The Glory of Yesteryear and Teardrops of Seeing Again
On the eve of the New Year 2016, a very moving meeting took place at the Hue (Thua Thien–Hue province) Party Committee hall. Several hundred people, including not a few white-haired and bent-backed veterans, met again in tight embraces, pats on the back, touching heads, laughter, and teary eyes.
I want to call them “veterans” rather than the usual “brothers of the movement”, because the word “movement” nowadays has acquired negative connotations (of jumping on the bandwagon, toadiness, superficiality, whim…) - a far cry from the “urban movement” of the years 1954–1975 which gathered the young and enthusiastic souls who had devoted themselves to the Fatherland. And the young people who devoted their lives, as there were the fallen like Ngo Kha or Tran Quang Long, the ones that passed away recently like Buu Chi or Thai Ngoc San, and finally the ones still alive today such as poet Vo Que, Le Cong Co (Le Phuong Thao), Phan Duy Nhan, journalist Hoang Thi Tho, doctor Xuan Que, musician Mien Duc Thang, Nguyen Hoang Tho, Huynh Phuoc, Luong Thanh Liem, and so on, all deserve to be called hero veterans for having been the soldiers on a special battlefield, struggling in the lion’s den under a professional machine of repression with an entire arsenal of weapons at its disposal!
The book History of the Urban Movement of Hue 1954–1975 (Tre Publishing House, 2015) is about those eminent people. It is a special book, such that the Hue Party Committee held a book launch and presented it to those that had contributed to this heroic piece of history in the Southern cities before 1975.
Although I was myself at a strategic point in the fierce front in the North, I beg to indulge in an expression of admiration for those that struggled in this erstwhile “urban movement”. That I refer to my own past is not for boasting, but to underscore the nature of the special struggle of our brothers and sisters who were active in the Southern cities until 1975, virtually unarmed but facing an adversary with all the newest weaponry, carrying only their patriotism, their hardiness, and their righteousness, often having to work underground and against the law, having to hide even family and friends… To my reckoning, this army has not been honored as they deserve.
Even though an “outsider”, I write these lines with confidence, because in 2015 I had the opportunity to read two books by two personalities of the urban movement before 1975: Le Cong Co’s memoirs Nam Thang Tinh Nguoi (Hoi Nha Van Publisher, 2015) and Phan Duy Nhan - Tho va Doi (Poems and Life (Hoi Nha Van Publisher, 2015). Where the book History of the Urban Movement of Hue 1954–1975 presents a panorama of this special “front” at one of the big hubs of the South, the two books I just mentioned recount many stories and provide details of specific fates, clearly showing the heroism and noble sacrifices of the members of the “movement” of old.
Nearly half a century has gone by since those arduous times. Life has been changing dizzyingly fast and the spread of people falling over each other in their chase for material pleasures easily eclipses the high sacrifices made “of old”. But not today, not here! Families with children fallen for the “movement” were invited on stage to receive their copies first. Among those representing families with “contributions to the revolution” was the 100-year-old N.T.T. He had seen children fall in the war, and had been in prison for a long time himself, he was released still without knowing what his crime had been!
I suddenly think that when Phan Huu Luong shed tears, it was for such sorrowful fates! But it is not only N.T.T. A well-known activist like Le Cong Co (also known as Le Phuong Thao), once Chairman of the Central Vietnam Liberation Student Union (1963–1966) and Secretary of the Danang City Union (1964-1965); then, when sent to be active in Thua Thien-Hue, Secretary of the Youth Propaganda Board and Secretary of the Provincial Union (1969-1972), and member of the Hue Party Committee (1972-1976) after three years of studies at Nguyen Ai Quoc school; then transferred to the Quang Nam-Danang Fatherland Front, who as a Party member had been tested time and again was, in a twist of fate, unexpectedly suspended for investigation, even though several prestigious leaders in Quang Nam-Danang like Secretary Ho Nghinh protected him, not just for a couple of months but for three years! For three years, for over 1000 days, he had to go to T.26 every Saturday to write confessions, after which he “had to find people I had been active with or organizations I had organized for confirmation… Worst were those that disappeared. I had to meet Mr Tran Anh Lien (then in Hanoi) and Mr Ho Nghinh again… ‘If anyone says comrade Thao is of the CIA, then I assure a thousand times on my political career that no, he is not,’ wrote Mr Tran Anh Lien…”. In the end, for lack of any evidence whatsoever, he went back to his previous office, and one can say that Le Cong Co has continued his exploits in peacetime, now being the famous President and Provost of the Central Vietnamese Duy Tan University!
And then there is Phan Duy Nhan, who was active in Hue and Danang for a while, and who was shot in the leg while leading a protest during the Tet Offensive and sent to jail on Con Dao island from 1968 to 1974. But when he was appointed to the Religious Board of the government and prepared to become Chairman (Ministerial level) he was burdened with a “suspicion”, which later turned out to be ill-founded!
When Phan Huu Luong cried on the Hue Party Committee, it might have been for this also. The glory of those heroic times and the tears of today’s meeting all revive the faraway times in everybody’s lives, and that way of using all patriotic elements of the people to gather the strength necessary to overcome challenges that are at times tougher than those of “old”…