Provided by Bill Laurie
Vietnamese-Australian's Reflections on the Vietnam War

Nguyen The Phong

First of all, I would like to pay my respect to the past and present traditional owners of the land on which we are gathering and thank them for allowing us to hold this gathering.
I would like to pay my tribute and dedicate this presentation to:

• The 521 Australian servicemen who died in VN and more than 55 thousands Australian VN veterans who have fought in the VN War.
• Three million heroic South Vietnamese soldiers, administrators and civilians who died in defending the freedom and democracy of the people of the Republic of VN and in protecting the free world against the threat of Communism.
• Tens of thousands of the Republic of VN servicemen, government officials, administrators, public servants who died in the hard labour concentration camps and in prisons under the so called “ Tap Trung Cai Tao” (Re-education) program by the Communist regime after the fall of Saigon.
• Thousands of relatives of the Republic of Viet-Nam’s officials, middle and high ranking army officers who died in the so called “Vung Kinh Te Moi” (New Economic Zones) out of disease, hunger and exhaustion.
• More than half a million of Vietnamese men, women and children, who died, murdered, executed or drown during their escape to freedom.
• Thousands of known and unknown human rights and democracy campaigners who had died in prison or currently serving lengthy sentences for standing up for human rights and human dignity in VN since South VN fallen into the hands of the Communists.

May the sacrifice of those who gave their lives so that we can live in peace, freedom and democracy today always be remembered, honoured worthily by our committed efforts in campaigning against dictatorial and human rights abusive regimes anywhere. LEST WE FORGET!
I would like to thank the Executive Committee of the VCA-VIC for bestowing upon me this great honour of speaking at this thanksgiving dinner in honour of the involvement in the VN War of Australia to help protect the freedom and democracy of the people of South Viet-Nam 50 years ago.

Given the task of talking about my perspective on the war, I felt both inadequate and unworthy due to my age and lack of direct participation in the war as a soldier. There are many people in the audience tonight, whom I regard as heroes, who were far more directly involved and experienced in the war and the aftermath of it than I ever was, and who are far more deserved to share their personal stories and to give their perspectives of the war than me. Therefore, with respect and thanks, I hope my presentation could do justice to the heroic sacrifices you have done for Australia and for South VN’s freedom and democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

(Show the photo of Brigadier-Colonel Nguyen Xuan Huong here...)

My perspectives and experience of the war derive from what I have witnessed, heard and told as a young man. I was born in 1961 in Saigon, VN. Like many other families in South VN, my father was a soldier and a young army officer in the Republic of Viet-Nam Armed Forces (ARVN) when he married my mother. He rose to the rank of Brigadier-Colonel and became the Commanding officer of the 1St Armoured Brigade in the 1st Military Zone based in the City of Hue in Central VN. Whist I was too young to understand fully the complexity of the war, my family and I were very much affected by the war like the rest of my people in South VN.

I would like, first and foremost, pay my family’s respect and eternal gratitude to Australia for accepting us as refugees 33 years ago. I would like to thanks the 521 Australian soldiers who died and more than 55 thousands Australian veterans who have fought in VN. Thanks to your involvement, my people were able to enjoy our freedom longer and the rest of South East Asian countries had more time to strengthen their democracy and their national defence against the threat of Communism. You are our Heroes, our Freedom Soldiers and our Benefactors. Thank you for the suffering, the humiliation, the rejection, the broken families and the broken lives many of you have had to endure for our sake upon your return from your tour of duty in VN. It was our country and our people that you have fought and died for simply because it was, and still is, Australia’s ethos today that Australian Defence Forces would respond to the call of its allies and the UN to protect world’s peace, freedom and democracy anywhere. Thanks to your deeds and your sacrifices that my family and I and all other Australians are enjoying our freedom and the Australian way of life today.

Secondly, I would like to honour and pay tribute to the members of the Republic of Vietnam’s Armed Forces (ARVN) past and present. Because, like your Australian counterpart, you too, have suffered from immense, utterly unfair, distorted and lying campaigns run by communist sympathised Western media’s own war against the Republic of Vietnam and its armed forces, a pen war that you did not have the skills nor the time to fight against. Despite of many of the ARVN’s greatest and most courageous battles and victories, especially after the US’ troop withdraw, your crucial role in the war was often ignored and denegraded, you were treated with contempt, ridiculed and labelled with all sort of derogatory terms such as: American lackeys, undisciplined, weak, coward, can’t fight on your own, can’t win, has no legitimacy and so on by the communist symphatised Western media.

Tonight, I would like to recall one of the most famous victories that the ARVN armed forces had achieved in the VN War to illustratre and to honour the true spirit, the courage and the sacrifices of the ARVN soldiers and the people of South VN.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If for Australia’s involvement in the VN War, we got the famous Battle of Long Tan as a symbol of our Australian soldiers’ courage and professionalism, then for the ARVN and the people of South VN we have got the Battle of An Loc as a symbol of our soldiers and civilians’ determination and courageous struggle against the invasion of the North Vietnamese Communist Army.

An Loc was a very small but strategically located provincial town on the 13th National Highway, 90km from Saigon with a population of about 15.000 people. It was protected by less than a divisional strong army of mixed military units including the local civil defence force. In late March and early April 1972, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap (the NVA’s so called “hero” of Dien Bien Phu) launched three massive military offensives in three strategic cities in South VN with the aim of cutting South VN into 3 parts. The three cities targeted were: Quang Tri where the DMZ was, Kontum in the Central Highlands and An Loc a strategic gateway town 90km directly en-route to Saigon.

Hanoi wanted to take full advantage of the American troop withdraw to take over the South and to test the true strength, resolve and capacity of the ARVN armed forces. Giap was convinced, just like most of the foreign media at the time, that without American troops, the then fight alone ARVN armed forces which were regarded by NVA as “coward and imcompetent” would crumble, easily be overcome and destroyed by the so called overwhelmingly superior and well supplied NVA backed by China and Russia.

On 13th April 1972, the tiny town of merely 4 square kms of An-Loc was attacked, starting with days of more than 8000 rockets and artillery bombardment assaults. Thousands of the town civilians took refuge in the only church and hospital in the town after almost every square meter of the town was indiscriminately shelled. They believed the Communists would spare these buildings under the convention of war. How wrong they were. After knowing most civilians had taken refuge there. The NVA shelled these buildings. The death tolls were both catastrophic and enormous.

Protecting the strategic town of An Loc was soldiers of the 5th Infantry Division of the ARVN led by Brigadier General Le Van Hung whose H.Q was in central of the town itself. Total number of ARVN soldiers defending the town was 6850 men without any artillery or tank support. They were defending against an attacking force of nearly 4 divisions from the NVA (the 5th, the 7th, 9th) with massive 40.000 soldiers, more than 100 tanks and 9 battalions of heavy field batteries. But to the attackers’ utter atonishment, the town did not fall despite of an average 4.000 rockets and artillery shells fired into it every day and waves after waves of thousand strong infantry attacks supported by tanks and heavy artillery shelling. Despite heavy casualty on both military and civilian numbers and against all odds, the ARVN soldiers, the civilians and General Hung did not capitulate. They repelled every single attack from the enemy for an incredible 66 days. In total, 200.000 rounds of ammunition of all kinds were fired at and bombarded upon the defenders (80.000 of them were heavy artillery shells, 3 times the number that were fired into Den Bien Phu). Out of 6850 soldiers defending the town 4.000 of them died, more than 8 thousand civilians were killed and not a single structure of the town was left standing.

When the battle finally over, the North Vietnamese Army documents showed that they had lost 30.000 men, all the tanks they sent into the battle were destroyed by the defenders and most of their field batteries were decimated by the US air strikes.

US Historian Dr. Lewis Sorley recalled the comment of General Abrams when he angrily responded to the journalists and critics who, despite of the overwhelming evidence of the ARVN’s extraordinary courage and victory, still said that South VN had defeated the invaders in An Loc only because of American air support. He said: “I doubt the fabric of this thing could have been held together without US air. But the thing that had to happen before that is the Vietnamese, some numbers of them, had to stand to fight. If they didn’t do that, ten times the air we’ve got wouldn’t have stopped them”

(Show picture of General Le Van Hung here)

General Le Van Hung, the man who held together the “fabric” of defence of An Loc against vastly superior enemy forces and in spite of a deteriorating relationship with his American advisor who advised him to give up and withdraw when the situation of An Loc became hopeless, doggedly fought on even when enemy forces were converging on his commanding post and were firing B-40 rockets directly at his underground bunker. It was General Hung’s vow to his troop that he would never be taken alive had galvanised the spirit of the defenders during the darkest and most hopeless hours of the siege

(Show picture of General Le Nguyen Vy here)
General Le Van Hung and his Deputy Division Commander of the 5th Infantry ARVN Division in An Loc Brigadier General Le Nguyen Vy refused to surrender to the Communists by committing suicide shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

The battle of An Loc showed that the ARVN was not an army of cowards or incompetents as portraited by communist sympathised western media. When well led, ARVN units and soldiers fought with great courage, not only in big battles such as the recapture of Quang Tri and the siege of An Loc but in numerous unknown battles whose names were not listed on the literature of VN War.

By May 1972, the ARVN had recaptured Quang Tri, defeated the attack of the NVA in Kontum and liberated An Loc without any involvement of American ground troops. It had proven beyond doubt its capacity, its integrity, its courage, its heroism when facing immense adversity and above all, its ligitimacy in protecting the people of South VN and the people in the world against the threat of Communism.

After the fall of South VN, as being on the losing side, the ARVN armed forces’ fate in the history books and records written by the Communist victors and the pro-Hanoi media fared even worse. The truth is always the first victim of war, especially to the loser. My father often said the ARVN was not fighting just only one war, it had to fight against the enemies both on battlefields and on the tabloid papers and televisions in Washington D.C, Paris, Sydney and Melbourne etc.. I had witnessed the anger, the frustration and the desperation on my father’s face when he read distorted war reports or blatantly liar commentaries of overseas correspondents on the very war and the very battle he and his soldiers had just engaged in. But like the rest of the ARVN armed forces, my father and his soldiers did not have time for international politics, they had to soldier on and fight hard to protect our homeland and country from the invaders.

To me, my father and the rest of the ARVN Armed forces I knew were never coward, weak or undisciplined. Like most of the ARVN soldiers and officers, my father was an honest, dedicated, patriotic and professional soldier till the end. My father himself was awarded with couple of the ARVN’s highest military honours: the National Order 5th Class, the National Order 4th Class and more than 30 other decorations for bravery, war campaigns and services. And like most high ranking officers and ordinary soldiers in the ARVN, my father regarded the Australian army and soldiers very highly due to their professionalism and expertise in guerilla warfare. My family and I are here today is because of the sacrifice, the endurance and the courage against all odds of the ARVN men and women in uniform. The freedom we, the South Vietnamese had, out of your bravery, dedication and sacrifices, whilst short lived, was priceless and had become the very reason why more than 2 million Vietnamese refugees risked their lives after the fall of South VN to seek that freedom in the West. It also continues to inspire countless human rights campaigners inside and outside of VN to fight for that lost freedom today.

To me, as a South Vietnamese grown up during the war, my life was free, uneventful and happy until my innocent and care free world was shattered by the Viet-Cong’s Tet Offensive 1968, when the people of South VN and I watched in horror the massacre of more than 7 thousand innocent civilians and public servants of South VN by the Communist invaders in Hue.
In Ban-Me-Thuot, where my family lived, thousands of civilians were killed and scores of entire family of high ranking officials of the Republic of VN were murdered by the Communist invaders.
A few years later in 1972, I saw and read about the “Horror Highway Massacre” where thousands of innocent fleeing civilians were mowed down and butchered to a child and a dog by the artillery and machine guns of the Communist invading army in Quang Tri. I could not comprehend why the North, my own people, were killing and invading the South with bombs, rockets and bullets to liberate us from what? The Vietnamese in the South were free and did not want to fight with anyone. We just wanted to be ourselves. Our young democracy might not have been perfect, but we were free to stand for any seat in our Parliament, free to vote and choose our own government and president. No one forced us to say, to do anything or to vote for anyone we did not want to. People were free to protest and express themselves openly on the streets on any issue that they wanted to. If it were a popular uprising against the Americans or the Government of South VN as the Communists claimed, then why wherever the “liberation army” went, South Vietnamese people always ran for their lives and not toward them? I will never forget horror images of millions of people tried desperately with whatever means they had got to escape from the advancing communist army during the last 2 months of the war in 1975. The picture of a refugee desperately hanging on to a tyring gear of a military aircraft taking off from Da-Nang Airport was to me, an answer to those who believed that the VN war was a spontaneous popular uprising and a welcoming liberation war totally and voluntarily by the people of South VN.

To me, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and USA were our allies, and as allies, you had responded to our country’s appeal for help to fight against the common enemy of freedom and democracy.

To me, when our nation’s allies are being attacked, naturally, it would be morally wrong for Australia to stand by and do nothing.
To me, South VN was under-attack, The Republic of VN did not start the war, it did not want war, it did not invade anybody, and it only defended itself against attacks from the North with massive help from Russia, China and the Communist blocks. America, Australia, Philippines, New –Zealand, South Korea and Thailand merely responded to its cries for help to defend its people’s freedom and democracy.

To me, it’s a crime to take away people’s freedom and it’s a crime not to help someone to defend it.

(Show picture of Bridgadier-Colonel Nguyen Xuan Huong here)

I am proud of my father and the soldiers of Republic of VN armed forces. They did not want wars, but when our nation was attacked, they did anything they could and with everything that they had to protect our people against the invaders. After the 1973 Paris Accord, the accord that supposed to bring permanent ceasefire and ending hostility after the Americans had completed their withdraw from VN, my dad watched helplessly at the massive increase of Russian and Chinese military aids to Hanoi while South VN army were receiving less and less support from the US to a point that by June 1974, each ARVN soldier can only have 200 bullets instead of 400; 10 artillery shells instead of 180, fighter jets were grounded and evacuation helicopters had to be converted into fighter planes due to lack of fuel and lack of spare parts, out of 30 Hercules planes the ARVN had, only 5 were operational, the rest grounded due to no spare parts. My father’s tanks and armoured vehicles were useless due to lack of fuel. Many wounded soldiers died due to lack of transport vehicles or helicopters. Yet, he and the rest of the ARVN armed forces fought on to the last minutes, even after the surrendering announcement of the 11th hour President Duong Van Minh. While my father, due to his Catholic background, did not choose to go the way the five ARVN heroic generals and many other ARVN officers and soldiers did, that is to commit suicide rather than surrender, he did spend 13 years in the so called “re-education camps” or more correctly “hard labour prisons” of the Communists.

Like many ARVN veterans, my father has become a very quiet man, rarely spoken about his ordeals, his deep feeling of being betrayed by the US abandonment and turning its back on its promises to help the people of South VN in times of peril, and his shame for his failure as a soldier to protect his people and his nation from the curse of communism. Like his unassuming but distinguished military careers, my father chose to suffer alone. In my eyes, he still is a war heroic soldier who accepts his sad fate heroically. As a commander, one of the tasks he said he dreaded the most was to inform the parents, the wife or the relatives of a soldier the sad news that he had died. I can only imagine the pains and the anguishes each and every family of the 521 Australian and more than 200.000 ARVN soldiers who died had gone through for our freedom today. Thank you.

Your Excellency, Veterans, ladies and gentlemen,

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary, the Vietnamese Community in Australia has been organising and holding many forms of tribute to our Vietnam War veterans. As for me, the best way I think I can personally honour each and every one of you: Vietnam and the ARVN veterans alike is to dedicate my life to protect Australia’s freedom and democracy and to continue the unfinished mission that you have started for the people of South VN 50 years ago.

Your generation has inspired and instilled in me and generations of Australians to come the meaning of selflessness and sacrifice to protect our nation’s freedom and democracy. I know and I am sure we all know that “Sometimes the Dragon wins”

(Show the picture of “Sometimes the Dragon wins”)

But, my perspectives on the Vietnam War are clear and simple:

• The heroic and brave ARVN and Allied armed forces did not lose the war. They were betrayed and abandoned by the US Government, emotionally opposed
by misled anti-war movements, and unfairly misrepresented and reported by irresponsible and prejudiced anti-war media.
• VN veterans and the ARVN veterans were fighting a JUST war. You have served your country honourably and dutifully
• Your place in history and in our hearts has already forever secured, respected and remembered
• I am proud to be associated with and to be known as the descendant of such a great and heroic generation of service men and women in VN War.
• You should hold your head high and proud because history has proven you right
• The undemocratic and HR abused and oppressive Communist regime in VN today has proven that you were right
• More than 500 thousand Vietnamese refugees who died on their way to escape the Communist regime had proven you right
• The presence of more than 200 thousands Vietnam born Australian freedom seekers and their fine Australian born descendants has proven that you are right.
• For us, you were our “Freedom Soldiers”, you are our “Freedom Soldiers” and you’ll forever be our “Freedom Soldiers”
• Words cannot adequately express our deep and sincere gratitude and thanks to what you have done.
• May we continue to live and to act worthily of your immense sacrifices.

Please hereby accept my three prostrations as a token of our community’s eternal respect, honour and gratitude to you: the Australian Vietnam Veterans and the ARVN Veterans everywhere.

Nguyen The Phong, B.A(Melb); Grad.Dip(Melb); M.A (Melb); C.M
- Immediate Past Federal President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia
-2012 People of Australia Ambassador