voyage across the ocean, and as a result of their strength and courage, we all are blessed with this life and this freedom. It is for this reason that a day such as Journey to Freedom Day carries so much significance across the world. Though Canada is the first to acknowledge the significance of April 30, we are all connected by the stories behind this day. We are all Vietnamese, and we are all here because of someone before us, who was brave and strong enough to embark on that journey to freedom.

Whether we are in Canada, the United States, Australia, or Europe, we are all here for the same reason, because someone before us took that harrowing voyage, that journey to freedom. Thus, it is important that we all understand the significance of Journey to Freedom Day, and how, despite being from different parts of the world, we all share that same history, the foundations brought forth by that incredible journey.

On this day, we remember the fallen. The soldiers, the people, and the nation of South Vietnam. Furthermore, we, on this day, commemorate the courage and sacrifice of the boat people on that perilous journey, and in that, we must never forget how precious a gift freedom truly is.

Enjoy your Journey to Freedom Day, everyone.

Always remember.

Black April: The Final Hours

Posted in IV. Columns, Modern History with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by Ian Pham

Five GeneralsIn the final days of the Vietnam War, with the fall of the South being all but eminent, many members of the Republic of Vietnam, both citizens and public officials, made the decision to die with their country, rather than to witness or acknowledge the entrance of Communist regime. From politicians, to military leaders and soldiers, and even ordinary citizens, all were more content with death than to pledge their allegiances to the red flag of Communism.

The heartbreak and harrow in the final hours of the Vietnam War can be most famously told through the eyes of five great ARVN generals. On that day, April 30, 1975, each of these men ended their own lives at different hours of the day, after saying their respective farewells to their loved ones, their fellow commanders, and their faithful soldiers. In these final hours, the valor and desperation that came to encompass the Southern experience were front and center. Though this brief article only covers the suicides of five ARVN generals, it cannot be stressed enough that on that day, April 30, 1975, many South Vietnamese took their own lives rather than surrender to the Communists.

Brigadier General Tran Van Hai,

7th Infantry Division, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN): Midnight, April 30, 1975

TranVanHaiAt approximately 12:00 am, April 30, 1975, Brigadier General Tran Van Hai of the 7th Infantry Division committed suicide at the Dong Tam military base in My Tho City, Dinh Tuong Province. On the previous day, the general called upon all of his officers for one last meeting, where he thanked them for their faithful service, and gave a final order for all of them to go home and be with their families. It was on April 29th that the provisional president Duong Van Minh issued the official surrender to the Communist North. With the war all but lost, Brig. Gen. Tran Van Hai gave warm parting words to his men, taking some time and enjoying a few short and meaningful conversations with his soldiers.

Later that night, one of Hai’s overly concerned officers found the general in his office, motionless, with a glass of water on the table, signifying that he had poisoned himself. Earlier that week, President Nguyen Van Thieu offered to fly Tran Van Hai to Saigon, but the general refused. Before his death, the general left a small parcel for his mother containing some money and a few of his personal items. This was his final gift to her. For the nation, he gave his life.

Brigadier General Le Nguyen Vy,

5th Infantry Division, ARVN: 11:00 am, April 30, 1975

LeNguyenVyAt 11:00 am on the same day, Brigadier General Le Nguyen Vy of the 5th Infantry Division died by his own gun as his final act of loyalty. With the higher command issuing the order for the South to surrender, General Vy shot himself that following morning. His place of death was the 5th Division Headquarters at Lai Khe, his original area of deployment.

General Le Nguyen Vy was considered among the many talented young commanders of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. His courageous and outstanding performance at the Battle of An Loc in 1972, a major Southern victory over the North, gained him great distinction within the ranks. Up until the time of his death, Vy was considered an exceptional regimental commander.

Brigadier General; Deputy Commander Le Van Hung,

5th Infantry Division; 21st Infantry Division; IV Corps; MR4, ARVN: 8:45 pm, April 30, 1975

LeVanHungLe Van Hung is one of the most renowned and admired figures of the RVN Army, and of South Vietnam in general. Like Le Nguyen Vy, General Hung also fought brilliantly at the Battle of An Loc. Le Van Hung was the Commander of the 5th Division at An Loc, with Le Nguyen Vy acting as his Deputy Commander. He would later be promoted to the IV Corps of ARVN, acting as the Deputy Commander to Major General Nguyen Khoa Nam. Lauded as the “Hero of An Loc,” General Hung was one of the brightest stars of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, dealing great damage to the Communist forces up until his final days. He famously stated that, “As long as I’m still alive, An Loc will remain standing,” a promise he had honored to the very end.

General Hung took his own life at approximately 8:45 pm, April 30, 1975. Before then, General Hung’s forces still kept hold of the city of Can Tho, and were planning to fight to their very last breath, their very last bullet. However, the threat of Northern reprisal forced Hung’s hand, as the frightened and exhausted residents of Can Tho themselves begged him not to resist the Communists any longer. Respecting their wishes, General Le Van Hung decided to stand down. However, the general would not be content with just a simple surrender.

Summoning his military staff, his wife, and his children, the general bid all those around him a sad farewell, before taking his own life in private, with his .45 pistol. At around 6:00 pm, the general’s forces were still bent on fighting. By 9:00 pm, the general was dead. Along with his ARVN compatriots, the general had taken his own life, in honor of his country, and in honor of his people.

Major General Nguyen Khoa Nam,

IV Corps; MR4, ARVN: Late April 30-Early Morning May 1, 1975

One of the last generals to take his own life on that 30th of April, Major General Nguyen Khoa Nam too had shot himself rather than surrender to the Communists. Earlier in the day, the Major had talked on the phone with his Deputy Commander Le Van Hung, before the latter killed himself. After saying his last goodbyes to his general staff, and a heartfelt commiseration to General Hung’s wife, the Major ended his own life, sometime between the final hours of Black April and the early hours of May 1, 1975.

NguyenKhoaNamAccording to the wife of General Le Van Hung, both generals Nam and Hung were in communication with each other throughout that 30th of April. The two men had, for some time, been planning for a prolonged counteroffensive that would carry on even after the fall of Saigon. However, with the official surrender of Duong Van Minh, followed then by General Hung’s acceptance not to fight at the behest of the people of Can Tho, and ultimately with his death at 8:45 pm, the guerrilla strategy was never executed.

The two men lost contact with each other in the latter part of April 30th, and upon receiving news of Hung’s death, General Nam was finally able to contact Mrs. Hung to express his condolences. Though he did not give his final goodbyes to Mrs. Hung, she recalls having premonitions that General Nam would kill himself, just like her husband had done. At around 7:00 am on May 1, 1975, news of Nam’s death had reached Mrs. Hung, and her fears were realized.

Major General Pham Van Phu,

II Corps; MR2, ARVN: Morning-Daytime, April 30, 1975

PhamVanPhuFrom the fragmented sources available on General Pham Van Phu’s final hours, it can only be told that the commander committed suicide honorably like the other four generals, doing so in the city of Saigon, sometime between the morning and midday.

Though coverage on General Phu is regrettably thin, it should be understood that the brave general is considered one of the five great ARVN generals to commit suicide on Black April, the 30th day of 1975.

The Commemoration

To their very last breaths, these five generals fought bravely to defend their motherland. Rather than betraying the nation they had fought for, or suffer the humiliation of pledging their loyalties to the Communist regime, these men chose instead to end their own lives, with honor, and with dignity.

As I have said before, these men were not the only ones to commit suicide in honor of their nation. Countless others, from high ranking government and military officials, to the low ranking Non-Commissioned Officers of ARVN, and even the everyday citizen who would rather die than to see his or her country fall into the destructive grips of Communism, all of them chose death alongside their country.

While thousands of men and women took their own lives as a final act of loyalty to the fleeting South, millions of others departed from the shores of Vietnam to distant lands across the seas. Though suicide was not their intention, many South Vietnam refugees lost their lives during their escape from the Communist sphere, either at sea, in Communist detention, or in the refugee camps.

This brief article is written to commemorate the brave men and women who took their own lives to honor the ideals of a free and democratic Vietnam. This article is also here to commemorate the brave souls who gave their lives fighting for this free and democratic Vietnam. They did it for their nation, but they also did it for us. This article then aims to thank and commemorate the brave men and women who braved the violent ocean waves, risking their lives, and traveling all the way across the Earth so that a younger generation of Vietnamese men and women can live under the skies of freedom and justice.

On this day, April 30, 2014, we take a moment to remember all that have died fighting for Vietnam’s freedom. They gave their heart and their bodies, and in the end, they gave their lives.

In different ways, all have contributed to this beautiful aspiration of a free and democratic Vietnam. One day, this dream will be realized.

We will never forget.

April 30, 1975: Commemoration Day for the Fall of Saigon

Posted in IV. Columns, Modern History with tags , , , , on April 30, 2013 by Ian Pham

North Vietnamese Troops Occupy Saigon, 1975Normally, I would have some special article based on some notable historical figure of Vietnam to attach to a day like this.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to do such a thing, so I’m just going to get straight to the point.  This article is dedicated to that fateful day on April 30, 1975, when the North Vietnamese steamrolled into Saigon to bring an end to the long civil war.

There really isn’t much left I can say about this day.  It was a tragedy, a day that marked the fall of one of Vietnam’s brightest periods in the modern era.  South Vietnam was not without its flaws; there were numerous corrupted idiot officials in the government.  However, despite these bad eggs, the key values which Republic of Vietnam represented were democracy, freedom, and liberty.

fallSouth Vietnam never got to reach its full potential because of the war, but in its short lifetime, the RVN gave a glimpse of what Vietnam was capable of.  The people of Vietnam, then, now, and always, have so much to offer to make the country great.  Unfortunately, because of Ho Chi Minh and his Communists, the endless talents of the Vietnamese people have been, and continue to be squandered and suppressed.

On that day, thousands of scared and heartbroken South Vietnamese people pored into the American embassy in Saigon.  Many others jumped on the nearest boat and set sail into the open sea.  All of this to escape the impending brutally and slaughter that followed after the North Vietnamese formally consolidated their rule over the population.  Many of the refugees lost their lives at sea, but some were lucky to land in many countries such as Australia, France, Canada, and America.

fall-of-saigonThese survivors started new lives overseas, and are our mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, our brothers, and our sisters.  They were the boat people, those who braved the perils at sea to start all over, in an alien place that we all take for granted today.  As the new generation, we don’t really know how lucky we are to be living in a land of opportunity, liberty, and freedom.  I’m not just talking about America, but of all liberal democracies across the world.

If you are a Vietnamese whose loved ones are among the few to survive the dangerous journey across the seas, and have provided you with an amazing life in this wonderful democracy of ours, I suggest you go to them and give them a giant hug.  After that, tell them that you love them, and then thank them for providing for you in a land of freedom, democracy, and equal opportunity.  Today may be a sad day in history, but it is also a time to appreciate the gifts that we so often take for granted: freedom.  Have a nice day, my fellow leaders of tomorrow.  To my people in Vietnam, a change will come, and you will be the ones to do it.  Just believe.

Southern Heroes: Le Minh Dao, The 18th Division, and the Battle of Xuan Loc

Posted in IV. Columns, Modern History, VII. Research with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2012 by Ian Pham

“Please, do not call me a hero.  My men who died at Xuan Loc and the hundred battles before are the true heroes.”  – Le Minh Dao, Brigadier General, 18th Division, South Vietnam

On this day, 37 years ago, the tanks of the North Vietnamese Army rolled into the city of Saigon.  The city’s inhabitants gathered frantically outside the gates of the U.S. embassy, begging the Americans to shelter them from the advancing Communists.  That day, thousands of Vietnamese families packed up their entire lives and embarked on a journey across the seas to escape the grasp of Communism.  April 30, 1975 was a dark day in Vietnam’s history, but prior to this fall, the South Vietnamese Army would achieve one last glorious victory.

In the weeks prior to the fall of Saigon, the Communists in the North were still figuring out how to capture the city.  One strategically important location was Xuan Loc, which the Communists planned to capture before moving on to Saigon.  As the 4th Corps of the North Vietnamese Army assembled their forces in the jungle north of the city of Xuan Loc, they were greeted by some unexpected guests.  The 18th Division of the ARVN (South Vietnam), under Brig. General Le Minh Dao, would derail the NVA’s plan to capture Xuan Loc, showing the world that even without the U.S., the ARVN was still a force to be reckoned with.

“Even though we knew we had lost the war, I still fought.  I was filled with despair after the loss of the northern Corps, but I still fight.”

The Battle of Xuan Loc was the last major struggle before Saigon’s fall on April 30, 1975.  With the passionate and inspirational leadership of Brigadier General Le Minh Dao, the 18th Division of the ARVN resisted heavy fire from the Communist forces from April 9-21, when the division was recalled to defend Saigon.  The brilliance of the 18th Division can be seen by its numbers, dealing a miserable amount of pain to the 4th Corps of the NVA.  On the first day of battle, the NVA under Major General Hoang Cam lost more than 700 hundred men to the ARVN and Le Minh Dao, whose losses were below 50 soldiers.  After four days, Cam’s death toll climbed to 2,000, while Dao’s still only in the hundreds, the 4th Corps still had not advanced (Pribbenow & Vieth, 2004: 191-199).

By April 13, the 4th Corps and the North Vietnamese Army were forced to change their strategy.  According to NVA Commander Tran Van Tra, because of the fierce resistance of General Dao and the 18th Division, it was no longer in the interests of the NVA to continue pressing in Xuan Loc (Pribbenow & Vieth, 2004: 200).  From then until April 21, the Communist forces would concentrate their forces in other areas around Xuan Loc, and Le Minh Dao would continue to fight them until receiving orders to return to Saigon.  The general’s retreat was just as masterful as his advance, which required much daring and intellect to outmaneuver the Communist forces.

“I was their general, I wish to be the last man from the 18th ARVN to be released.  I could not look them in the face otherwise.”

Sadly, the success story ends here, with Le Minh Dao’s successful retreat back to Saigon.  From this point onward, South Vietnam would run out of steam, and the ARVN would no longer have the means to fight.  Brigadier General Le Minh Dao and the 18th Division were only few of many brave individuals who sacrificed their lives for the free and democratic South.  On April 30th, even after Duong Van Minh and the Southern government surrendered, Le Minh Dao still wanted to keep fighting.  However, with the knowledge that the corps commander and the deputy had taken their own lives, Dao knew that it was done.  On May 9, Le Minh Dao turned himself over to the Communist forces, serving a prison sentence of 17 years.  He would remain in prison until May 4, 1992, when he was finally released.  Le Minh Dao currently resides in the United States, his accomplishments forever immortalized in the pages of history.

 

Further Reading on the Battle of Xuan Loc:

Pribbenow, Merle L. & George J. Veith.  ”Fighting is an Art: The Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s Defense of Xuan Loc, 9-21 April 1975.”  The Journal of Military History, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 163-213.

The Rescue of 1975, America’s Untold Accomplishment

Posted in Did You Know?, Modern History, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2010 by Ian Pham

When South Vietnam fell to the Communist forces of North Vietnam on April 30, 1975, a wave of Vietnamese citizens fled the country in order to avoid persecution by the new regime.  The former South Vietnamese Navy, with the help of the Americans, would succeed in saving an estimated 30,000 Vietnamese refugees.  This accomplishment would go unrecognized for nearly thirty-five years.  The American soldiers didn’t regard the rescue as anything significant, viewing their rescue as just part of their duty.

The USS Kirk, an American military vessel, encountered the Vietnamese refugees on and around Con Son Island, immediately providing them with food, water, shelter, and medical assistance.  The USS Kirk then led the Vietnamese naval vessels, fishing boats, and cargo ships, filled with refugees, to safety, meeting up with other US Navy ships.  As a result of their efforts, approximately 30,000 Vietnamese refugees were taken to safety in the Philippines and out of the Communists’ reach.

It is only recently that this great humanitarian accomplishment became largely recognized.  Since America held a feeling of bitterness towards Vietnam after the tragic conclusion of the war, the public was not interested in the happenings in that general area.  Also, the soldiers themselves never considered what they did to be anything extraordinary, so the story was never widely publicized.  Today, rising interests in humanitarian work have prompted journalists and investigators to explore the American feat in Vietnam, so the story of this great rescue is finally known to the world.