Friday, April 18, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, seen at home in Hanoi in 2008 on his 97th birthday, died Friday. He was the nemesis of South Vietnamese who fought alongside U.S. troops.
The Associated Press
“If a nation is determined to stand up, it is very strong,” Giap told foreign journalists in 2004 before the battle’s 50th anniversary. “We are very proud that Vietnam was the first colony that could stand up and gain independence on its own.”
It was the final act that led to French withdrawal and the Geneva Accords that partitioned Vietnam into north and south in 1956. It paved the way for war against Saigon and its U.S. sponsors less than a decade later.
The general drew on his Dien Bien Phu experience to create the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a clandestine jungle network that snaked through neighboring – and ostensibly neutral – Laos and Cambodia to supply his troops fighting on southern battlefields.
Against U.S. forces with sophisticated weapons and B-52 bombers, Giap’s guerrillas prevailed again. But more than 1 million of his troops died in what is known in Vietnam as the “American War.”
“We had to use the small against the big; backward weapons to defeat modern weapons,” Giap said. “At the end, it was the human factor that determined the victory.”
Historian Stanley Karnow, who interviewed Giap in Hanoi in 1990, quoted him as saying: “We were not strong enough to drive out a half-million American troops, but that wasn’t our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war.”
On April 30, 1975, communist forces marched through Saigon with tanks.
“With the victory of April 30, slaves became free men,” Giap said. “It was an unbelievable story.”
It came at a price for all sides: the deaths of as many as 3 million communists and civilians, an estimated 250,000 South Vietnamese troops and 58,000 Americans.
Throughout most of the war, Giap served as defense minister, armed forces commander and a senior member of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, but he was slowly elbowed from the center of power after Ho Chi Minh’s death in 1969. The glory for victory in 1975 went not to Giap, but to Gen. Van Tien Dung, chief of the general staff.
Giap stepped down from his last post, as deputy prime minister, in 1991. Despite losing favor with the government, the thin, white-haired man became even more beloved in Vietnam as he continued to speak out. He retired in Hanoi as a national treasure, writing his memoirs and attending functions.