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Interview with Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh

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Summary
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh, a refugee from Hue, talks about the Communists launching the 1968 battle for Hue during the New Year celebrations in the city. She remembers that the sound of gunfire was being interspersed with the sounds of firecrackers so no one at the time realized that the Communists were overrunning the city. Nguyen Cong Minh remembers her father being taken away to a reeducation camp and never returning, and her long search to find his remains in the mass graves of reeducation camp prisoners.
Topics
Political persecution, Atrocities, Tet Offensive, 1968, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Atrocities, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, War crimes
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Transcript

The Communist takeover of Hue during the Tet Offensive

TVP 004
SR 2643
Subject: Viet Tet
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Mrs. Minh, tell us what happened on the night of the Lunar New Year in 1968 and how your father was, what you were doing and how your father was taken away the next day.
Slate One. Marker.
Clapstick
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh:
On the eve of the Lunar New Year, on the night of the 30th of Tet, it was quite different from other New Year eves in that firecrackers went on longer and more profusely. There were more firecrackers, much more firecrackers, than every other New Year. Uh, the sound of the firecrackers and the sound of gunfire interspersed and so, ah nobody realized that it was the gunfire of Communists who were overrunning the city of Hue.
And so, ah, everyone was still enjoying themselves, ah, performing religious rites. Then at about 2:00 in the morning, on the eve of Tet, the Viet Cong sneaked into my house and, asked for our identity cards, knocked on the door.
At that time my father and I looked out and saw the, Communist soldiers carrying AK's and wearing pith helmets came knocking at our door. My father told my brother and my uncle to escape through the back door. When we looked out of the window and saw the AK's my father knew that the Communists had already overrun the city. This was because they knocked on the door and identified themselves as National Liberation Forces who had come to the South, uh, to liberate the people.
Since my father was old, he told my brother and my uncle to go, uh, to escape by the back door. Then when we opened the front door they asked my father what his occupation was and where he was staying. My father then told them that he was old and was about to retire. He, ah, he said that he will retire in a year and that at that time he was the deputy district chief of Trieu Phong in Quang Tri province. So they came into the house, wrote down our names and, ah, then they withdrew and went to other houses.
Now, I have finished with that part, are you going to give a translation or should I continue speaking?
Then, ah, ah, on the first day of the New Year they forced my father to present himself in person and to write down his background. After he finished writing down his background, they allowed him to go home again. They allowed him to go home and, ah, on the morning of the second of Tet they forced him to come to them and write down his background one more time. Then they sent him home again, ah, they allowed him to go home again.
Then on the morning of the third of Tet they told him to take with him a blanket, a mosquito net and enough clothes and food for ten days of reeducation. He, ah, was supposed to go for reeducation for ten days and then to come back again. So my father went home and, according to their request, brought enough clothes and food for exactly ten days with him.
Many people converged on that place: the place where I was living in was called Vy da. Many people converged on the Vy da grade school. In my estimate, there were about 60 to 70 persons there that day.
After my father had gone away for ten days, there was no indication that he was coming home. And it was not until not until, ah, and he disappeared without any trace for exactly a year until 1969 when a Communist rallier in, ah, Xu O went to Thua Thien provincial town and, ah, that person disclosed to the, the, the provincial chief of Thua Thien that all those people who had been taken away during the Mau-than New Year were all buried alive.
And he, ah, if the provincial chief wanted to find the remains of these people he would take him to Xuan O and Xuan Dol to show him where to dig for the remains. It was then that the provincial chief of Thua Thien ordered the Rural Development cadres to accompany this Communist rallier and to inform the inhabitants of the province that anyone who had loved ones who had been taken away during the Mau-than New Year should come with them to find the remains.
First of all, they arrived at Xuan O where they dug up, ah, that man pointed out, he only knew one tunnel and pointed it out and when it was dug up, there were the remains of seven persons who were all tied up, tied up with their hands behind their backs. And when, ah, when, ah, when they were dug up they were found to have had their skulls broken.
They were having their arms tied behind their backs. And when they were dug up, the ropes could be seen connected with one another. And then, ah, then the digging continued. In that whole area, the soil was all sandy. And so when people went around searching they saw that erosion, ah, the sand shifted, ah, the sand shifted and so the bones were exposed.
And so around an area where there was a body buried underneath, there was grass growing. The grass was quite green. And in any area where the grass was green, there was a body underneath when you dig it up.
And so the digging continued for nearly a month. Ah, for nearly a month, ah, then, uh, then they, ah, uh, could see, ah, during that month people were able to locate about 200 remains. Two hundred relatives.
And those remains that could be found that their identification cards sealed in plastic with them. Or they had pictures of their wives and children sealed in plastic with them. And so, exactly a year later when the remains were dug up these things had not disintegrated yet and so they could be identified.
Interpreter:
She’s told the whole story. I wanted, just wanted what happened that night, but it’s the uh, the quest for the graves and everything else.
(Cross talk)
Interpreter:
That is go back. That is go back. It’s very long, you see. Ah, if you want me to translate on camera, she has to stay shorter, otherwise I forget too, you see?
Interviewer:
Yeah. But but but it it is...
Interpreter:
Yeah, she is telling everything.
Interviewer:
Should I cut?
Yeah.
Turning.
Interviewer:
They took your father away...
Turning. Roll sound. Marker. Slate 2.
Clapstick
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh:
On New Year Eve the sound of gunfire and firecrackers was very loud and very, ah, very cheerful. And so everybody, ah, thought that it was the sound of the firecrackers. Nobody thought that there were also gunfire by the Communists. Then ah...
Turning. Marker. Slate 3.
Clapstick
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh:
On the eve of the Lunar New Year of 1968 firecrackers and gunfire exploded everywhere in the city of Hue. Everybody thought that they were, ah, ah, the cheerful sound of firecrackers welcoming the new spring. At home everybody was ready to performing religious rites welcoming the New Year.
At exactly one, two, exactly at 2:00 in the morning there came the sound of someone knocking on our door. Then, ah, grandma and grandpa and my father looked out through the window and saw Communist soldiers wearing pith helmets and carrying AK's knocking at the door. My father knew right away that they were Communists and he sent me and my brother away by the back door, trying to escape.
Then, ah, after they knocked on the door three times, my father opened the door. They came in and asked my father what his occupation was and where his residence was. They told my father to tell him about his background. My father told them that he was the deputy district chief of Trieu Phong and that he was already aged so he had only one more year before he would retire.
Then after they had everything written down, they left for the other houses. Then on the morning of the first day of the New Year they went into every house and they came in and forced my father to go to the Vy da grade school to write down his background one more time and to write it down clearly. Then they allowed him to go home.
Then on the morning of the second they told him to come and write down his background once more. Then they again sent him home. Then on the morning of the third, on the third morning they came and told my father to come and write down his background again.
Then they sent my father home to bring with him ten days' worth of food and warm clothes. And also money to spend for ten days. He was to go to a study session for ten days and after that he would be released. So I and my mother accompanied my father to that school. There, besides my father, there were about 100 persons or less.
We stayed there until we saw my father off. Then, ah, my mother and I were very moved when we saw my father go. This was because previously, in 1946, my father, my grandfather on my father’s side had also been arrested by the Communists and he left for good. He has never come back since then.
Therefore, when we saw my father like that my mother and I, ah, returned home and cried and waited. We waited until, ah, the first ten days had gone by and then another ten days and then months after months. And still we could not see my father come home. Then it was not until 1969 when a regular Communist soldier came to rally and he said that they buried alive all those taken during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
Interviewer:
Did, did the, Was that just the story that was,

Unearthing the mass graves from the Communist massacres

Interviewer:
Restate the question. Restate the question for the mike. You didn’t get it, I believe.
Mrs. Minh, tell us about your effort to find your father once you learned that there were mass graves.
Okay. Rolling. Turning, please. Slate 4.
Clapstick
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh:
It was not until 1969 when a Communist came to Thua Thien province to rally and he told the provincial chief that he knew that the Communists had buried a number of people in the Xuan O and Xuan Doi area. And so the provincial chief ordered a number of Rural Development cadres to go and dig up, ah, to go and find the remains of those who had been arrested during the Tet Offensive.
And so, ah, among them, and those whose loved ones, and people informed those whose loved ones had been arrested to accompany them in order to find the remains of the loved ones. And so I and my mother went along with the group of people who went in search of the remain of my father.
At first when we dug up a grave which that Communist pointed out...he only knew, he only pointed out one grave. The first grave I saw had six persons buried in it. And before people dug up the grave they had to drink alcohol in order to drive the stench away, in order not to smell the stench. And so we were permitted to stand in a distance.
When ever people dug, there were strong men who drank a lot of alcohol in order to avoid the stench, to make the stench, to keep the stench from rising up to their bodies. And they then carried the remains of those people to where the relatives, to the people who were in search for the remains of their relatives so that people like us could identify the remains.
And there was, we saw that the remains were still having their arms tied behind their backs. And the skulls were all broken. And so, and when the remains were brought to them the relatives realized that they had identification cards sealed in plastic on them. Or they could see that there were pictures of their wives and children sealed in plastic on the remains.
As for people like us whose relatives did not have any identification card or anything else at all, we had to tear pieces of clothes. Before he left, I remembered what the color of his shirt was. Or, I remembered that my father's jaws were like, which teeth he had lost. And so I and those whose relatives had been killed went inspecting every remain. Although it was stinking, we loved them and missed them and so we had to go searching for them.
Then, when we were not able to find, Those who were able to find the remains of their relatives cried with joy. Those who were able to find the remains were happy. And those who could not were sad. And so we continued on like this. We went around the sand dunes around this grave and we saw, This was because in 1969 when we went there, it was summertime, June 1969.
And so all the, It was all sand around there, sand burnt everything, and the graves, the places where there was sand, uh, there was green grass, then people dug up and then they found the remains. And so people dug up this area like that for a whole month and were able to find, ah, 250 remains. Among them, 50 were identified by their relatives.
And, ah, each time a corpse was dug up we found, we tore off the shirt and went down to a stream to wash it in order to identify the color of the fabric, to see whether the color was still there.
I remembered that when my father left he wore a brown jacket. And so I had to tear off jackets to find out whether my father's jacket was among them. Or I looked at teeth to find out whether certain teeth were missing. But we were never able to find the remains of my father.
Then, ah, the digging went on like that in Xuan O, Xuan Doi and then in Phu Tu. And we continued to follow the diggers until September 1969. When we arrived in Phu Tu, eight more tunnels were dug up. But, ah, it rained in September. So when they dug the remains up they were drenched. Water mixed in with the flesh and so it was impossible, it was impossible to see anything at all. The flesh was washed out and the rain poured, and so we were not able to see anything at all.
But all of them, but it was strange that all the skulls were broken and the arms were tied up and the positions indicated that they were kneeling when they died. They were bundling up, they were huddling. And, not, not, the skeletons were not stretched out. They were sitting huddled up like that only. And, when, when September came, ah, I continued to follow the search party until until September 1969, but I was never able to find my father's remains.
Interviewer:
Keep, keep rolling. John?
Did she tell us how she felt, or how people in the town felt about all this?
Interpreter:
Not yet. No, she just described the search and how they unearthed and how the bodies looks like and ah, that’s all. And then she took ah, pieces from the bodies to washing them to see if she can find the the the the piece of material that her father was wearing when he disappeared.

Popular reaction to the Communist takeover

Interviewer:
Mrs. Minh, how did the people in Hue feel once it became, uh, apparent what the Communists had done?
Interpreter:
What did the people in Hue think when they found the mass graves? What were their feelings, their thoughts? Were they afraid or not?
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh:
When the people in Hue found out, when they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, they became very fearful of the Communists. They were so afraid of the Communists that from 1968 on whenever they saw the Communists overrun a certain place, come into a certain place, they would run away. Wherever the Communist went to, the inhabitants would flee.
For example, in 1972 when all the inhabitants of Hue heard that the Communists were charging into the city of Hue, although the inhabitants had not seen the arrival of the Communists yet, they were all fleeing south to Danang. They all ran to Danang.
And in 19, ah, 1975, the inhabitants also rushed, when they heard that the Communists were overrunning the city of Hue the inhabitants also rushed away, stampeding each other to death in order to flee the Communists. This is to say, ah, all of the inhabitants of Hue, uh, in short, the inhabitants of the provinces of Thua Thien and Quang Tri were extremely afraid of the Communists.
When they heard that the Communists were arriving in any place, they would run away from that place right away. In 1975 the people fled, and they died. They died, but they still fled. But in the end, the Communists overran the South nevertheless.
Interviewer:
How did you feel personally?
Mrs. Nguyen Cong Minh:
As for me, I was very afraid of the Communists. And I feel that, every time I see the Communists, the memory of my father...Whenever you talk about the Communists, I miss my father and I hate the Communists. And so I had to leave my country and have been here ever since.
Interviewer:
I can’t imagine anything more that we, why don’t you cut.
[This section of the interview has not been translated]
Interviewer:
Let’s cut.
Enter the timecode: