Early resistance against Diem

SR 2072
Tran Nhat Bang NLF fighter.
Could you please ask the gentleman when and why he joined the NLF?
When did you join the revolution and why?
Tran Nhat Bang:
In 1962 I participated in a clandestine organization of the National Liberation Front. It was not yet public then. At that time, there were members of my family who had been regrouped to the North. And during the American Diem period, they carried out a Communist Denunciation Program here and they harassed the old resistance fighters.
For this reasons us young people came together in order to oppose this. We were contacted by the district action squad who told us to participate in the effort to liberate the country. At that time, the young people in Hoa Tien village were all supportive of the program of the NLF.
We worked clandestinely. At that time, we were not full time soldiers yet. We were still living among the people and working among them. It was not until August 1, 1964 that my village was liberated.
At that time, I was a member of the village guerrilla unit and engaged in fighting in my native area. Because we realized that the Americans and their puppets carried out repression against our people, when the NLF called on us to fight to protect the fatherland we joined and fought. At that time, this was as far as we could think about the whole thing.
Okay let's cut it there.
You said that there were members of your family who regrouped to the North. So during the Diem period was your family mistreated in any way, especially after the promulgation of the Law Code no. 10/59? And also when you said goodbye to the members of your family who regrouped to the North, did you think that they would come back soon?
Tran Nhat Bang:
Before liberation, from 1954 on, each village inhabitant of Hoa Tien knew by heart Clause 14 of the Geneva Agreement which stated that all the regrouped people would come home after two years. And so our loved ones who regrouped to the North all hoped that they would come home soon.
But when Diem was installed, the inhabitants of Hoa Tien, my family included, who had members of their families regrouped to the north, had to sleep together at night. They also had to construct the strategic hamlet before anyone else, before all the families who did not have people who were now in the North.
Then they carried out the Communist Denunciation Campaign in centers such as Phu Hoa, Hoa Cuong, Hoa Tho and in every village. In Hoa Tien itself they also organized a Communist Denunciation camp. This meant that all former resistance fighters had to go there and be denounced. Wives were forced to divorce their husbands who were now regrouped to the North.
And everyone had to tear up all the mementos of the resistance period. And each family had to take a portrait of Ngo Dinh Diem home and put it up in the middle of the house.
All village inhabitants could not get out into the streets from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. And all gatherings of three or more persons were banned. And their social organization was very tight. They forced every five families to form group in order to control the inhabitants tightly.
And hence the situation was very bad here. As for my family, my older brother regrouped to the North before the final victory. When he went away, he said that he would be back in two years. He said that when the talks on the general elections began, he would come back.
As for the 17th parallel, he said that it was only a temporary demarcation line. He said that he was going away only temporarily and that he would come back very soon. But we waited and waited and only saw Diem step up his repression.
When the National Liberation Front came into being and called on us, all the young people of Hoa Tien, and I was one of them, responded and participated in the resistance. This was the general situation at the time.
It was very clear that at that time the young were very enthusiastic. We destroyed the strategic hamlets and disbanded the repressive machinery in the countryside. Then we established a revolutionary administration. After that, with the guidance from the district committee, we improved our organization.
And during the fighting, I got wounded. I was one of the few people who fought longest in this area and who knew the situation of Hoa Tien village most clearly.
548, Take 1
Could the gentleman tell me what happened to his family during this period?
Please tell us what happened to your family under Diem.
Tran Nhat Bang:
The general situation under Diem was as I just described. As for my family, I had only one brother. My brother regrouped to the North and I remained at home with my mother.
My father had been killed by the French in 1947. And so there were only the two of us. We led a very difficult life. I had to hire myself out as a buffalo herder for other people. And my mother was an agricultural laborer.
Life was very difficult because during the Diem period we did not have any land at all. All the land that the Resistance gave us was confiscated by the Diem people. All the paddy fields that the revolution gave us in 1945 were taken.
Hence my mother had to hire out her labor on a daily basis. And I had to work as a servant. And we were put under constant observation and had to sleep with other people at night. All those who had relatives who regrouped to the North had to sleep together at night.
And my mother had to attend the study sessions of the Communist Denunciation Campaign all the way in Hoa Cuong, Phu Hoa. And I had to bring food to her there. At that time I was still a young boy. At home many times I did not have any food to eat although I had to work very hard. I had to become a servant many times.
Even after I became a young man of over twenty, my living conditions were still extremely difficult. And at that time, we did not have even a little parcel of land. The land given to us by the Resistance was confiscated by the enemy. That was my family situation and that was how we lived.

Liberation of the village

SR 2073
Beep tone
Roll 73 of Vietnam Project
Interview with Tran Nhat Bang continues
550, Take 1, second slap.
When you joined the NLF where did you get your training and how did you train? Also, please tell us of the liberation in 1964. How did the liberation come about and was the population happy?
Tran Nhat Bang:
I did not get any formal training at all. We were driven by our hatred of the enemy and our love for the country. Then when the light of the revolution came to us, we young people just started things ourselves. At that time we did not have any guns We only used very rudimentary weapons.
Talking about the joy of getting liberated, I will always remember August 1, l964 when this village of Hoa Tien was liberated. At that time the inhabitants of Hoa Tien just rose up and liberated themselves. There were no revolutionary troops and no regular forces coming to the village at that time. The villagers staged a spontaneous uprising. Therefore we were very happy.
At that time we had a meeting which had 2,000 participants and we introduced the revolutionary administration. The enemy's repressive machinery, which included the security forces and the civilian guards, disintegrated under popular pressure. And so it was the power of the people which overwhelmed the enemy. Hence, no regular revolutionary forces ever entered the village to liberate the village. It was a joyous occasion.
At that time we destroyed the enemy's strategic hamlet and built our own combat village in order to defend ourselves against counterattacks. The inhabitants sharpened punji sticks in order to make a defense parameter around the village. The inhabitants then donated rice to feed the guerrilla fighters. The villagers also organized political struggle teams and teams for getting the soldiers in the enemy ranks to come back to the people.
All the popular organizations were formed very quickly. Only five days after liberation our revolutionary administration became stabilized. Several platoons of enemy armed forces and the enemy administration disintegrated, their remnants fled to the town. Therefore, in only two days we became the complete masters of our village.
And I always remember the fact that on the very night the village was liberated there was a very big meeting in the center of the village to celebrate liberation and to announce the revolutionary administration whose members included me and my young comrades. Liberation day was a very joyous occasion.
At night the villagers staged demonstrations in the village and called on the former employees of the regime to come out and explain themselves before the revolutionary administration. After that, we built up our own armed units, constructed the combat village, organized various teams, dug trenches and tunnels and built bunkers in order to defend ourselves against counterattacks.
And on the very day when the village was liberated the village inhabitants, at that large meeting, appointed me into a village self administrative committee. From that time on the inhabitants of Hoa Tien were ready for any enemy counterattacks. At the same time, we created a new life for ourselves.
Here in Hoa Tien we tried to stabilize the livelihood of the inhabitants while we organized them to dig trenches and tunnels in order to defend themselves against enemy shelling. And everybody dug booby traps and placed self made mines. We cut down bamboos and made spikes and built a parameter around the village, preparing to meet all the enemy's encroachments and to protect the fruit of our victory. The 1964 liberation is a very profound experience in my life.

Battles against the Americans

What year did the village have to fight against the Americans? And what were you doing then?
Tran Nhat Bang:
We fought the Americans for the first time during their search and destroy operation of August 2, 1965. This was a year after the liberation of our village. We liberated the village on August 1, 1964. Before the American search and destroy operation of August 2, 1965 we had only fought against the puppet troops during their many search and destroy operations into this area.
After liberation, the enemy tried to retake the village right away. A battalion of enemy troops swept into the area in March 1965 and we fought them very fiercely, turning them back. They had to leave behind five dead bodies. We were not able to capture their weapons though.
During this search and destroy operation they did enter the village, but we fought them back. At that time I was a political leader of a hamlet unit. The unit was based right here. I had been appointed the commander of the hamlet guerrilla unit.
Before the Americans came, they shelled us the whole day from Cam Ne. And their planes dropped smoke bombs all over the fields. After that, the American troops moved in from three different directions.
An armored unit fought its way into the village from the direction of the river. And when the reconnaissance planes located the villages and dropped the smoke bombs to identify the locations, the jet planes dropped bombs and destroyed the two villages of Cam Ne and Yen Ne. All the bamboo groves were flattened and all the houses in the villages were burnt down.
Our guerrilla fighters went down into the tunnels. Immediately after that we got engaged in a most ferocious battle in Cong Trang, which is along this road in that hamlet over there. We killed five Americans there, including a lieutenant. We captured a submachine gun and a Garrant 12.
This was the first fierce battle with the American expeditionary forces. It was in March 1965. I am sorry, in March it was against the puppet troops. It was on August 2, 1965, when this fierce battle took place.
After that battle, the American armored units came rolling in on the La bong paddy fields. We still have many comrades who survived that battle and who commanded the struggle at that time. We organized the population to come out there and confront the tanks, forcing them down the river so that they could not destroy all our rice which was near harvest time then.
So it was in August 1965 when we first had our fierce battles with the American expeditionary forces when they first arrived here in Hoa Tien. My guerrilla unit was composed of only six persons.
Our guns were very outmoded. But we fought very hard in a battle which occurred not very far from here. You can actually see the place from where we are sitting now. At that time I was a guerrilla commander in this hamlet we are now in.
What we want to ask you is that when you killed the five Americans, it was during or after the August 2 battle.
Tran Nhat Bang:
It was after the August 2 battle. This was because before the American expeditionary forces actually set foot on Hoa Tien, on August 2 they had shelled the village for the whole day. Shells were directed against Chau Son and Cam Ne for the whole day.
It was not until twenty days later that the American expeditionary forces arrived here. They just did not conduct their search and destroy operation against the village right away. When they first shelled this village, the American troops were already camping along the railroad over there.
But they did not reach the territory of Hoa Tien then. It was around the end of July and the beginning of August.
In March '65, as he told us, they killed five ARVN troops. Were they not expecting some kind of reprisal and what did they think the province chief or the Americans would do about it?
In March 1965 you managed to kill five soldiers...After that did the people in the village fear retaliation? And at that time did the provincial chief retaliate?
Tran Nhat Bang:
After we liberated our village we came to the conclusion that the puppet troops were also the enemy. They were our enemy and so we knew that when we fought them they would try to retaliate.
But we had to fight them because they were already enemies of the people. We had already concluded that they were not on our side politically. And so we had to fight them. And we knew that they would try to take revenge. In reality, they ganged up with the Americans to carry out ferocious attacks on the people of Hoa Tien.
And today, as you are visiting our village, you must have realized that they carried out terrible retaliation against Hoa Tien. This was especially so with former employees of the former regime. The district chief of Hoa Vang and the provincial chief of Quang Nam tried their best to destroy this area and to pacify it.
They conducted many search and destroy operations against this place. Therefore, the inhabitants of this village realized that the enemy would retaliate after we fought against them. And, in reality, they did retaliate. But we were not afraid.
And you can see this in the way we fought them. In spite of the fact that we knew they would retaliate, we fought them. We were not afraid because we knew that they were on the wrong side. They were against the interests of the people and so the people were not afraid of them.
And this is proven by the fact that the people protected us and fed us. No matter how harsh the situation was, the inhabitants persisted in their support for us. Therefore, we knew that our activities were right. And so no matter how much they tried to retaliate, we fought them back every time.

Life as a guerrilla warrior

Please tell us about the situation in 1965. What was the revolutionary organization like here? How did you manage to escape the Americans and the puppet troops that day? And where were you exactly on that day? Did you see with your own eyes the American activities in this village such as the burning of the houses?
Tran Nhat Bang:
You must know that we lived among the people and fought for the people. We had our secret tunnels. The people protected us and covered up the secret tunnels after we had entered them. Before the American troops entered the village, we fought them.
After we finished fighting them, we went down into our secret tunnels. The villagers then covered up the entrances to the secret tunnels for us. After the Americans left, the villagers then uncovered the tunnels to let us out. In brief, the people protected us and so the American expeditionary forces could not detect us.
When the Americans first arrived in this village they deployed an armored unit composed of twelve armored vehicles. After they finished bombing the village, they dropped smoke bombs to provide a screen for their infantry forces to advance. After we finished fighting with them, they swept into the village.
They used explosives to knock down all the brick houses in the village. The armored vehicles preceded and the infantry forces followed closely behind. As soon as they entered the village, they put plastic bombs into all the bomb shelters and blew them up.
Before the liberation of the village we had already built a shelter in each house in order to hide from the incoming artillery shells and the bombs. Along the roads to the fields we had constructed trenches and bomb shelters. But when the American troops came, they destroyed everything.
Besides burning all the houses, they used plastic bombs to blow up everything, including all the bushes and hedges. They dug small holes this big and put plastic charges in there to blow up everything: the bushes and all the bomb shelters. They went around destroying the village all day and then withdrew their forces into the fields where they camped for the night.
They did not dare to stay in the village. And they were wise to do so because that night we clung to them and attacked them in the various places where they camped. Then we talked to the Americans with bullhorns and slung leaflets into the Americans camps, calling on patriotic American soldiers not to participate in such an immoral war. This was what we did during the night.
Then we gathered all the bomb and shell fragments and had the village inhabitants carried all these things to the American camps and told the Americans that they had committed wrong doings against us by destroying our village in that manner. I witnessed the destruction of these two villages because I was fighting there.
After I engaged in the battle with the Americans, I ran along the communication trenches with my comrades to the places where we had hidden shelters so that the villagers could help hide us.
On August the second, the Americans came in seeking the base of the guerrillas and they burnt the village down. I’d like him to tell me whether they actually found the base, whether they were successful.
On August 2nd the Americans came to look for guerrillas and burnt the village down. Were the Americans successful in finding out the guerrilla base?
Tran Nhat Bang:
On that day they could not find out any guerrilla fighter at all. Our guerrilla unit did not suffer any casualty at all. The truth is that they managed to kill a young boy named Xin who was living over there.
They could not hurt any of us guerrillas because we were hiding in our secret tunnels. The armored vehicles did run over the tunnels but they did not collapse. And so no guerrilla fighter was killed at all.
Before that, there was a group of young people who were not guerrilla fighters who caught by complete surprise by the search and destroy operation and who ran into the sugarcane patches when the Americans fired on them. But no guerrilla fighter was killed.
I’d like to ask the gentleman when did his unit of the NLF work, first work in coordination with units sent down from the North, and how did they live around here and what sort of actions did they take out together?
Did your guerrilla unit ever coordinate your activities with the regular NLF forces or the units sent down from the North? If so, when did this happen and how did you carry out your activities?
Tran Nhat Bang:
Our guerrilla unit did not just operate in total isolation. We did coordinate with other forces such as during the April 14, 1966 battle. We coordinated with the rocket units to attack the Da Nang airport. We were the guides for these units and also participated in the fighting.
We recognized the fact that soldiers from the North and fighters in the south were but comrades in arms. And the soldiers from the North also came and lived in Hoa Tien. They also stayed in the secret tunnels together with us and fought alongside with us.
We served as guides for the regular units during the battles. Sometimes we fought separately, sometimes our guerrilla units coordinated our activities with the regular forces. On April 14, 1966 we attacked the Da Nang airport by using rockets from this village of Hoa Tien.
Okay, let's kill it.

Villager support of the guerrilla infrastructure

SR 2074
Beep tone
Roll 74 of Vietnam Project
Interview with Tran Nhat Bang continues.
557 Take 1
...did he stay or move away to other areas and what was the cause?
Who stayed?
Him, the NLF. The group he was working with.
When the regular armed forces from the North were here, where did they get their supplies? After 1965 your village was relocated by the Americans to another area, isn't that so?
Tran Nhat Bang:
Before the regular troops arrived here from the North, the population here had already purchased a lot of rice and buried it to prepare for this situation. When the regular forces came and fought, we took out the rice and brought it to their base. Every time there was a battle, we prepared both the battleground and the food supplies.
As for transportation of ammunition, the guerrilla fighters led the way and the village inhabitants carried the ammunition. After each battle in this, we would give the brothers rice so that they could take it with them to their base. This was how the Northern brothers coordinated the struggle with us.
The other thing is that when the Americans came here the former Saigon officials and their pacification teams accompanied them. Now here we are, and that road over there where you came into the village used to be the relocation camp called the Yen Ne Rung.
Formerly, the villages of Yen Ne and Cam Ne were located down there. They used to be very rich villages, and the bamboo groves were high. But when the Americans came, they destroyed the villages and, in coordination with their pacification teams, they relocated the village population to this area over here which used to be called the Yen Ne Rung.
All the villages around here were relocated to this place. It was only after liberation that we let the population go back to their native villages. But formerly, the whole placed was filled with people relocated by the Americans.
When this whole area was turned into a relocation center, we guerrilla fighters continued to live here within the relocation camp. And my own guerrilla squad continued to remain in that village where the population had been emptied out.
However, food supplies constantly came to us from this relocation center. So we directed the struggle in this relocation center at the same time we were feeding a force of guerrilla fighters.
We infiltrated a group of people whom we called legal organizers into the relocation camp to live with the people. So when the Americans came and drove the village population into the relocation camps, our legal organizers went along with the population.
And it was these people who sent food and other things to us as well as organize the people to participate in the guerrilla units. Whenever someone in the guerrilla units was killed, we had a replacement right away. And rice continued to flow out to us. And even within the relocation camps themselves, we were able to put away rice for the regular forces in case they should come and fight here.
For this reason, the revolutionary organization in Hoa Tien was really never disrupted. We carried on with our activities continuously from the time the village was liberated for the first time until the spring of 1975. Our infrastructure was never destroyed.

Coordination between guerrilla groups and the regular army

Could you ask him how did he get on with the soldiers from the north? I mean, they were part of the regular army they were better equipped. Did he, did they, did he ever feel that that the battle was being taken over by the north, that they didn’t have the independence maybe that they had in the early stages of the ah, of the war?
When the Northern troops came here, what were your feelings? Now that they had taken over all the significant battles and you could not fight independently. What were your feelings?
Tran Nhat Bang:
This is what we have come to realize and this is also what our brothers above us have explained to us: We guerrilla fighters were fighting in the rear areas, creating instability to the enemy's rear areas. We fought small battles. But we coordinated with the regular forces in fighting large battles.
And the Northern brothers came here and worked with us, eat with us and lived with us, and so we realized that there was close relationship between people in the North and people in the south. And the young people in Hoa Tien would tell the Northern brothers of any problem that arose.
We understood that the Northern brothers came here to fight because of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility toward us. After all, this was not their native village and they did not have to fight here. Therefore, there was never any problem between us northerners and southerners.
And we came to the conclusion that only with the regular forces were we able to fight the big battles. We guerrilla fighters provided the coordination, direction and advice to help the regular forces fight the big battles. We were only capable to fighting small battles. This is what we concluded ourselves.
And so, there was never any problem. There was never any contradiction. We really loved each other and really understood the responsibility of each other.
558, Take 1
In 1975, did you participate in any of the last battles? And after the fighting, what were your feelings?
Tran Nhat Bang:
At that time I was wounded, so I could not participate in any of the last battles in 1975. In this place here there are many comrades who fought in 1975. But I myself had been wounded and was under treatment at the time so I could not participate in the final battles. I had already been wounded in 1973 and had been sent to the base for treatment. In 1975 I could not participate in any of the final battles because I had already been wounded.
I was wounded in 1973 so didn’t engage in any fighting at all in 1975.
Okay. Right you are.