Crowds Mourn General Giap

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese from all provinces of the country flooded into Hanoi when word came of General Vo Nguyen Giap’s death at age 102 on Oct. 4, 2013, at Military Hospital 108, where he had spent the last four years. The crowds gathered for a brief vigil at Giap’s longtime home at No. 30 Hoang Dieu St. in Ba Dinh District, near the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense. Mourners formed a queue nearly a half-mile long, and some waited five to eight hours to pass by the home. During the October 12 funeral at the national funeral home, respectful crowds again filled the surrounding streets. Viewing the casket was limited to high-ranking officials, family members and official delegations.

After the ceremony, hundreds of thousands lined the 25-mile funeral route from the capital to the airport, where Giap’s body was to be flown via commercial airliner to a burial site on an island in his home province of Quang Binh. Although most Vietnamese Communist dignitaries, including Le Duan, Truong Chinh and Ton Duc Thang, are buried at the Mai Dich Cemetery on the outskirts of Hanoi, Giap had chosen to be interred on Quang Binh’s Rong (Dragon) Mountain, based on the site’s positive feng shui, which Giap believed was compatible with his birth date and time, according to the lunar calendar. The grave is beside a traditional Vietnamese temple, with a view of Dao Yen (Swallow Island), which many Vietnamese consider sacred. Giap’s gravesite on this special island may well become a tourist destination.

Nicknamed the “Red Napoleon” for his brilliant and ruthless use of guerrilla tactics, Giap made every citizen a soldier in the war. Though he lacked formal military training, Giap read widely and drew upon his conviction that soldiers—and citizens—fighting for freedom would be powerful foes of French colonial power. A Communist since the 1930s, he gained military experience under Ho Chi Minh’s wing and dedicated his life to resisting foreign occupation of Vietnam. In that struggle, he lost his first wife and his father to colonial adversaries, which hardened his resolve.

Among the Vietnamese, Giap is esteemed second only to Ho Chi Minh.

The NSA Was Watching

Tenacious researchers at the National Security Archive at George Washington University have turned up surprising details on domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency during the Vietnam era. Citizens targeted included Martin Luther King Jr.; Tom Wicker, Washington reporter for The New York Times; and Sen. Frank Church, an early critic of the U.S. escalation in Vietnam. The surveillance of some 1,600 individuals was part of Project Minaret, conducted from 1961 to 1973, and newly declassified documents provide more details than an earlier disclosure in November 2008. The names of individual targets are revealed, as is the NSA’s choice not to prosecute newspaper columnist Jack Anderson over the release of the Pentagon Papers, most likely out of fear of disclosing the degree of surveillance of other countries’ communications. Other new information pertains to the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Panama Canal negotiations.

To review the disclosure, visit www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv and see the posting from Sept. 25, 2013.

Vet in it for the Long Run

Vietnam veteran Mike Bowen, 65, completed a 58,282-mile run on September 20 in Washington, D.C., making good on a 31-year-old pledge to run a mile for every soldier killed or missing in the war. The Flushing, Mich., native made his vow in 1982, after a visit to the newly erected Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and persevered even after cancer treatment and knee surgeries. Over the past 31 years, he has run in all kinds of weather, always carrying the POW/MIA flag. Bowen enlisted in 1966 after graduating from high school. Of nine friends who served in Vietnam, only he returned. He has vowed to repeat the commemorative run.

Have Hooch, Need Permit

After standing for about a decade, an impressive bamboo treehouse in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles has come under fire by the city’s planning department for lacking a permit, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Built by the owner’s late husband with the help of a friend who was a Vietnam vet, it resembles traditional structures in Vietnam. At press time, the treehouse owner, Eileen Erikson, was working to address the city’s concerns about the structure’s stability.

Historians, Envoys Shine Light on 1963

The National Archives in Washington welcomed Vietnam War historians, envoys  and authors to “Vietnam, 1963,” the 2013 conference of the Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University, September 26-28. It explored such early tipping points in the war as the Battle of Ap Bac, the abortive “Kennedy withdrawal” of U.S. military advisers from South Vietnam, the overthrow and death of President Ngo Dinh Diem, the JFK assassination and the Ninth Plenum of the Vietnam Worker’s Party.

Among the 34 panelists were George Herring, Merle Pribbenow, Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, John Prados and Andrew Birtle. Ambassador Bui Diem, former Republic of Vietnam ambassador to the United States, and Rufus Phillips, with the U.S. Agency for International Development, added first-person perspectives on the fall of South Vietnam’s First Republic. “It all fell apart because the South Vietnamese couldn’t get organized,” Bui Diem said. “They weren’t interested in a political solution to the war.”

Research was also presented on revelations about the growing role of Communist militant Le Duan, who took over the Politboro in 1957, and the Central Committee’s Resolution 9, adopted in January 1963, which was a declaration of war on the Saigon regime and the United States by extension. “Resolution 9 granted Le Duan and militants a blank check to wage war in the south—Hanoi’s own Tonkin Gulf Resolution,” said Pierre Asselin, author of Hanoi’s Road to the Vietnam War. “Hanoi was the aggressor… and it’s not being taught.”

Arguing that the conference was too narrowly focused in its choice of panelists, appearing to lack balance between “orthodox” and “revisionist” views of the war, Vietnam Veterans to Correct the Myths distributed its own book of research at the meeting titled Our “Pre-sponse,hoping to “avoid the permanent enshrinement of carefully selected orthodox viewpoints.”

The Vietnam Center and Archive plans to continue its 50th anniversary retrospective on the war with a “Vietnam, 1964” conference in 2014.

Protesters Arrested at NYC’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Members of Veterans for Peace, assembled for a vigil at the Vietnam Memorial in New York City on October 7, were arrested for violating the park’s 10 p.m. closing. The group was reading names of soldiers killed in recent wars to protest the 12th year of the war in Afghanistan. Participants included a young Iraq war veteran calling for better detection and treatment of mental trauma among troops, a former Vietnam medic opposing the continued wars and a World War II veteran defending the vigil based on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly. The event marked the second anniversary of the group’s protest of the war in Afghanistan.

Healing Center for Warriors Opens

Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran Wellness, a healing center for combat-wounded warriors and their families, formally opened its doors on September 6. Located on 37 acres in Bluemont, Va., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains 60 miles from Washington, D.C., the retreat grew as a natural extension of founder Ken Falke’s practice of bringing patients from Walter Reed Hospital with their families to his private home in the country for a little peace and quiet. Boulder Crest features a main lodge and four private three-bedroom cabins, all ADA-accessible.

The retreat uses an online reservation system with an application process designed to screen for combat-stressed military service personnel. There is no cost for the stay. “Reservations opened four months in advance of our opening and by November 1 we were fully booked until the end of the year,” said Falke, a 21-year U.S. Navy combat veteran and retired master chief petty officer. “So far, we have had two Vietnam veteran families; most of our guests have been from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. We hope to accommodate 250 to 500 families per year.”

Wellness organizations also conduct group retreats at Boulder Crest. Since opening, Save a Warrior, Artemis Rising, Wounded Warrior Project Odyssey and the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) Warrior Foundation have visited.

Boulder Crest Retreat is the first of its kind in the nation. On site, military families can enjoy an archery range, nature trails, a fishing pond and a playground, or they can kayak and fish in the nearby Shenandoah River. Life skills seminars as well as yoga, meditation classes, musical instruments and photography are also available. Falke hopes this type of facility will be replicated across the country. More information at bouldercrestretreat.org.

 

Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.