Interview with Ba Quyen

Ba Quyen recalls his early involvement in the Communist movement of Vietnam, beginning as a Youth Leader at the level of his commune, and later as a Vietcong Special Forces operator during the Vietnam War.

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Ba Quyen recalls his early involvement in the Communist movement of Vietnam, beginning as a Youth Leader at the level of his commune, and later as a Vietcong Special Forces operator during the Vietnam War. He had a long career in the military where he rose through the ranks, and remained involved in veteran groups until 2016. His recollections are focused almost entirely on his combat experiences against the American and South Vietnamese forces. He discusses various military procedures and the major operations he was involved in as a soldier of the elite forces. In this, he also notes that soldiers received significant support from civilian and religious groups that mobilized to support the war effort. Even after his retirement from active duty, he remains committed to the causes of the Communist Party.

The son of a soldier who had fought the French in the 1950s, Ba Quyen was exposed to ideas of Vietnamese nationalism from an early age from his father. He remembers his father encouraging him to complete his education and live a morally upright life to avoid bringing dishonor to the family. He also discusses traditional Vietnamese values of community spirit, reinterpreting the Vietnamese gender norms of Tam tòng, tứ đức in a broader sense that is applicable to men as well, based on filial piety. At school, he was taught Leninist ideology and the importance of having pride in one’s working class background and caring for fellow proletarians. Leaving school early after sixth grade, he began working with the Youth Union, rising to supervise food production at the commune level by age 17. He was also given weapons training to serve in a local paramilitary self defense force.

In 1965, he was drafted into military service at age 21, with the support of his parents. Initially trained as a paratrooper, he was transferred into an elite forces unit and underwent a further course on infiltration methods. His unit was tasked to blend into enemy zones and create openings for larger battalions to enter and seize American zones of control. He was trained on stealth tactics, disguise, hand to hand combat, and to impersonate South Vietnamese soldiers. This role also required him to collaborate with reconnaissance scout units that would first study the target regions and then guide his elite unit safely into enemy territory. Soldiers would crush and apply herbs on their bodies to evade detection by enemy sniffer dogs.

He also notes that the military received significant support from civilians during the war. Mothers organized support groups to prepare ready-to-eat meals for their sons and other soldiers. Religious leaders such as Buddhist monks helped soldiers develop fake identities as monks to evade detection by enemy forces. Families would pray for the safety of soldiers using incense, as other offerings became unaffordable during war.

As a special forces operative, he fought in the mountainous region of Ba Den in the South, with his unit traveling on foot for six months to the battlefield. He shares three poignant memories from this battle; of his unit lacking sufficient cookware in the field and improvising using ammunition containers, of his hammock breaking while he slept in a cave, and of being shot in the arm during combat and needing medical attention. Serving in the elite unit at the Officer rank also provided him double the pay his brother received. After each victorious battle, the unit would hold a celebration for soldiers who returned unharmed, and informally review their combat performance.

After retiring from service, Ba Quyen remained involved in veterans’ groups until 2016, and was recognized for his wartime contributions by the local People’s Committee. His military career continues to be a source of personal pride for him. His recollections highlight the role of personal and familial histories in shaping one’s motivations during the war.

Transcript 5: Ba Quyen

Ba Quyen was in the special forces during the war and he continued to serve in the army and the People Committee and veteran organization at the national level until his retirement day. Like other former soldiers, we are not allowed to ask him questions related to politics. The interview took place at one of his sons’ house while the family was preparing for the celebration of his grandchildren and their friends' high school exam graduation. The interview took place on the 20th of December, 2020 in Hoang Mai District, Hanoi. After all the introduction of what the purpose of the interview is, his rights to pass any questions he does not feel comfortable to answer and to not reveal his identity, the interview begins as follows. The following conversation is, however, only the English version one, meaning it is the info the translator interpreted and/or translated based on the questions I ask the question and the answer the interview gives. In this transcript I refer to the translator as “TSL” and myself as “TN”. In this occasion we are joined by his niece which occasionally joined the conversation and whom I refer to as “NC”

TN: What time is it?

TSL: 3.57

TN: Can we make it 4? Let’s make it 4. Let’s start at 4. 

We continued our informal chat about his background till 4 pm.

TN: Wait...before he joined the war? He joined the war as as a soldier?

TSL: As a soldier. She [his niece] told me he worked for the government in the commune.

TN: The village 

TSL: People's Committee 

TN: Until now?

TSL: No. He’s retired 

TN: Okay. Can we start? So, are you originally from Ha Noi?

TSL: Bắc Giang

TN: Bắc Giang province? 

TSL: Yes.

TN: Okay. When were you born?

TSL: One...1942.....1944 

TN: 1944. Okay. Skip number 2 then. Do you remember your life as a son at that time, before joining the force?

TSL: Ehhhmmm...his dad used to work for the government and his dad joined the war before.

TN: For the French war?

TSL: For the French war.

TN: So, his dad was a soldier?

TSL: Yes.

TN: Okay.

TSL: And his dad passed teachings... err... keeping a fighting attitude.

TN: So, before... When did he join the war? I mean as a soldier

TSL: So, he worked for the Youth Union and ...

TN: Youth Union. How do you say it in Vietnamese?

TSL: Thanh Nien. 

TN: Thanh Nien. Okay. 

TSL: And for the food production at the village in 1961, and in February 1965 he joined the war.

TN: And how old was he at that time?

TSL: 21, because he was born in 1944 

TN: Okay, 21 years old.

TN: So, before... Between 1944 to 1965, he was studying and working?

TSL: Still working for the Youth Union and in food production at the village.

TN : Okay. So, he did not have a chance to go to school, before joining the Thanh Nien? He did not go to school?

TSL: He studied until 6th grade and that equals to the end of Middle School now. 

TN: Okay. And so I would assume he studied math, geography, that kind of thing?

TSL: Yes

TN: Yes. Okay. And um, ...does he still remember if he read any poems, story, songs, that kind of thing?

TSL: He does not remember.

NC : It was so long ago.

TN: Yeah. Um... what about the food production? Can we talk a little bit further about the food production? What was like to work there, you know, what kind of food they produced, how they distributed it, that kind of thing.

TSL: About the food production, he organized and supervised the food production, and it is like... uh, equally distributed after the production.

TN: With food stamps?

TSL: The cooperative model that my dad talked about.

TN: Right. Like communal sharing, communal ownership; you plant things together and then bring to the factory and then sort of maybe package it and deliver it to people. 

TSL: Right.

NC: That is right. That model of production.

TN: That model. Okay. 

TN: Um... So you remember when, in your time... do you remember any sort of respected elders in your neighborhood and how they behave? I mea,n were they good to let’s say Vietnamese soldiers, helping them? Or you know, just looking after themselves, that kind of thing?

TSL: The head of the village, right?

TN: Anyone. Could be the head of the village, could be just someone you know who wants to save themselves, that kind of thing, if there is any?

TSL: He told me about ... err... there is a group of Vietnamese heroic mothers whose sons were in the war, they ... they formed a group and they helped by preparing like rice...a package of rice for soldiers in 1964-1965.

TN: Okay. 1964-1965. So, they cooked in the village and distributed it to the soldiers? Or they share it amongst themselves?

TSL: So, they cook rice and they make it like a bowl and give it to the soldiesr so they can take it away easily. Besides that, they also receive thank you letter from the local People's Committee. They give those thank you letters to the soldiers.

TN: Okay. Thank you letters from the...

TSL: From the local Committee.

TN: It’s very interesting. Then number 10 does not apply. So, number. 11. Do you remember what your parents told you about how to be, you know, a good son, that kind of thing, serving the country?

TSL: So basically, his dad did not mention specifically about studying, or the war. He just said that you have to work hard and then life will make you a man.

TN: Oh, wow. But, what about his mom?

TSL: His mom....together with his wife, his dad encouraged him to join the war.

TN: Oh, okay. And then... did they also teach him about being selfless, about sacrificing themselves for others, you know, or only for the country, that kind of thing, or both?

TSL: Sacrifice?

TN: You know, like serving the country, serving other people not only themselves?

TSL: His dad encourage him to finish his study, and don’t do something bad will affect the reputation of his family

TN :Oh, wow. So, that thing about Tam tòng, tứ đức, did you ever hear the term Tam tòng, tứ đức?   

TSL: You want me to explain to him?

TSL: So, he said that this term refers to the relationship between people related by blood. For Tam means family, maternal family and tòng means relationship and the child has to respect to their parents

TN: And the son, men have a duty to the country, to the fatherland?

TSL: Yes. Then tứ đức, means that ethics... contributing to the society and the country. 

TN: Tứ đức.

TSL: Tứ đức

TN: So, we go back to 1965 when he joined the war. Were you joining the army on your own, or because it was an obligation?

TSL: He joined by his own will.

TN: Did he have brother or sister?

TSL: He has one little brother.

TN: Okay. Did he also join the war?

TSL: Yes, and he died.

TN: Did he have to encourage him?

TSL: So, his brother used to study in the college of Agriculture, and when he was away joining the war already, at home his parents encouraged his brother to join the war.

TN: Not him, but his parents. So, he basically takes a break from the university to join the war, or graduated already? 

TSL: So, his brother finished the secondary school. 

TN: But hasn’t finished the college education?

TSL: yea 

TN: Okay. Do you have any skills how to fight before joining the training?

TSL: he did know a little about fighting because he is....he is in the like....military self-defense force in the village 

TN: how do you say it in Vietnamese?

TSL: Thanh Nien 

TN: What is it? Like youth group or something?

Nc: yes, youth group 

TN: The People Committee required people like youth to join the group, or how do they get people?

TSL: At certain age, they all join this force for self-defense and they have training for half month, 2 weeks. They use real gun in this training.

TN: for youth?

TSL: for youth 

TN: Okay 

TSL: Yes and even middle age people

TN: But this is sort of an obligation to every youth at that time when you reach let’s say 18 or 17. you have to, or it is okay for you know?

TSL: you have to join. Otherwise, you will be .....

TN: sent to..the..?

TSL: No. Blamed by the leader of the commune 

TN: Oh..okay. But, it was only on the village level?

TSL: yes 

TN: and the training was light, only how to shoot?

TSL: 15 days for him each year 

TN: each year. Okay 

TSL: each year and for the youth and also they have to learn how to crawl, avoid bullets, shooting. That’s it. 

TN: okay.. he has so many grandchildren.[I remarked as many kids coming in. Then we spent a few minutes to chat about it]

TN: So, going back to this. So, after this 15 days, and they will be graduated and then be sent to somewhere?

TSL: After this 15 days training then they all go back to the village, to their house and then if they reach the age to join the war, they will do the health check for them

TN: when they reach 18? 18 or 17?

TSL: 18 

TN: There is one started even before when they are 17 or 18. so, when they are 18 or 17, they will join the war? They will get letter from the government?

TSL: yes. Do health check, if they qualified then they will join the army.

TN: Okay. Health check; qualified, join. If not, then not

TSL: yes 

TN: So, I just want to sort of summarize. So, at that time then he got the letter from the government, he did the health check and then he qualified, he joined the war in 1965. and then he went to another training?

TSL: Another training?

TN: Yea. What kind of training they have at that time, for this..?

TSL: He said that after the joining the war, all soldier has to be divided into special team

TN: Special team?

TSL: Special team. Foot soldier, or parachute soldier and after that they will provided by suitable training. He used to be parachute soldier. He did parachuting and he did 32 times parachute jump

TN: the real one or the training?

TSL: the real one. And then after that he switched to the special soldier, elite team...special elite force

TN: elite force. Okay. What they do?

TSL: when he being transferred to the special elite team, he is.....wait....he...this team is in charge of take care of special headquarter for the army. They they.....will e...e..e...e..take care of they will take over ....they will fight..

TN: describe it for me

TSL: So, area that belong to the enemy 

TN: the enemy. Okay, the US army?

TSL: The US army

TN: SO, what? Doing what? Like spying?

TSL: No. Not spying. Like...elite team,,,they will..erase that. So, there us a special term about their job, translating literally mean “blooming inside the enemy”

TN: infiltration?

TSL: they assign soldier to fight under the fence inside the area and this area and they do the shooting and open the gate first and the Vietnamese army joining later

TN: oh..okay. Okay.. So, that’s dangerous..

TN: for that special job, what kind of training they had to go through to make them really, you know strong, sort of sharp?

TSL: He said that he joined the training for 4 months 

TN: 4 Months

TSL: this elite team, they only took solider from other teams who already have trainings, special division for example. Training for special thing. For elite.

TN: So, these soldiers have been sort of excellent when they are in their own team, and then let’s say the boss kind of take one, gather them as a special team?

TSL: yes. He used to be officer of parachute, special 

TN: and he was the best in his job, so he got chosen?

TSL: yes

TN: Okay. But, he still had to go through 4 months training, or what?

TSL: yea

TN: okay. And what’s the difference between this 4 months training and the training they have in the parachute and then in the parachute team...yea parachute team?

TSL: So, he mentioned 4 points, 4 main points differences; the first one is they have training in the martial arts, fighting face to face

TN: face to face combat 

TSL: yea..face to face combat, and the second one is changing position from , before you are in the straight position, but you have to learn on the side so the enemy can’t see you. The third one is to disguise and the fourth one is how to talk like you are enemy.. pretend that you are one of them so the enemy don’t know, in case that you are caught by the US. They ...

TN: because at that time US army also have Vietnamese soldiers who support them. So, basically this one pretending to be enemy, to pretend to be like Southern Vietnamese soldier..?

TSL: yes 

TN: Okay. Can I say that in summary he knows how to shoot in 3 ways, you know like your uncle, 

TSL: yes

TN: and then he knows how to parachute and he also know how to do martial art and then self-disguise. what do you mean by self-disguise? is it by putting some kind of leaves on your body?

TSL: there are two ways; if you are soldier walk the path in forest, for example, you switch to the side and the second way is to use fruits.....herbs..mix them and then you use the liquid to put it on your face and your body so that the dogs, the US dogs can’t smell you

TN: Oh..okay. What kind of herbs we are talking about?

TSL: He just sought watery leaves, any kinds because they are soft then you put it inside handkerchief and use rock to beat them to use the liquid 

TN: So, you put in and then you just beat it with stone and then use the liquid all over your body. Okay...that works for dogs not to sniff you?

TSL: yes

TN: Wow. Okay. That’s interesting. Where...where all these trainings happened? Was it in the village? Was it in the forest, in the city?

TSL: they have the school ...a school for this training

TN: okay. What school? Do you remember?

TSL: So, it is near Ha Tay 

TN: So, they still have it?

TSL: now, it is for School of Politics Officer 

TN: is it for policemen?

TSL: yes. Not policemen. But the army…the soldier

TN: Soldier. Okay. School of ..

TSL: Politics Officer

TN: Politics Officer. Okay. You need to give me the Vietnamese name 

TSL: I will 

TN: do you remember any interesting experience from when you do this job? Any interesting experience from parachute team and special team? Something that is memorable, may be sad, happy?

TSL: So, he told me that one time that when he do the parachuting, there is a big wind, he fly, so he falls really slow there are different kind of wind in the sky and due to that he falls into a pond, a lake and the water is just until his belly and he has to dry the parachute before return it to the storage and he has to call driver to pick him up later.

TN: what about…..Is this supposed to be funny, or did he get any injury from landing?

TSL: he was not have any injuries. He did it in the condition to land and also the parachute work fine

TN: is there any scary story during his duty at the parachuting team?

TSL: he said that at the first time that he did parachuting, he did not feel scared. He feel it at the second time and third time. But, after a few times he used to it. he can talk with his soldier

TN: in the air? The talking 

TSL: No, in the end

TN: oh..after landing

NC: after landing. He feel normal. in the second and third he feel scared because the first time he knows how it feels .. parachuting 

TN: So, there was never scary moment during his duty?

TSL: no. He said that when you jump, when you.....the distance between you and land is 150 meter, it’s okay. But when it decrease to 100 meters, you have to act quickly and adjust position because the distance between you and land is short now.

TN: Right. Okay. What about during his duty as an elite team. Was there any special moment that he remembers until now?

TSL: this scars [pointing to the scare on the wrist]

NC: bullet

TSL: a bullet

TN: this one [me touching the wrist area where the scar located]

TSL: So, three memories he remember the most. The first one is when he join the fight in Bà Đen mountain. It is fight that they have to go to the mountain

TN:So..ehhmm..when was it?

TSL: 1968..just stay ...

TN: Bà Đen . Is it black mountain?

NC: Bà Đen, black woman

TSL: and it was an urgent request from the above. So..

TN: So, special assignment, yea?

TSL: yea

TN: okay

TSL: they can’t gather enough equi....

TN: Equipment?

TSL: cooking equipment 

TN: Cooking

TSL: long way traveling and they have to cook inside the cave. But, they don’t have the equipment. So, they have to distribute bullets of the soldiers first and then use the pan to store the bullet to cook rice in it

TN: How do they do it?

TSL: I dont know. Eventually, they cook the rice but it is not very good, some are still not done 

TN: ok.okay. Wow. This is the most memorable?


TN: oh..there are two more

TSL: yea. That is the first one. The second one is when he slept in the hammock in..

TN:Where?in the forest?

TSL: still in the Bà Đen


TSL: he sleep in cave and he did not know that there was rock and the hammock caught in the rock and he fell and the he was.....and the hammock broke and..

TN: and he fell on the rock?

TSL: So, the hammock broke and his clothing also got torn 

TN: Okay. But he did not get injury? 

TSL: and the third memory is that when he was shot in the arm, it missed and hit on his wrist. But, it is ...he try to withstand it. It was after the war, after the fight. That they go back to the base camp. He passed out because lost of a lot of blood and also...

TN: how long between Bà Đen fight and when they got back to the base camp? 

TSL: So, he did not....he arrive before the war, before...preparing. When it hits it was after. He remember they start the walk the mountain at 11.15 and he got back at 1.20 

TN: Okay. So, what did they do to lessen the pain because it must be painful? What kind of treatment they use to make it less painful?

TSL: they carried him health center

TN: in the forest?

TSL: No, in the base camp

TN: So, right after he got shot people bring him right away to the base camp or wait for a bit?

TSL: I think they wait until the end

TN: until the fight ended. I want to know if they use special, I don’t know may be herb

TSL: No. They.....they inject him with sleeping pill

TN: Okay. Like pain killer? Or whatever to make him sleep, so....

TSL: he don’t feel painful and then afterward they transferred him into hospital and then there was doctor there to cure him

TN: right. Okay. So, the soldier, they have a doctor with them or every soldier knows how to take care of themselves in that way [first aid}?

NC: bandage..they carry bandage. Every soldier has to carry first aid 

TSL: They know how to do first aid 

TN: Okay. I want to ask more questions about the team. So, when they have to go to forest, or live in a cave like that, so do they know anything about, i don’t know, like forest, you know and cave; like what cave that is safe to choose, or what plants safe to eat, like they have knowledge about the forest itself so they know how to navigate themselves in the forest and hide?

TSL: before?

TN: yea

TSL: So, they will assign soldier to do the studying first. To recognizing the team and then They will have the soldier to contact with the recognizant to learn about the situation, how the way, and then they will lead the team. 

TN: Okay. So, like somebody will guide them along the way?

TSL: Yes

TN: Okay. And this one is non-soldier, civilian or soldier as well?

TSL: Soldier as well ‘

TN: Okay. Do you remember any poems, songs, or stories about war that you may be seen or tell each other during that time?

 TSL: Hang quan song

TN: okay. Can I find it online?

TSL: I think so

TN: what about poem?

TSL: No. Only song. They don’t have time to read poem in the forest

TN: Okay. If they take a rest, they don’t tell story to each other?

TSL: He told me that he....all of soldier, they lived together in the base camp and they did not see any civilian and they don’t tell story about the war and they just chit chatting, like a joke

TN: Right. Okay. Just to amuse themselves. Like what kind of joke? non-war story?

TSL: Non- war jokes and they have fighting stories that they only have three choices; one is alive, two is injured and third, no surrender option

TN: no surrender..       

 TN: Do you believe that being good person is the foundation of good state, good country?

TSL: Can you repeat the question?

TN: Do you believe in the teaching that good person is the foundation of good society and then good country?

TSL: He said they have to be proud that they belong to the class of worker and agriculture. Ehhmmm…the Lenin stuff and love their class, love the people in that class.

TN: That is something the parents taught them or, something they learn in the training?

TSL: in the school

TN: Lenin

TSL: lenin. So, have to love their wife and kids also, the grandparent as well 

TN: Ancestor?

TSL: Yea. And to be happy 

TN: Be happy? Again, this is from school? From school or training in the society?

TSL: both family and school. There is a saying that …

TN: In Vietnamese?

TSL: in Vietnamese..

TN: well, I need to …

TSL: It means like the nearer you to the victory, the fierce the fight will be. So, you have to stay strong in your belief and you will gain victory. 

TN: So, not only strong in the sense of equipment but also mental?

TSL: Yes. Especially officer

TN: officer? Like higher rank?

TSL: higher rank

TN: Okay.That kind of thing is something that is really emphasized in the army at that time?

TSL: yes 

TN: Okay. ehmm…Do you see being soldier at that time as a duty to your family, to your society, to your fellow Vietnamese, or to the country, or combination of them?

TSL: yes, he thinks so. It’s also soldier and government officer to guide him..should be the duty to the country

TN: Okay. Do you have special like tricks you know at that time?

TSL: tricks?

TN: keep save

TSL: family’s blessing, from ancestor 

TN: We’ll talk about that again

TSL: It’s important to have faith in the the ancestor 

TN: Do you have special place, may be his parents, have a special place at home, may be outside in the garden to pray? To keep the son…you know pray for their safety

TSL: He said every family’s altar is inside your house. but, it depends on each individual to pray

TN: even in the war time?

TSL: What do you mean? In the war time they still keep it?

TN: Yea. The altar, because it looks luxurious with fruits, flowers…

TSL: so, basically ….ehhmmmm…because condition at that time is difficult. It is the war time, So, although they pray, they cannot afford to buy those things. So, it is not very much emphasized at that time. You just use your incense to pray in the altar for blessing 

TN: No need for flowers because it is expensive, but they do pray. Okay. you know if your parents also prayed for you at that time?

TSL: Pray?

TN: yea 

TSL: They pray for him

TN: What about in the army, do they also doing it? Do you see anyone in the army doing the ritual?

TSL: he did not see any sign of Christianity. In terms of Buddhism, they host like ceremony to celebrate the comeback of soldier

TN: in the village?

TSL: Actually ..It is something from Buddhism. But, it is just group in the army, they host a meeting to encourage soldier after the fight and..

TN: after the fight? Which one? 

TSL: after each fight and they come back safely, something like that

TN: Okay. meeting

TSL: Meeting

TN: When I imagine meeting, it will be like sitting around, that kind of thing…..

TSL: Yes, but less formal. They will come and ..

TN: like gathering?

TSL: Gathering and they will ask if, for example, ask for the soldier injured, injured soldier, if the injured is serious and they will have support for him in the army like doctor in the army

TN: So, it was more like to evaluate…..

TSL: Evaluate?

TN: yea. Evaluation. How the fight had gone, that kind of thing you know, to evaluate whether the fight was successful, that kind of thing, or may be if there is something they need to improve in the future

TSL: yea

TN: there is no religious element?


TN: Okay. Do you think we can ask No. 28 or not? Page 4. It is something political?

TN: page 44, 28-29. Is it something political? Wow.. we have different one.…see this. Is it sensitive question?

TSL: I do not think so

TN: can we ask it? Did they help the soldier in anyway? The religious people, you know. For example, one of the monks, the leader encourage the believers to join the fight against the enemy 

TSL: Yes

TN: Yes. in what way?

TSL: He said that these organizations has created another personality for you, another identity, different age, different name. it will help you disguise with the army and also it has the good and bad side as well. 

TN: Oh..I see. This Cao Dai or whatever Kao dai, they helped the soldier by disguising the soldier so they don’t get recognize by the US army?

TsL: yes

TN: Did he have any experience with them?

TSL: He went to the Cuc Lam Cave, the space for Cao Dai and Hoa Ho. He saw a lot of monks there 

TN: Buddhist monks?

TSL: Yes. Monks and chief monk 

TN: And so, when they helped the soldier to hide their identity, was it in the sort of dressing, or shaving head too?

TSL: Just in the traditional clothes, you do not need to shave your head

TN: So, they will consider you as the member?

TSL: Yes

TN: So, if the US army ask them, they will “oh..this is the member”?

TSL: yes

TN: Okay. Did he happen to know any of these figures?

TSL: he knows only Nguyen Anh Ninh and Nguyen Bien Khiem 

TN: We go to page 7. This is one is political question, I am not allowed to ask.

TSL: we can try

TN: Okay. What do you think about the Vietnamese army who worked for the US, compared to Vietnamese army in South, in the North?

TSL: Supported by the US?

TN: Supported by the US, you know Vietnamese, Ngo Dinh Diem government

TSL: The army from the North is very smart, they behave very polite, they know how to treat people in different way..

NC: Diplomatic 

TN: Diplomatic 

TSL: and for the South soldier, they are just straight forward, but the government in the South enforce people to join the army and it is not very well received by their people.

TN: Okay. Do you know the soldier in the South got paid?

TSL: He said in the North soldier get paid 10 million VD. 10-12 million VND?

TN: 10-to 

TSL: 12

TN: Million? Per month?

TSL: thousand 

TN: Thousand. It was big money though, at that time?

TN: like 10 thousand [waving 20 thousand VND bill]

NC: yes.. this is 20

TN: How much is it now? was it big money, that is my question?

TSL: it is depends on the family member they have at home. 10 for each member…each family member

TN: So, he has a brother. So, he will get about 20-24 because two brothers joining the army?

TSL: Yes. But he….because he is in higher rank, so he will get double per month

TN: Oh..I see. Like 20?

TSL: 20 for two brothers already. but, he will get more because he is officer

TN: alright. Did he also get food stamp?

TSL: So, he said in the army all of the, food and clothes are provided by the army. There is a special division to take care of the equipment and he got 65 VND per month in the army. And because he is..he is an officer, he has to pay. For the lower officer and normal officer soldier, they don’t have to pay.

TN: Okay. fair enough. Beside this wounding, did he also suffer other injuries?

TSL: He also has injury in the eye

TN: Okay. also from the shot?

TSL: yes

TN: Did he ever witness something so horrible that he can’t stand, may be soldier got blown up or other injuries?

TSL: In his unit, there was a bombing from the B-52 plane and when that plane dropped the bomb, there was a comrade .. he saw….

TN: In his base camp?

TSL: Yea. His base camp.  he was hit by bomb and that comrade, he died with his body dislocated like a part of him is hung on the tree

TN: Okay. So, his body’s scattered.

TSL: Yea

TN: does it scare him?

TSL: No. because he said during this time in the military when he walks to the field, he saw dead body the US army or else people from outside

TN: Yea. Did he ever witness farmers, civilian farmers helping soldiers in anyway, may be with food, may be some info, that kind of thing?

TSL: Yes. So, during the Cambodia war, the Cambodian government, they forbidden the use of rice and so farmers have to bring beans and peanuts to soldier

TN: To soldier? To their base camp?

TSL: So, they bring them straight to the base camp because there is a translator and contact. They exchange contact with each other

TN: Right. So, they are trusted

TN: So, do you think the victory of the war on the part of Vietnam has something to do with the belief I Buddha, or was it pure struggle of people?

TSL: No. It was pure struggle of all people, all of class like all of men, women, young, old ..people contributed to the war

TN: So, basically it was people’s war?

TSL: people’s war, yea.

TN: and now, looking back, what do you think about being involved in the war as a soldier, and what do you think of Vietnam war?

TSL: So, as a soldier, now is different because his life has changed. And now looking back he feel that he wants to connection with his comrade and it is…he wants to value the trust and their relationship during the war time and he also…..memories he got them.. from his comrades. Long period of time has passed away, but his heart still there. He exchange contact and he bring all the family to visit him.

TSL: Does that answer your question? You want to ask..

TN: Yea..yea.. also what is Vietnam war to him?

TSL: So, looking back about the war, for our people and he has paved a way for us to develop. Also now, he ..because of the state of our politics. There is only one party and it is the right way for us with the war and also during the war time people are united for the same thing ad until now he is very proud of the way that we only have one party .it is right..

TN: the right way 

TSL: the right way to lead the people. In that way we have contained Covid and also decide important case. he still think that it is the right way to lead the country.

TN: When..when you see your grandkids and your children having better life, do you ever feel “Oh..this is because I fought for the war”, that kind of thing? Feel proud..

TSL: He feel proud that this is……….he is satisfied and it is a shame that…….he feel envy with other people who can stay at home and raise kids and take care the kids. But, now, he is very satisfied..

TN: Right. Are you engaged in any veteran activities?

TsL: So, he used to be the leader of People’s Committee at the commune level in 1970, and then he changed to provincial level 7 years later, 1977. And then he used to do some veteran work from 1991-2016. He was part of the foundation of veteran group in national level. 

TN: National level. Do you get any special thank you, may be certificate and money from the government?

TSL: Next year he will receive a certificate that he has joined the Communist Party for 65 years and he did get a medal for being good resistant soldier. So, it is close to the civil medal.

TN: Okay. Do you ever tell this story to grandkids and kids?

TSL: No because they are too small 

TN: What about kids?

TSL: He mentioned that he got support from the government because he has the pension. he is retired and got pension per month.. he is also..

TN: May I know how much?

TSL: 8 million per month because he was high officer in the military, and he is an officer. My uncle is a guard and he is injured soldier, So, he get support as well. And also support because he is soldier suffered from the Agent Orange

TN: Okay. what’s that? So, he is suffered from it or because he is handling it?

TSL: From the Agent Orange. It is chemical toxic that affect you

TN: Okay. I thought that is only in the South?

TSL: only what?

TN: in the South

NC: His battle field is in the South, not in Hanoi. In the South

TN: Ba Den is in the South? not in Ha Noi?


TN: So, you were being sent to.

TSL: Tây Ninh battle field. Tây Ninh province is the South and he as trouble speaking, asthma, because …from the toxic 

TN: Okay. So, I misunderstood it. I thought the battle field was somewhere in the North.

TSL: No, in the South

TN: Okay. wow. I want to know more about it coz I want to know the journey from Ha Noi to Tây Ninh. Was it by car, or walking? 

TSL: he and his comrades walk

TN: for how long? 2 days? 3 days?

TSL: nearly 6 months. One day walk, one day rest 

TSL: he passed many contact points. 

TN: How long have we been talking?

TSL: more than 2 hours 

TN: yea. I am okay. Basically I am done. But, if there is any info that I do not ask, I’d like to listen 

TSL: he said if yo need more info, you can ask him

TN: but may be next time 

TSL: He’d like you to stay for dinner 

Interviewer: Tini

Interviewee: Ba Quyen

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Transcript Notes

  1. Tam tòng, tứ đức is the Vietnamese localization of the Three Obediences and Four Virtues for women in Confucian thought. A woman is expected to remain obedient to her father, husband after marriage, and then sons after his passing, in order of seniority in age. She is also expected to uphold feminine virtue in Ethics (moral behavior), Speech, Visage (keeping up modest appearance) and Works (bearing sons and chaste daughters, remaining committed in a chaste monogamous marriage arranged by the clan etc.)

  2. Ba Quyen provides a more generalized interpretation that applies to males as well in this interview.

  1. How does Ba Quyen’s reflections destabilize notions of the Vietnam War being a binaristic conflict between North and South Vietnamese/American forces?

  2. To what extent did ideology shape Ba Quyen’s experience and later interpretations of the war? What other influences shaped the lens through which he viewed the war and the Communist cause?

  3. How did the Cold War conflict shape the notion of citizenship for Ba Quyen (and other Vietnamese like him)? 

  4.  Consider the role of memory transmission from earlier generations in shaping how youths like Ba Quyen responded to the Vietnam War and the Cold War in Vietnam.

  5. Assess the role of education in the process of knowledge production about the Vietnam War in light of Ba Quyen’s reflections.