RFA Vietnamese service broadcaster Viet Hung asked two Vietnamese war veterans— Le Nam Son , who fought for the South, and Pham Van Mai, who fought for the Communist North—to share memories of the war and thoughts about Vietnam today:
Le Nam Son: “On April 30, 1975, I was an artillery officer in Saigon, I was a second lieutenant of Marine Second Artillery Company. When I look back, I notice that the hearts of our people are not peaceful. I also see that our country doesn’t enjoy true freedom and democracy yet, and that its economy remains backward compared with those of our neighboring countries. These are my three main observations.”
“I’ve [now] had a chance to confront the soldiers of the opposite side. Secondly I’ve had a special opportunity to meet a soldier who fought on the other front in the battle at Quang Tri… I unexpectedly met Mr. Pham Van Mai at a musical mini-party. I was very surprised to see him hold a guitar and sing a song titled ‘Motherland.’ I was touched by the fact that I could listen to a moving Vietnamese song overseas.”
“I later talked with him and found that in 1972 he was a soldier of Division 304 fighting at Quang Tri Province. So Mr. Mai and I were fighting in the same place, on opposite sides. We related the story of the battle of Quang Tri to each other, and then we recognized each other as brothers… I stressed that we were both of Vietnamese blood, that we shared the same painful past, and that we were both the victims of an ideological war. Therefore we need to reconcile with each other.”
“We’ve wasted 30 years, and now we still experience difficulties and hardships. Thirty years have passed, but 80 million people inside Vietnam still don’t have the right to express their own ideas, and they still don’t enjoy the right to be the masters of their own lives. This is a serious problem.”
“But we need to look forward to the future together… Those who can have a powerful impact on the development of the country clearly must be leaders inside the country. We expect them to place the…well-being of our country above all other things. I’m excited to see that several young people in Vietnam have been sent abroad for further study. I expect that everybody, especially the young people, will be conscious of the fact that we all have the same skin and blood, that we are all Vietnamese fellow countrymen.
Pham Van Mai: “On April 30, 1975, I was in the units that attacked Saigon…We stormed into the Independence Palace of the city. I belonged to Regiment 66 of Division 304 of the Armed Forces of North Vietnam. Together with the tanks of Subdivision 203, we attacked Independence Palace.
“At that time I was only 20 or 21. After a long period of living, then fighting, in the jungles and in the mountains, we poured down to the Delta region. Everywhere we went, we were amazed to see so many crowded and prosperous villages and provinces in South Vietnam. We could enter Saigon with ease and comfort because basically Mr. Duong Van Minh had already ordered his soldiers on the other side to lay down their weapons and observe a ceasefire.”
“At that time of course my young co-fighters and I were very excited because we thought that this might be our last battle to fight, the final day of a very long war…”
“Time has flown so fast. Thirty years have passed like a dream. Now when I recall the war, I feel really sad. I feel sad for the soldiers on both sides that fought 30 years ago. I also feel sad about the fate of our country, which has endured several disastrous period of hostilities, causing so much devastation.”
“Vietnam has developed economically, but that economic development is still backward compared with that of its neighbors. Vietnam also needs a change its political system. If a change in its political system can bring about trust and confidence of the people… Then all the capacities and potentialities of the land can be utilized.”
“If the Vietnamese government keeps on making economic and political developments, then a renovation and a rebirth of Vietnam will occur very soon. That’s my hope. I hope that both sides will have a true reconciliation. They will reconcile in justice and equality, but not in such a way that this side will force the other side to reconcile in its own manner… “
“As a Vietnamese looking back to his native country, I must say that I will try to… help my country gain freedom and democracy. As far as the young people who have studied overseas…I encourage them to work hard and try to gain the advanced knowledge of civilized countries of the world so that they will return to Vietnam with… new views and judgments to contribute to national reconstruction. We’ll rebuild our country together. I’ll encourage even my own children to participate in rebuilding Vietnam if it will have true freedom and democracy.”
“Thirty years have passed—but our country is still ranked as the poorest country in the world, both in the economic and spiritual terms. Our country is in an identity crisis.”