Sorrow for the South - Duc's Story
Profilers: Julie Duong, Ryan Wang, Angelique Widjaja
Introduction with Duc Duong
Hi, can you please introduce yourself? Where and when were you born?
D: I was born in Cần Thơ, province of Việt Nam, and I was born on December 18, 1940
Before joining the military, did you have any opinions on the conflicts and animosity happening in Vietnam? Did you have any party relations?
D: Before I joined the army, I was a student in high school I didn’t have any opinion about the other party relations
What positions did you hold and what were your primary responsibilities?
D: When joining the army, I took on the role of artillery. After graduating, I held the position of commander. I went to the army in 1961. January 1961. I graduated in December 1961. I first joined the army in January 1961 until the end of 1961. On December 22, 1961, I graduated. After graduating, at the beginning of 1962, I switched to the first unit, which was the 71st artillery battalion stationed in Mỹ Tho. 71st artillery battalion stationed in Mỹ Tho. I was there for 7 years. After 7 years with the battalion, until 1968. After 7 years, in 1968, I was transferred to Sa Đéc. In Sa Đéc, I was a part of the 92nd artillery battalion. In 1969, I was transferred back to sóc trăng. I became an artillery commander of a unit in Sóc Trăng. Until 1971, I came back to Mỹ Tho to serve the provincial unit, the artillery of the province of Mỹ Tho. Up until 1972, in which I went to Pleiku. I held the position of artillery commander of Battalion 175 Ly, which the US left behind, the artillery unit that the Americans returned. So I overlooked the artillery battalion 175 Ly in Pleiku until 1975, which it fell apart. The Vietnamese army fell apart. I was put into a reeducation camp.
Interactions with US Troops
Did you interact or work with American troops?
D: Within my unit, there was an American officer that worked as an advisor. He always followed my unit. Whenever my unit or I needed them, he was there to help by supporting our war military campaigns. These Americans were really good people, always good to the Vietnamese people and they were very peaceful.
How did you react when American troops pulled out? What happened after their withdrawal?
D: To me, I was among a lower rank. Therefore, I only knew to act upon the orders of those above, so the events of military withdrawal were national business of the leaders of each side. I don’t have any opinions, I only carry out orders. So I was very very sad because after the US pulled out, my troops as well as the country that I serve, Viet Nam, are now separated into two, the North and the South. Each side is its own nation, like North Korea and South Korea today, which will become one. But when the US withdrew troops, there were negotiations between the US and communist countries, like the Soviet Union and China. So consider my country, the Republic of Vietnam, as ceded to North Vietnam, Northern Communist Viet Nam. They took over (conquered), so it was saddening for the South. As the US and the communist Soviet Union and China negotiated with each other, therefore, the South was lost. I’m sad, I’m sad for my country.
When the American troops withdrew, what happened to you and other southern soldiers?
D: When the Americans withdrew, my soldiers as well as other soldiers of the South faced a decrease in ammunition and supplies as well as combat troops, so we couldn’t keep up or win against the communists. Therefore, within a short amount of time, within a year, we failed. When the US withdrew, the south failed within a year as the north had the support of the communist in China as well as Russia. They had a chance to win, but the South no longer had the facilities to fight anymore. We had to lose and the south fell into the hands of the communist on April 30th, 1975.
I understand that you went to “reeducation camp” after 1975. Can you describe your experience there?
D: After 1975, I went into a prison that the communists called a “reeducation camp”. The month after the fall in 1975, I went into the communist reeducation camp until 1982. February 1982. Then I was released. Regarding the communist’s use of the term “reeducation camp”, it seems really pleasant. However, in reality, it was a prison, a torturous prison. The people that were subjected to reeducation camp that was like prison had to do laborious work in order to survive. There was nothing about it that could be called reeducation.
Can you tell us a little about your time there? What did they make you do?
D: I had to hoe land, then chop wood, and bamboo to make houses, and hoed land to plant crops. Then went to retrieve rice for about 5 to 6 km. Each time, we had to carry 20kg of rice for a total of 10km about once a week. But on a daily, we went into the forest to fell bamboo, cork, and wood and went to build houses, then hoe land, farm potatoes, farm rice, and farm corn. Those were our daily tasks in prison.
Did they give you anything to eat?
D: Food was very scarce. Therefore, the people that were in these reeducation camps, some were not able to handle it. Yet there was no medicine. Once sick, it was easy to die. On a daily, whether morning, afternoon, or evening, we would only get 2 cassavas. Every day, each prisoner only received 2 cassavas. Therefore, after a time at camp, those who were able to survive were sickly. Sickly to the point that it was just skin and bone because the communist regime was evil. They were evil, so if you were in jail, you had to bear it. Those who were fortunate and healthy were able to survive and go home to their families. But those who were not lucky or weren’t in good health would die in the forest or die in the North.
Do you know why you were released? Or were you informed upon your arrival?
D: When going, they told you to bring enough food and money for about 10 days. However, after entering the reeducation camps, they don’t mention anything about time but they continue to force us to labor. Once the day comes, usually five or more years later, they will analyze your history and see how you’ve served, and how you were as a unit commander. Therefore, whether you go home sooner or later depends on your history. It depends on how you served in the military. The units that they had grudges against include air forces and artillery. Those were the units they hated most. So with my ranking, I had to be imprisoned for at least 7 years.
If you could describe your 7 years there with one word, what would you use?
D: A term would be deceiving and humiliating. The correct term as they lied to us and humiliated the units we served. They humiliated the south. It was no longer “reeducation”. But humiliating and deceiving
Reflections on the War
In the years you were in the army, do you have any stories you can’t forget?
D: The only one that I can’t forget was this time in 1964. While performing an operation, i was shot and injured. I was shot by the enemy, which was the communists. When shot, I was shot in the arm, therefore I received a medal. It was called a wound medal, a medal presented to those wounded. It was one of my greatest memories, one I can’t forget. However, on a regular basis, I simply led a unit that supported the others. It was nothing special. It was only that memory that left a mark on me.
How did you think the war changed people and their perspectives? How did it change you?
D: As a war, each side has a different point of view. For example, the South follows the U.S.. The Southern regime’s ally is the U.S., so its notions come from there. Citizens live happily, fulfilled and free. Freedom from every aspect. Meanwhile, the Northern regime follows communism. Therefore, they live according to a communist regime. No freedom regarding speech, or any other form of freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and every type of freedom. There is no freedom. So in reality, the U.S. came to Viet Nam, not causing the war, but they wanted to protect the South from falling into the hands of the North. As you’ll see later, there were divergents between US and the Soviet Union. So the US was determined to lower the Soviet Union by working with China and handing the south to North Viet Nam. Therefore the war in Viet Nam was a war of ideology, communism vs. capitalism.
Do you think going to the army changed you?
D: When you are still a student in school, you don’t know anything. You only know to study and worry for your daily life as a civilian. When going to the army, they teach you the skills to survive, to protect your country, and to lead. Skills to lead, skills to survive, and skills to protect your country.
Did the physical or mental effects of war affect your family or your life trajectory?
D: Yes. War affects one’s spirit and the environment in which we live. Because wars cause people to change a lot … So when you’re a normal citizen, a student, you’re just focused on studying and your day-to-day life. When going to the army, the army trains you regarding war, discipline, the lifestyle of a soldier, and how to protect your country. It makes you a more well-rounded individual, stronger, more confident, and more disciplined. Therefore, you’re no longer a normal civilian. You’re a soldier, So your thinking is more disciplined and tough.
Do you have any other family members involved in the war? Were there any family/ friends that weren’t on the same side?
D: Within my family, there wasn’t anyone in the army who participated in the war. Only me. No friends as well. All kids my age went to the army with me. All my friends in my grade were already in the army as well.
HO Program, Migration, and South Vietnamese Culture
Could you tell us about your experience applying for and immigrating under the Humanitarian Operation?
D: I applied to the Humanitarian Operation in 1990. The Humanitarian Operation was for the soldiers of the South Vietnamese regime for more than three years could apply. I applied in 1990 and my family and I were able to come to the U.S. in 1992.
Was it hard for you to apply?
D: No, it wasn’t difficult. I applied in the province of Tien Giang. At the beginning of 1992, my family and I were called to interview and perform health checks. Afterward, we waited about 2-3 months until the 9th of July when we flew to the U.S. to the San Fransisco airport, where my wife’s younger brother brought us to San Jose.
Were your first few years in the U.S. difficult? Was there any form of government aid?
D: When we first came, there was a lot of government help. Mostly for my youngest son. He was only 9 years old, so we got government aid. They gave us S.S.I benefits to help raise him until he was 18 years old. My wife and I still worked, but we were supported by the S.S.I benefits.
Can you describe the relationship between your veteran friends or the relationship between South Vietnamese veterans in the U.S.?
D: I only know of the friends that were in my class during training. There are about 40 in San Jose.
How did you guys keep in contact? I know you guys often travel to Southern California to reunite.
D: I also have about 60-70 friends in Southern California. About 100 in total. Every year, we have a reunion to remember our time there.
When they first opened the memorial in Southern California, did you go?
D: Yes, I did. I went to take pictures and commemorate. But then, I didn’t really have the means as I was still delivering newspapers. After my daughter came here, I was no longer working and was able to go every year. Then they were held in different states, like Washington D.C, Florida, or Texas. But I had the most friends in California. Therefore, they were celebrated most in California.