‘A flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of them all’, said Mulan’s father to her after she royally screwed up and pissed off the matchmaker.
‘All that is great, but why are you telling me this’, you ask. It’s not just the ending of the story that is important, see?
Early this year, I had the good fortune of spending 10 days exploring Vietnam (with a spending budget of 400$) with some of my closest friends. It was a surreal experience, in every way. Vietnam, I’ve fallen in love with you. I’ve fallen in love with your people, all smiles. I still salivate over your Pho and Banh Mi.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the war. The aftermath, specifically. We stumbled upon this amazing museum in Hanoi. Most other museums in Vietnam stored old war weaponry and artifacts, this one had an exhibition that showcased memories too. I had jot down a few of them before they flitted away from me, and I feel like all of you’d benefit from reading the same. So here goes.
Finding memories – A special display that attempts to recreate the struggle of the Vietnamese people and overcome the pain and loss of war and achieve victory. An attempt to show the valour and kindness with which they treated those they considered foes. 45 years have now passed.
‘We returned to America with a jacket and a travelling bag with personal belongings provided by the Vietnamese Government. A lot of us returned home with a bamboo fan and a tobacco pipe used in Hoa Lo prison as souvenirs.’
~Lieutenant Junior Grade Porter Alexander Halyburton
‘At the place I lived before (Cell no. 6), there were some old grape trees. It had a window above as well, through that some Vietnamese soldiers in upper floors often threw candies and cigarettes to me.. In the traditional Tet holiday, we prisoners had chances to visit the street. Hanoians at that time were pretty small to me, females were wearing black pants, males were wearing high neck shirts with four pockets on. Now I don’t see these scenery anywhere..’
~Everett Alvarez Jr.
‘Farmers were so hospitable, they treated evacuees very well. They share all that was bitter and sweet with us. Those who had large houses would receive evacuees. Poor households that couldn’t take evacuees wished they could help. They usually came to give us sweet potatoes and yams.’
~ Mrs Nguyen My Hanh, Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra
‘My house was in Thanh Am, right next to the battlefield on the dam of Duong river. US Aircraft dropped lots of bombs. Everyone evacuated, no one stayed except for me and two other mothers in the Soldiers’ Mothers union. I considered soldiers as my own sons. I only had a son. He worked as a missile soldier, I missed him all the time. Every day we brought food and drinks to the battlefields, whatever we had at home we brought to them, everything, even boiled sweet potatoes..
After every bombing, the three of us ran into the battlefields to check on them. That day, bombs hit us, we shouted their names loudly, each of them. After that they moved to the other side of the river, we travelled all the way to the other side just to visit them once.’
~ Mrs Nguyen Thi Hao, Thuong Thanh Village
Despite the day and night, constant threat of bombs, four female soldiers determined to stay in a small observation tower in Giang Bien (Gia Lam) to mark the locations of Craters, Nguyen Thi Minh was commander in chief. They tied their bodies to iron bars so that they wouldn’t be driven out by the pressure of bombs…
~ Vietnam People’s Army Publishing house
‘Dear Alan, We are all fine and all send their love and prayers. We are living in Tacma now and I bought you some apartments to keep me busy. I am going for my PhD. I mainly do repair work at your apts. Combination professor-plumber. I’m waiting for you to do your chores around here.
Dear Dad, I’m wearing your clothes for halloween. I want a playhouse in the back yard. I can dance good now. Love Kathy and Helen’
~ Letter to Alan Leslie B when he was in Vietnam from his wife Helen Catherine B and their daughter
‘In the night of December 26th, 1972, under a shelter of Viet Nam People’s Army, I covered my ears tightly so I didn’t have to hear the sound of the B-52 bombs. I wondered what my life would be. To think that not long ago, I myself flew over these roofs and dropped bombs down on them. I wondered if I’d be killed by bombs from my own fellow men.’
~ Pilot John Harry Yuil who was captured in the year 1972
‘All people had to evacuate! But my grandma refused to leave…. She stayed in our house, market alley, Kham Thien. When the US sent in the B-52s to attack Ha Noi, my mom was worried about her. A few days afterward, my mom sent my elder brother to bicycle all the way back to Ha Noi to pick her up to the evacuation area.
It was incredibly lucky for us because US aircraft dropped bombs on our living area a day after my grandma left. The house that my family lived in turned into a gaping bomb hole. The neighbors who stayed were all killed. A six-member-family was all killed, no one was left. I remember some of my classmates were also murdered by bombs…’
~Mr. Tran Hung, left Ha Noi for evacuation with his family
‘The fear soaked through every muscle, every period of sleep. At night, I put on all the coats for my son, Phong, so he wouldn’t catch a cold in case we had to move down to air-raid shelter. Children were so miserable during wartime. Phong was born in 1966, born into bombs like this. He learned to speak very early. 9-month old and could already speak very clearly. Besides ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, the first word that he learnt was ‘run’. Whenever he heard the sound of aircrafts, he would make ‘u…u…’ sounds imitating them, and then shout, ” mom..mom..dad..dad..run..run..run” and hold his arms out to be carried.
~Mrs Trinh Tanh Nang
(None of the photos are related to the narrators. They were captured by me during the trip)