Interview with Mrs. Hoang Mai

Mrs. Hoang Mai recalls her years as a student prior to the Vietnam War, and how the war altered her education and career pathway.

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Mrs. Hoang Mai recalls her years as a student prior to the Vietnam War, and how the war altered her education and career pathway. Inducted into a logistics support unit of the  National Defense Army, she served in non-combat roles as a cook, car mechanic, and during peacetime, as a babysitter for the children of soldiers. However, she remembers enduring other challenges during her military service. Mrs Y’s recollections strongly highlight the role of social networks in wartime Vietnamese society, and how the interpersonal solidarity and camaraderie within the military helped her and her colleagues to navigate their war experience.

Born in 1951 in the Hoang Mai District of Hanoi, she begins by discussing her secondary education. She studied math and humanities subjects under a nationalistic curriculum centered on Vietnamese national heroes. However, she notes that all the historical figures discussed were from the country’s precolonial past and the indigenous Vietnamese dynasties. While she was aware of modern nationalists’ early resistance against the French, she explained that they were still too recent at the time to include in textbooks. She also notes that students had strong social connections with teachers, and she visited her teacher on Teachers’ Day with her classmates even during the war.

At home, she was taught to be a good caregiver and to uphold traditional Vietnamese values of prioritizing the needs of the collective, beginning with the family and building towards broader contributions to the country and the Communist Party. She briefly recalls how she was tasked to look after her younger siblings, and that the wellbeing of soldiers was always prioritized by the civilians: at all ancestor worship rituals, the first prayer made would be for Vietnam’s victory in the war.

Though she enrolled into a polytechnic course to be trained as a middle and high school teacher, the outbreak of war disrupted this plan; and she was never able to go on her teaching practicum to complete the course. Instead, she was recruited into the National Defense Army by her neighbor, who personally sought her parents’ approval, which they proudly agreed to. In the military, she was not taught combat skills and was never exposed to weapon handling, but was still trained to adhere to strict military discipline in her logistics unit. As a cook, she was required to keep to a rigid timetable so as to ensure that the 500 personnel in her unit received their meals in a timely manner. There was no time for worship, and the military operated as a secular organization. While her military service ensured she had access to food, rice was scarce and had to be mixed with other starches.

Late in the war, she was further trained in a secondary role as a car mechanic, and was dispatched to a car maintenance unit in Quang Binh as part of a small group of female cooks, where she also met her husband. There she notes the strong camaraderie between the members, and how the active soldiers would hold friendly conversations with the cooks when the meals were well-prepared. After the war, she was moved into a caregiving unit in 1977, where she served as a babysitter for the children of soldiers.

The harsh experience of war, and the strong social ties that led her through it, created a unique memory that is shared by Mrs. Hoang Mai and her comrades, which she feels that later generations cannot understand. She only discusses her war memories with her husband who served alongside her. Her recollections provide an alternative view of women’s non-combat participation in Vietnam’s war effort and the limits of intergenerational memory transmission of the Vietnam War.

Transcript Interview No 3: Mrs. Hoang Mai

The interview took place on the 26th of December, 2020 at the Yogurt cafe in Hoang Mai District, Hanoi. After the introduction of what the purpose of the interview is, her rights to pass any questions she does not feel comfortable to answer and to not reveal her 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 and the answer the interviewee gives. In this transcript I refer to the translator as “TSL”, the interviewee as “Mrs. Hoang Mai” (pseudonym) and myself as “TN”. In addition, the interview also wishes to remain anonymous.

TN: Ready?

TSL: Yes 

TN: So, thank you so much for agreeing to share your story with us. And I think Mai already told you that you are free not to answer any question that you do not feel comfortable answering. 

   TN: So, are you originally from Ha Noi?

YG: nodding 

TN: Yes, Okay. which province? District? 

TSL: Hoang Mai District. It used to belong to Hai Ba Trung District. Now is changed to Hoang Mai District. 

TN: okay..ehm..So, when were you born? in what year?

TSL: 1951

TN: 1951. By the time the war started in 1964 she was 13 years old , yea?

TSL: yea 

TN: do you remember your life as a daughter at that time? Before and during the war time?

TSL: before and during?

TN: Yea

TSL: So, she…at home, she ..she was a student and then she was national defense worker. 

TN: national defense worker. Okay. what is it?

TSL: So, she said, her husband is a painter…painting cars and he fight, directly involved in the war..

TN: your uncle?

TSL: yea…and she is a cook and prepare logistic…

TN: like food? Logistic..

TSL: yea 

TN: for the soldier?

TSL: soldier 

TN: and it is part of the defense worker?

TSL: Yea. National Defense. Terms refers to her and him

TN: OO…in the same team?

TSL: the same team. She is a worker and her husband is a soldier.

TN: Right. So, basically logistic will cover food and the other equipment is her husband’s. Her husband is in the other equipment side?

TSL: Her husband is ..prepares car,, painting and deliver cars for other soldiers.

TN: To other units?

TSL: Yea.. to other units.

TN: Okay. We will go back to it later. But, I want to know..ehm…when she joined this defense, and then the life before join.

TSL: So, she used to study in High School, and then she study like…a…undergrad degree. Like..intermediate..

TN: Intermediate? So, basically after..

TSL: below college

TN: Polytechnic?

TSL: Yea

TN: Okay. and what’s she specialize in? In the polytechnic?

TSL: Pedagogy 


TSL: Teaching, yea. But, it got dismissed because of the war.

TN: How long it supposed to be? If… hadn’t the war started. How long..2 years, 3 years?

TSL: 1,5 years

TN: one..Okay. So, she had to leave?

TSL: Yes.

TN: Okay. After how long? After one year? or, after few months in this?

TSL: After 1,5 years.

TN: Okay. But, normally it will take how long for people to finish this?

TSL: 3 years 

TN: 3 years. Do you remember what kind of study, what kind of subjects you study in high school, and polytechnic…geography, literature..?

TSL: So, in the polytechnic ..ehm…she studied like general subjects…the subject that teaches you how to get to use ….get to use with the student..

TN: Okay. get to use…like how to teach?

TSL: Like how to teach, yea. Skills to get familiar with them..ehm…she will be teaching high school, lower secondary school students.

TN: Okay ..

TSL: She used to study like..she is study 7 grade plus 3 years more and …ehm……in high school she study Math, Literature, geography.

TN: Yea..yea..

TSL: She did not get the chance to go to internship because The war happens.

TN: Yea.So, do you still remember what kind of ….what do you study, …material for the poems, history book, novel….?

TSL: She remember there is short story

TN: Okay ..short story, yea?

TSL: yea..[pointing out a title she noted down “ Tắt đèn”] 

TN: Okay. I will get it from you. That’s it? poem?

TSL: She does not remember.

TN: Okay. what about song?

TSL:  This one..[pointing out to the notes she made, “ Giải phóng miền Nam” ]

TN: Okay. Is it about war?

TSL: It is about the war, Liberation of South Viet Nam.

TN: Oh..Liberation of South Viet Nam. 

TSL: yeah 

TN: Okay. What about history? What kind of history did they study back then? 

TSL: Back then they study about other dynasty of Viet Nam like Trần  dynasty with these heroic figures [pointing out to “  Trần Quốc Tuấn,  Trần Quốc Toản”]. Trần Quốc Tuấn is very young hero. When he can’t join the war, he is too young. He is too angry that he is holding an orange and she smashed it.

TN: This one..[pointing out to “  Trần Quốc Tuấn” name]. 

TSL: this one [pointing out to the same name “  Trần Quốc Tuấn” ].

TN: he, right?

TSl: all he

TN: Okay. No history from French heroes, or other?

TSL: So..nothing about French.

TN: Okay..nothing yea?

TSL: yea

TN: What about Hoàng Hoa Thám [me double checking what the interviewee said as I understand a bit of Vietnamese language] 

TSL: he is also history kingdom 

TN: from Vietnamese past..?

TSL: yea. These are still new and they can’t write textbook. [referring to names she noted down, “Hoàng Hoa Thám, Lê Lợi, Nguyễn Trãi] 

TN: Did she happen to read any books on ethic when she is at school? You know ethics on how to behave, to father, elderly, to the country?


TN: Do you remember any book from your time? Does not need to be from school, may be something that she reads outside the school.

TN: What is this..[pointing to the title that the translator  wrote down..” Nghị Quế”]

TSL: This is a story about an evil landlord in Viet Nam.

TN: Okay.Wow. from French time, yea?

TSL: Yea. From French time. 

TN: is it fiction? Not real story? Fiction ?

TSL: This is in the story about "Tắt Đèn".

TN: the "Tắt Đèn" . Okay.

TSL:  in  the "Tắt Đèn" .  yeah

TN: Short story. "Tắt Đèn". It is not from school, yea?

TSL: it is in the textbook.

TN: any journal or newspaper that she read at that time?

TSL: There just few books, or journal newspaper there. But, she just focused on studying at school.

TN: Ahh…Okay. you ever bring gift to your teacher at that time, like may be during Tết?

TSL: In the Teacher’s Day, Vietnamese Teacher’s Day, she and her friends went to visit his teacher’s house. Do not bring gift, just come to visit..

TN: Just visiting 

TSL: just visiting

TN: Okay. So, Vietnamese Teacher’s Day has been around for sometime, even during the war?

TSL: Yea


TSL: it is on 20th of November 

TN: Yea. So, it is not something new, yea?


TN: Okay. Just visiting his house or her house 

TSL: His house 

TN: But, it was considered as something? 

TN: So, I’ll go back to life before student, but also between student…about outside school, I mean at home. What was your life as daughter like? Do you need to do some kind of house chores? Cooking, that kind of things?

TSL: look after the babies, holding..

TN: Her sister?

TSL: Yea, her siblings.

TN: Brother, or sister?

TSL: Both. She has younger brother and my mom.

TN: oh..your mom. Okay.

TSL: So, look after them, holding them,  cooking rice,..

TN: That’s it?

TSL: Yea

TN: not working at all?

TSL: Yea.Just look after the siblings, go to school.

TN: Okay. Do you remember what your parents taught you about being woman? you know, how to be good woman, that kind of thing..?

TSL: So, his mom [read-her mom] always tell her that..ehm….this is a saying in Vietnamese “ Ăn trông nồi, ngồi trông hướng”, you need to pay attention to the one….the male and ….ehm…when you sit, you need to pay attention to the direction, that means you are, for example in the meal when there is not enough food for  all people, you don’t… you can’t take all  your favorite food, but you need to leave some for other people…

TN:  For other people..

TSL: For other people. Yea. You can’t take all your favorite food in you bowl. Left some for other people. That is advise to sitting..

TN: any activity?

TSl:  sitting,..eating..

TN:Okay.  Then it will take us to the Tam tòng, tứ đức. Do you know the Vietnamese terms called Tam tòng, tứ đức? 

TSL: So, she said, ehmm… this term means that you live I family, you need to have good ethics and good relationship with your relatives and, tứ đức means you needs to keep a good discipline in your house. 

TN: What discipline?

TSL: You need to respect older people, and look after young sibling ..who are younger than you. So, respect elder and then …look after the young people. 

TN: okay. Do you practice this back then during the war time ad nowadays?

TSL: it applies to both war time and nowadays. For example, in her house they are still worshipping…we have ancestor altar and like this is family business and what parents have, they will teach children so if your parents behave good, then the children will also behave good and also she said you need to ..e…e…e… love all of your relatives your people who are in need , respect older and care for younger.

TN: Okay. Does this Tam tòng, tứ đức also talking about the idea of sacrificing yourself, you know not being selfish, sacrificing your need to your country, like that?

TSL: So, she said..ehm….she thinks that this saying is about sacrifice yourself is a tradition in Viet Nam that you need to respect elder and care for younger, for your relatives, and you need to be also good to sacrifice ..

TN: To your country?

TSL: Yes, because back then she is still youth and the war require a lot of effort from the youth to overcome hardship, even they need the youth..and the youth is like pioneer force to deal with that hardship and also need to be .ee…e.. contribute for the party.. Communist Party.

TN: Right. Okay. What about hard-working. This is also Tam tòng, tứ đức ?

TSL: yes 

TN: Yes. Okay.  Please….[me offering the interviewee water to drink]. Do you ever experience lack of food? Not being able to eat all? 

TSL: So,….No. They still have food. But, they are not rice. But, they still need to mix other things. Rice..

TN: Like with cassava, potatoes?

TSL: Yea.

TN: Hhhmmm..what about vegetable, was here any specific vegetables from war time that they still eat until now?

TSL: Festival?

TN: Vegetables 

TSL: until now?

TN: Yea..may be there are some types of vegetables that ..

TSL: just the same as we eat nowadays 

TN: Do you remember at that time, was there any rich people, respectable people….

TSL: Like older people in the village, or?

TN: yea…like rich people,

TSL: She said, back then she just focused on study, and come here [to Hanoi], it is house rent by her parents, and she did no pay attention to older people.

TN: Okay So, no idea. 

TSL: No idea 

TN: Okay. Do you think your life as a woman at that time difficult?

TSL: There are hardships in war time, yes. But, Vietnamese women generally are strong. They had to overcome all of that hardship and then have happy life with their husband and together they strive for the better. To…together they work …work and try. 

TN: Right. Can you tell me in what way Vietnamese women at that time are strong, compared to Vietnamese women nowadays, in modern times?

TSL: So, back then, women has to raise their kids, working, and if the war requires and..ehmmm…

TN: Join the war?

TSL: Yea. ..need to join the war and she is …

TN: She joined the war?

TSL: No..she…indirectly 

TN: Indirectly 

TSL: She prepares food for the…preparing the guy..

TN: she was not in the front line?


TN: Still, she joined the war 

TSL: She is….join losgistic…preparing food for her husband, her husband repair cars and her husband deliver cars for other soldiers in Quảng Bình in the south 

TN: yea 

TSL: in 1974, she also joined the team to deliver cars 

TN: With her husband?

TSL: No. So, her husband is in Quảng Bình already and she joined later because her unit sent her. She come to Quảng Bình to prepare logistic for them. 

TN: Okay

TSL: To deliver car to the team…

TN: This was a special assignment, yea? Special assignment because usually she is in the back line, cooking, not going t the front line. So, it was special, just onetime thing?

TsL: Ehhmm.. it is assignment from the team. But, in 1974, Quảng Bình is ….do not have any bombings at all. So, it is not front line and it is just Quảng Bình……there are bomb holes in the road..

TN: holes

TSL: the road…due to the bomb. So, it is just logistic thing and safe for them to go there

TN: safe for them

TSL: Yea. 

TN: These were all women? No men with her?

TSL: Both women and men. It is like ….the main work is for the boys to deliver cars to the soldier. But, women are there……women to prepare rice and take care of them. 

TN: so, women joined the team because they need to prepare the meals.

TSL: Yea 

TN: How long it took from Hanoi I suppose to Quảng Bình?

TSL: A few days 

TN: Few days. Was there any special sort of that happened along the way?

TSL: So, she said that …ehm…because of the war and there are holes in the road. So, it is hard for them because the way is not straight. It is high and low….and also they bring equipment like pot. But, they need to drop in in civilians’ houses to ask for wood, to make fire to cook rice ad also ask for place to sleep; if they do not find any house to sleep, then they will have to sleep in the car.

TN: Okay. no tent?


TN: Okay. That’s interesting. So, they bring pot, pan whatever and also materials like rice, they have to ask for woods from the civilians. 

TN: So, this was just random, right? There is no special requirements to join the team? It is like whoever there, you know what I mean?

TSL: The civilian house?

TN:No. the women here, to join the team, it was just random, whoever available to join?

TSL: She did not know why she was chosen by the team, because generally all man goes, not women. They are not supposed to go. But, she do not know why leader decide to have 2 women join in the team and they are very surprised that there are women in the team. They take care of them [the male] very carefully.

TN: So, it was special that women [are] in the team? It was very special to be chosen?

TsL: She said, it’s her responsibility and also her willingness because it is assignment from the superior and she needs to go. 

TN: she has to

TSL: She has to

TN: Right. When did you join the force?

TSL: Before?

TN: yea…did she go to, first join, may be unit youth first and then being recruited, or what was the process?

TSL: Process of?

TN: Yea..process of she join the war, what was the process?

TSl: in the army?

TN: yea..because she was studying, yea? And then suddenly she joined the war. What was the process like?

TSL: So,ehm…….

TN: So, she was student…

TSL: Then there is a neighbor…she asked, she works in the National Defense Army..

TN: The neighbor?

TSL: The neighbor..and she asked, “Do you want to join in?”, and the she can asks for permission. After discussion with my family, they agree for her to go to the army..

TN: Her family agrees?

TSL: yea

TN: Okay

TSL: At first, they did not assign her with the job thing right away. But, she needs to do some errands first. Small things first.

TN: For who? For anyone?

TSL: cleaning for the soldiers…and there is a war…the army retreat into village and she comes ith them, working for them. 

TN: yea..okay. Did you go to certain health check that kind of thing?

TSL: They do not need to because they just indirectly involved in the war…preparing food, sewing clothes, shirts, pants and like ….preparing components of the car like lights..headlights, cushions. So, just men need to do health check because they will fight.

TN: Right. Okay. ehmm….So,, at that time she was sent to ….certain base camp, right? Base camp Hanoi? The base camp..

TSL: In Ha dong

TN: in Ha Dong. Do you remember what year was that?

TSL: for?

TN: for the joining the army?

TSL: June 1972

TN: So, these tasks, they were explaining it to her as soon as she got to the base camp, yea?

TSL: yea. They introduced her to the tasks, all sectors here and also the regulations in the army

TN: What kind of regulations? What rules she needs to obey?

TSL: Ehhmm…. There is a bell to announce the time, dismiss time; you need to follow the hours and also if you go outside, you need to tell the guard where you are going

TN: So, there was working hours, yea?

TSL: Yea 

TN: Not working all day?

TSL: No 

TN: tha’s it? that are the rules that they need to know?

TSL:  They don’t…they just show her…like where to do this..that, this women will be working with you, she need to go with them. something like that. And she said that they maintain very neat way of living. They have to because they live with a lot of people. They have backpack, they will put toothpaste like towel, their belongings in.

TN: Right. So, when you got to the base camp, they give you the uniform and toothpaste, towel, that kind of thing, or did you bring it yourself?

TSL: The towel, or what?

TN: Towel, uniform,…

TSL: Toothpaste and the clothes and necessary things were given to soldier. Women only got clothes.

TN: civilian, or soldier clothes?

TSL: Just like this [referring to the clothes we are wearing]

TN: Just like this

TSL: and the cook will have apron 

TN:Oh..of  course . Did you go through special training? May be how to do basic shooting, how to hide, how to ..first aid skill?


TN: No training. May be we should eat the ice cream and take a break [a few minutes break]

TN: So, beside cooking, beside repairing cars, beside sewing, do you, did you do other things like, may be I don’t know, other thing, during the war time?

TSL: You ask about the job beside cooking? 

TN: ehhmm..beside cooking..

TSL: after doing cooking, she changed unit. She moved to Sơn Tây.

TN: Sơn Tây

TSL: Sơn Tây. In there they have a unit for babysitting the children of soldiers and, for example, the cook like her and her husband. 

TN: God. So, by changing unit, it was only temporary or she was done with the cooking unit, So she moved to babysitting unit? It was a change within a day or week? 

TSL: after doing the cooking thing,…ehmm…her unit was dismissed ad they relocate the staffs to other department and they moved to Sơn Tây because her husband moved to Sơn Tây

TN: Okay. she got…

TSL: They have got married already at that time. They have one daughter 

TN: So, you met your husband during the war?

TSL: Yes. In the unit. 

TN: the unit. Sơn Tây.  So, why did this cooking unit goo dismissed? Because of the soldiers were not there anymore, or why? Other reason

TSL: So, basically her unit, cooking unit is too small and they need to merge them with the larger camp in Sơn Tây. 

TN: Okay. So, it was sort of integration..not being dismissed..just being combined with other group.

TSL: Combined, yea. Merging.

TN: Alright. Ehmm….so were there any stories from cooking unit, during her duty as a cook. Was there any interesting stories, may be scary stories …during her time. 

TSL: it is not the whole story, but just her impression in general, in the army, in her unit, she felt that all of the unit is very unite..

TN: United? 

TSL: United..both males and females, they are very unit..unite…

TN: Like a family?

TSL: family…like…very close knit and they joke together, tell people..tell other people jokes, she can hold with a male soldier and her husband will not be jealous.

TN: Okay

TSL: They are very close like a real family and also they don’t get angry, but just fun comfortable atmosphere around them.

TN: This is from cooking unit, or both?

TSL: in Sơn Tây 

TN: in Sơn Tây. How about cooking unit?

TSl: It’s a funny story about time when her co-worker, she is cooking and flip the pan and like….her ass is a bit behind and a male soldier passed by and slapped her in the butt and they all laughed very hard.

TN: hahahhaha…Okay. I have to ask about the babysitting thing. So, there was no bombing during her station in this babysitting unit? Because I would assume babysitting in the war must be difficult and they have to move around, they need to be quiet and the babies’ crying..

TSL: When she came to the baby sitting unit, it is….it was peaceful time

TN: Okay, before 1964?

TSL: 1977. But, this unit used to be bombed..and they dropped a bomb to the dining hall. But, when she get there, it was peaceful.

TN: No scary stories?

TSL: No..very funny 

TN: Okay.So, when you were on duty, was there ever any sort of talk about the wounded Vietnamese army, or may be how many enemies died, sort of celebration involved?

TSL: So, every time, every month, the factory will send an officer from above. They came to talk with all the workers and all of the workers, they have that day off. They are to come and sit to the factory..big factory …all of the workers I the factory are, on that day, to hear about the talk….an officer will come and talk with them about war news…ehm…political…

TN: once a month?

TSL: once a month…and also propaganda about disease and how to avoid them..

TN: disease?


TN: O..there was that kind of thing

TSl: Yea

TN: Okay. She was not part of the factory? She was in the military army?

TSL: In the cooking unit, and she still worker in the factory at that time.

TN: Okay. This did not happen in the babysitting unit?


TN: Okay. So, every month, yea?

TSL: Yea every worker will come together. They have to talk about war, politics because it is in the army. So, they will need to boost their spirit.

TN: Yea. Okay. Did you have to encourage your brother to Join the war? Did he join voluntarily?

TSL: She is already in the army at that time, away from home, so she did not encourage.

TN: Okay. I need to ask, was your mom or dad sad, okay with her joining the army at that time, and her brother joining the army?

TSL: No. her mom did not feel sad. She encourage her to join the army because it is proud thing that her family has somebody in the army.

TN: Okay. The same goes to her brother, yea?

TSL: Yes

TN: So, you were excited to join the army at that time? No fear at all?

TSL: No. 

TN: No fear at all. Okay.  ehhmmm…do you think joining the war was your way to make your family proud?

YG: nodding 

TN: yes. Obviously 

TN: Do you see, you joining the war as a way to express your duty to your family?

TSL: She thinks that ehmmm……..going to the army is a proud thing to do

TN: for the family, for the country?

TN: she feels proud for herself, for her family as well as the country because it will be a proud thing to say to other people that our family has somebody joining the war.

TN: Right.Okay. Have you heard of some of these Vietnamese heroes… [ the translator then reading question no. 27]

TSL: Hyunh Phu So?

YG: No

 TSL: Nguyen An Ninh? 

YG: No

 Ly Thai Bach?

YG: Yes

TSL:Nguyen Binh Khiem? 

YG: yes 

TN: forget Mohammed, Brahma, Vishnu

TSl: Gandhi?

YG: No

 TSL: Sun Yat Sen?

YG: yes

TN: Okay. So, I need to go back to this question, she was not part of any vanguard?

TSL: of what?

TN: xa-viet Tien Dao

TSL: No. Only her husband ..who is directly involved in the war.

TN: Her husband. Go back to this, what do you like the most about being stationed in the cooking unit and babysitting unit?

TSL: the most..

TN: Yea.. what she liked the most about being in the cooking and babysitting..

TSL: So, with the cooking unit, she get to cook good food for the male soldier and if they have good food to eat, they have strength to fight and se can talk with them. they are soldiers who are very fun to exchange stories, cooking..

 TSL: and in the baby sitting unit, she play with many adorable kids and also there is this baby; she put a bowl of porridge before him and he did not eat all. But, when she feeds him with spoon, he eat very quick and now he has become a doctor in the army, National Army Hospital 108, in Ha Noi. 

TN: and you still talk to him?

TSL: So, that doctor used to study together with her son. And the other day she went for check up in the hospital and her doctor is that doctor, its him..and they are like “wow it has been 20 years..!” 

TN: It is interesting. So, I wonder where you got the cooking material at that time? Was it brought by the soldier, or by the farmers?

TSL: brought… what?

TN: remember there was farmer helping the soldiers, to give food, potatoes, that kind of thing. So, I was wondering if the material that she cooked brought by soldier from, I don’t know, somewhere, or given by local people?

TSL: So, it goes like this. So, there is a person who will buy things ad deliver it to the storage and that storage will be managed by a man. And they all have standard how much rice that manager will give out to the cook to cook.

TN: Okay. So, they have already calculated it. 

TSL: yes 

TN: Okay. So, was there any sort of special food that she cooks, or something similar to that we eat nowadays?

TSl: To prepare every meal, boiled vegetables and fried meat and if there is eggs, then no need meat.

TN: Basically vegetable, rice, and ..meat..protein, that is sort of the component.

TN: So, there is nothing unusual? For example, in the war time in my country, people used to eat,…you know banana trees , banana tree, but they eat their root of it because it was difficult to find rice. So, I was wondering if there was special …


TN: No. So, it was just normal, well cooking dinner for soldier

TSL: she cooks for 500 people

TN: 500 people!! And how many times per day?

TSL: So, they have to prepare 3 meals; breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, they have different team to take care of it.

TN: How many people though in the team to cook for this many?

TSL: So, there are three teams, three main jobs; cooking, preparing vegetables, and then divide the food into portion…..500 portion. She works for the vegetable team and their team has about 10 people. 

TN: Okay. and these ones [pointing to the notes about the other two teams] is the same, or bigger?

TSL: Yea. The same. 

TN: the same. Did they use just paper plate, leaves to put it?

TSL: to what?

TN: for the food..leaves..paper plates, or any other plate, …or with hand, or with chopstick?

TSL: So, they will sit…like the table..the table of 6. They will bring……they will divide the food in a round of dish…aluminum..

TN: Like a tray?

TSL: metals…it is round…3 parts; for vegetable, meat and fish sauce, and they will eat with their own bowl and chopstick

TN: okay. I’d assume they don’t carry heavy stuff during the war. 

TN: Alright. So, question about culture and religion. Do you ever see people praying in their station for, anything really, ancestor worship, for the safety of the soldier…?

TSL: No.

TN: No. what about your parents?

TSL: In the army, there is no burning incense, or worshipping ancestor. They just do it at their home. When Tết come, the lunar new year come, the soldiers, they return home, meet their parents and parents will be doing the praying to the ancestor. 

TN: at home

TSL: At home 

TN: in the village..was there…

TSL: In the village..where?

TN: because ..village festival, may be there is any religious elements in it . Did she ever see them, may be?

TSL: She said that her mom….in the temple. Firstly, they will pray for the safety for the country. it will be the first thing they pray for, before Buddha. Even now. 

TSL: the country and the people to be safe

TN: Okay. this is in her village yea?

TSL: yea

TN: Okay. in Hoang Mai?

TSL: Thường Tín , Ha Noi.

TN: That’s interesting

TSL: yea

TN: Okay. Do you know if your parents prayed for you, to the ancestor, for your safety?

TSL: Yes. It would be like …common thing to pray for the safety of the family member. 

TN: Right 

TSL: They will pray for the parents’ first, and then son, kids, grandchild

TN: grandchild. Until today?

TSL: Yea

TN: What is Vietnam war to you?

TSL: She said, in general, the war us hard war, but in general Vietnamese people are very heroic and that they fight for the country, they died for the country. even they know that this is deadly mission, they still do it and in Ha Noi, the people are very brave and heroic, and they shut down the plane to protect the Ha Noi capital. 

TN: Okay..okay. Do you think the fact that Vietnam won the war has anything to do with any divine being like Buddha, or may be the spirit of the ancestors. The blessing?

TSL: It is the strength of Vietnamese people, all people, or all citizen, all of soldiers

TN: Okay. Nothing to do with divine being 

TSL: yea

TN: Okay. Do you know any religious organization like Cao Đài, ?


TN: No

TSL: Hoà Hảo?

YG: No

TSL:  hội kín?

YG: No

TSL: Thiên Địa hội?

YG: No

TsL: Ông Đạo?

YG: No

TN: You did not suffer any injury, right?


TN: never see anyone getting injured?

TSL: she did not witness herself anyone injured. But, in her unit, there used to be a person who died. There is a mission that requires to go to Hoa Binh….to drive there. But, they do not know that there was a bomb under the road and they drive through it and the driver is explode and the driver died. 

TN: this something that she heard?

TSL: Yea. She heard and her unit send somebody to pick up their bodies to do the funeral.

TN: Did she see the funeral?

TSL: no. So, there is a group of members in her unit. They were working in the road and they suddenly stepped on mine. And they explode. Several people died and her friend lost a leg..

TN: her friend? She or he survived?

TSL: she survived until now. but she lives in her hometown. She got married already. she do not know if she is still alive until now.

TN: Okay

TSL: back then she was still alive

TN: But, she knows she’s married to someone?

TSL: yea, live in different province 

TN: So, did you get any help from local people where you stationed at that time? May be, was there any help from local people?

TSL: in her unit. It is like very close knit relationship between soldier and civilian. Ehmm….they are like …..have a… brother in law. The soldier and civilian are very close. 

TN: like comradery?

TSL: Like comrade, or brothers in a family. if there is any events like building road, repairing the road, soldier will help the civilians 

TN: civilians and vice versa

TSL: Yea. But, the civilians, they are kind of poor because of war. So, they do not have food to give, but happy to help the soldier

TN: about the Hoa Binh trip, when you have to knock on civilian’s door, was it easy? You know, when she went to Hoa Binh to deliver the car, and sometime they had to knock on civilians, was it easy?

TSL: Quang Binh actually

TN: Oh..Quang Binh 

TSL: Yea. Ehmmm….they are very supportive. When they see that their cars, and they are in army uniform, they are very understanding and supportive because they know that they are …these people fighting the enemy. So, if the soldier ask anything, they are willing to help, to provide them.

TN: Okay. so, it was easy. Ehhmm….now, how do you see your fight then for the generation right now? How do you see the benefit of it..?

TSL: She said that back then the war is very hard, and what they experience through is difficult compared to nowadays. Life is very easy and convenient. There are war stories on the news, but she does not think that people nowadays understand about the hardship of war. So, it is pointless to tell stories . they do ot understand. 

TN: Right. So, have you ever tell this story to your kids?

TSL: Mainly they …..she talks with her husband because they both in the army, experience war that time. They understand, they know what is like ..they ever tell kids that kid or grandchild.. 

TN: neither to other people?

TSL: If she talks with colleagues in…co-workers in the same unit. In the meeting. They will understand. They will be like “ is us at that time..we used to do this, do that..” they understand. But, if she talk with foreigner, or younger generation, they do not understand. It is just she talk with her husband. She do not know if….she does not know if her grandchild listen to them, or they just play gram, or doing other things? 

TN: Okay. So, are you engaged in any veteran activity?

TSL: Yes. Visiting poor, sick people in team

TN: this is every month, or..the same as your husband’s, or your uncle’s?

TSL: there are a few times during the year

TN: A few time. Not every month?


TN: This is the medal ..?

TSL: medal from the veteran 

TSL: If you wear this to the meeting of veteran..they will..

TN: to recognize?

TSL: yea

TN: this..? [pointing out to the second medal]

TSL: this from the unit. She was in factory 177. Department to manage car

TN: can we take picture

TSL: yea

TN: and this one {pointing out to the third medal]

TN: This is from Son Tay?

TSL: this is from district 

TN: this is the award from the government?

TSL: yes. These are from the veteran group. 

TN: Okay. 1,2.

TSL: this [I,2] from the district

TN: District . district for this one.

TSL: For retired people who joined the veteran 

TN: Okay. Do you get any money?

TN: this is rice , yea? [examining the medal with rice symbol on it]

TSL: yea

TN: what is this sign…?  A sign of Oto? And this one, what does it mean?

TSL: this is the head of the car

TN: aa…okay. So, this is from the logistic department? Everyone from this department will wear this same badge?

TSL: Yea. She was part of it

TN: Do you get any money?

TSL: yea

TN: and certificate?

TSL: yea .. pension  and book for examine health check..


TSL: not free. Because she works for the government for sometime, she is prioritized.

TN:So, she’s retired yea?

TSL: yea

TN:Okay. what was the most..was it difficult as woman to be in the army? We almost done.

TSL: ehmm…this is not. She compares life in the army now with life in the army at war time. Back then, they have to do things on their own, there is no electricity, or machine to help them wrapping food like nowadays. They have to prepare the fire, like burnt woods. So, it was harder back then than nowadays.

TN: was there any specific tricks she used to make her job easier?


TN: where did you learn how to cook because you joined the war quite young?

TSL: So, what is your question?

TN: where did she learn how to cook because she joined the war quite young

TSL: She went to the army and she just learn after the people who are older in the position ..watching and see how they doing the work. Just learning…learning and working at the same time.

TN: Do you think every woman in your time care about beauty in war time? And if so, what kind of idea of beauty at that time?what do women in her time think of beauty?

TSL: you combine two questions, right?

TN: Yea 

TSL: Back then they define beauty of women as 3 good things women need to do; the first one is with the family, raise kids for them to well behaved; and their beauty in society, work ..contribution to the society; and the last one is to fight with us..the same country..

TN:Okay..being army soldier

TSL: yea..the duty calls and even when women need to be willing to join the war

TN: SO, it was more like internal qualities 

TSL: Yes..not like beauty…beautiful hair, white face, 

TN: What about speaking wise, do women at that time speak more softly, more calmly?

TSL: back then, women all has to be kind in general. kind and speak softly, respect older, care for the young, 

TN: Tam tòng and tứ đức?

TSL: yea..and they have to be…ehm…kind and behave in moderate ways, do not get angry or yell at other people. But, now it is not like that. She feel that nowadays the ethics of women has decreased very much.

TN: Do you still see beauty in the same way as before, or changed may be a bit?

TSL: that women has to..

TN: Yea..does she still hold the same belief?

TSL: yes

TN: Okay. so these things are the teaching from your parents, yeah? Or society?

TSL: it is the rules of families. They have to teach kids these things and, for example, if you have daughter who are to be get married, the bride will leave in the husband’s house. she has to listen to the husband’s father, and she does not get to go against his decision. If he said do this, she do this, or can’t talk back. 

TN: Alright. How’s your life after the war?

TSL: it is okay. since she got pension from the government. It is enough for her to get by

TN: she does not work anymore, yeah?

TSL: she used to work, but not anymore

TN: Okay. have you ever seen Hoa Lo museum? Or do you want to?


TN: So, yeah. We are done. But if there is anything else she wants to share with us, I’d be happy to..


TN: okay. Thank you. 

Interviewer: Tini

Interviewee: Mrs. Hoang Mai

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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.)

  1. How does Mrs. Hoang Mai’s testimony illustrate the importance of social relations and social networks in wartime Vietnamese society? How did it shape the country’s response to the war?

  2. What new perspectives does the recollections of non-combat military staff such as Mrs. Hoang Mai reveal about the nature of the Cold War in Vietnam?

  3.  How significant were cultural or pragmatic motivations for mobilizing the Vietnamese youth for the war effort? How do they compare against ideological reasons?

  4.  Consider the merits and limits of transmitting harsh national memories across generations in light of Mrs Y’s remarks.