Making memories: 84-year-old Truong Xuan Bai and his wife, Nguyen Thi Ninh.
Truong Xuan Bai, 84, met Ho Chi Minh three times during his decades of service in the army. He tells Viet Nam News stories of his fallen friends and time on the battlefield. Duong Quang reports.
Long marches, blood fights, martial marches, and beautiful comradeship during the nation’s brutal resistance wars are still vivid in the memory of 84-year-old Truong Xuan Bai.
The war veteran from Thach Mon Commune in the province of Ha Tinh recollects every moment of this three meetings with President Ho Chi Minh, from whom he had also received a silk shirt as gift.
In 1951, like every other young Vietnamese born during the war against the French, 20-year-old Bai joined the army and was trained at Regiment 44 of the Viet Nam People’s Army, which was stationed at Yen Thanh District in Nghe An Province.
He was appointed to Company 674, Battalion 251, and Regiment 174 of Division 316 stationed in Tho Xuan District in Thanh Hoa Province.
Two years after joining the army, he had his first fights in Lai Chau Province in 1953.
During that time, he was assigned to a communication team of four members led by the late national hero Be Van Dan.
Bai recalls that of the 40 occasions of fights in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954û, his most memorable one was the fight on hill A1.
Old relic: The silk shirt that war veteran Bai received from Uncle Ho in 1958. — dantri.com.vn photos
“After we discovered the enemy bunker, we were assigned with the task of digging a tunnel through a mountain to transport nearly a tonne of explosives and use them against our enemy. It was a very brutal war, but we gained many remarkable victories,” Bai says.
The glorious victory in the battle of Dien Bien Phu, however, came at a high price: the sacrifices of so many of Bai’s comrades, including his best friend Be Van Dan, the national hero who offered his body as a shield so that his comrades could advance.
He chokes with emotions whenever he tries to recall the memories of his comrades.
“We were close and often shared intimate stories about our families or relationships. Before a fight, Dan had promised to visit my hometown and President Ho’s as well.”
But he could not keep his promise as he died in the Muong Pon battle on December 12, 1953.
“Every member in my division was deeply pained by his immortal sacrifice, which also stimulated our will to fight the enemy,” Bai says.
After the battle, Bai, together with other two comrades, interred Dan.
“Not to lose trace of his grave, I wrote his name, hometown, and the number of his unit on a piece of paper, put it in a penicillin bottle, and buried it along with his body right next to a tamarind tree in Muong Pon Commune.”
In early 1958, Division 316 came back to the old battlefield to detect mines and reassembled the graves of their comrades, including Dan’s.
“Though the area had changed a lot, the old tamarind tree still stood strong, so we did not have any difficulty finding his grave.”
After the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Bai was allowed to visit his hometown. During this short visit, Bai married Nguyen Thi Ninh. But he had to leave home for new battlefields even after that.
Bai says his most prideful and honourable memory is his meeting with President Ho on three occasions.
He met the President the first time at the end of 1957, when he was among the 120 personnel appointed to escort the president’s journey from Gia Lam Airport to the President Palace.
Prepared for battle: Bai (second from left) with his comrades on hill A1 in 1958.
Then, on March 1958, he was nominated as the representative soldiers of Division 316 to attend the National Festival of Model Workers, during which he received a silk shirt from President Ho.
“On receiving his gift and hearing his recommendations, I was overwhelmed by happiness. Since that moment, I have always treasured and considered the silk shirt as a precious souvenir. I have framed it and take great care of it. I look at it every day and feel encouraged to train myself and finish the duties I have been entrusted with,” says Bai.
The last time Bai met President Ho was when he was appointed as a presidential guard during the president’s visit to ethnic communities in northwestern region.
During the resistance war against the Americans, Bai participated in the campaign in northern Laos, helping Lao folks to fight against the Americans. That war gifted him three serious wounds, the scars of which are still visible.
He came back to Viet Nam in 1971 to work in High Command 959 and was assigned as chief of the arms depot in Laos, contributing to the liberation of Sai Gon (presently Ho Chi Minh City). Bai continued to serve the army for another two years after national reunification in 1975.
During the 26 years that he served in the army, Bai received many orders and medals from the Government.
According to Phan Thanh Son, vice chairman of the veterans’ organisation in Ha Tinh City, Bai has set an example of a courageous soldier with high morals and a remarkable sense of responsibility. All of his lessons and stories about the war period are precious sources of reference that can educate and inform the young generation who are building and defending the country. — VNS
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