Kiều Tiến Anh: A veteran of two wars
Profilers: Henry Vu, Christian Vazquez, Jack Weprin, Nakul Malik
Life during the War
My name is Kiều Tiến Anh. I currently live in Hanoi, Vietnam. I am working as an electrician in the textile industry. My life right now is pretty normal. I am doing well in my job, and my family is also fine. My job is pretty consistent, and everything is pretty stable. I have two kids. One boy and one girl. Both of them are married, and now I have two grandchildren.
How old were you, and how was your life when the Vietnam War happened?
The war happened in the 1960s when I was still a little boy, and I did not know much. However, in 1969 and 1970, I started to realize that there was a war happening. It was very hard for my family. My parents were factory workers, and I was still a student. When the war started, my family had to leave the city to live in the countryside. My parents had to stay in Hanoi to work as factory workers during this time. The living conditions were very tough. In 1972, when I was still very young, I lost my mother due to the war. The U.S. was bombing Hanoi, and a fragment of a bomb hit my mother. She got injured and died. Therefore, life became harder because now only dad can work to support 5 children. At the time, I was 10 years old and still a primary student.
Where did you and your siblings leave to, and how was life in the countryside?
I left Ha Noi to come to Ha Nam. In Ha Nam, I stayed with my uncles and aunts in the countryside. Life was also harsh in the countryside. My parents had to work and send rice along with supplies to us from the city. I also continued my education in Ha Nam during the time. All of my siblings stayed with me in Ha Nam while my parents worked in Ha Noi due to the bombing of the U.S.
How did you perceive the war after returning from Ha Nam?
When I came back from Ha Nam, a lot of things changed. Everyone in Ha Noi had to dig tunnels. The tunnels were used for both personal and public transport. All of the buildings, like schools and hospitals, were full of soldiers equipped with guns on the rooftop to shoot down U.S. airplanes. No one walked on the streets except for working factory workers. However, most of the factory workers were also evacuated. Therefore, only soldiers were out on the street. Every 5 meters, there was a round entrance of a tunnel all over the places. Only big buildings and government places had big bunkers for more people. Therefore, the city was pretty deserted. Occasionally, I heard sirens to alarm the detection of U.S. airplanes. Then I had to escape inside any of the tunnels. My parents told me that the bombing was very harsh. Most of the critical locations were targeted, like Long Bien Bridge and gas stations. Hence, most of those locations were full of soldiers to protect and shoot down airplanes. That was how I saw Ha Noi after I returned. I still remembered how my dad told me that the condition was really tough.
When did you return to Ha Noi?
I was evacuated in 1971.
When and how did your mother die? How did your mother’s death affect your perspective on the war?
In 1972, my dad told someone to pick me and my siblings up to Ha Noi because my mother was injured. I did not witness my mother being hit by the bomb, but when she got injured, all of us came back to Ha Noi. When I saw my mother being injured, me and my siblings were so scared and shocked. My mother was hit in the back by a fragment of a bomb, and she became paralyzed forever. After a month, she passed away. When she died, I was really shocked towards the war. And it changed my conscience. The war was too brutal, which caused many to die. At the time my mother died, I did not understand much about any sides of the war. However, the loss at the time was too big for me and my family. I was totally shocked.
How was your experience of escaping under tunnels and hearing sirens?
I was really scared of the siren. No matter what I was doing, if the siren went up, we all had to run inside of the tunnel. When the siren went up, the radio and street speakers also went up to notify how many kilometers away the airplanes were detected. The siren went up everywhere all of the time. So I was very scared. Houses were collapsed all over the place. For example, on Kham Thien Street, all of the houses were destroyed throughout the whole street. A lot of soldiers had to help people get into tunnels, but a lot of families died. That was back in 1972 when I witnessed it. For 12 days straight, the streets were deserted. No one can be spotted on the streets. All I could hear was the siren and how to escape into the tunnels. It was very scary.
After 1975, when the war already ended, how was your life?
Before the war, life was already hard on my family. So, after the war, life was even harder for my family. My family was really poor. My dad had to take care of 5 children. After 1975, I continued my high school education. In 1979, I finished studying and joined the military. I joined the military for the war at the border against China. That was 1979. Overall, after 1975, my dad still worked as a factory worker while my mother passed away. Life was still very tough and difficult back then.
What is one of your most memorable memories during this period?
Besides the fear of bombing, I still remembered that I had to wear a straw-hat whenever I went to school. I was still very small, and I had to carry a bag along with a straw-hat to protect me from bullet fragments in order to go to school. The most memorable memory after the war was when I just finished studying then I got drafted into the military. I was very shocked because I thought the war was ended. I thought I did not have to be scared anymore, but then I had to join another war at the border against China. That was when I joined the military. So the most memorable memory was when I had to join the military.
In the Military after the War
How old were you when you got drafted? How did you feel?
I was 18 years old when I joined the military. 18 years old was also the legal age to be drafted. There was total mobilization over the country. Everyone is the same, if you are 18 years old or older, then you had to join the military. It was a national draft where everyone in the age of 18 to 45 needed to be sent to the border. Even if you were a factory worker, you still had to go to the border. Except if you were unhealthy, then you could stay. But if you were healthy, then you must go. It was a country call for protection. A protection for the border. So, all of my friends also had to go no matter what.
So did you voluntarily join the Army?
In my perspective, because it was a total mobilization, I felt it was my duty to join the army. I considered it to be a national calling to join the army. I was not forced to do it. I think it is ingrained inside the consciousness of every Vietnamese the responsibility to serve the country when needed.
Can you talk more about your experience of being a part of the military?
I joined the military from 1979 to the end of 1983. I left the military in 1983. The most memorable memory when I was in the military was when our unit was stationed in Bac Giang. I was trained in Bac Giang for 3 months to prepare for the actual fight. After my training, I was about to go to the border to fight then something happened. Right before I arrived at the border, the Chinese military retreated. I did not have a chance to fight. All I could hear was gunshots from the other side of the border shooting toward us. After that, I came back to work as a backend logistic administrator. I moved from Bac Giang back to Ha Noi in order to work as a second-line protector at Noi Bai Airport. Then I worked there until I left the military.
How did you feel when you were in Bac Giang?
Everyone’s emotions in Bac Giang were very similar to each other. Initially, we were a little bit scared when we knew that we had to go to the frontline. However, when we arrived at Bac Giang, we were not that scared anymore. When we heard that China was invading our border, we were furious, and the morale was very high. We did not fear much, and everyone was excited for the fight. The enthusiasm and spirits of young soldiers were very strong. It was funny to me because I did not have a chance to fight after such a long time of preparation. The Chinese retreated too early. Because of that, I had to work in the backend. When I was working as backend logistic administrator, my main job was to supply food to the frontline soldiers.
What was the reason behind the morality of the soldiers?
Because we have witnessed so many wars and have been told about all the wars that our nation had to go through, to us serving the nation was a responsibility and a pride. Everyone shares the same ideology of protecting our country. We never felt tired. All we wanted was to join the frontline. There was no comparison between the frontline soldiers and the backend supporter. We were all the same and focused on fighting in the war. We all had such thought all the way back to when we were still in school.
What was your family’s opinion when you joined the Army?
Everyone from my family also thought that it was my duty to serve the country. It was a legislation, so no one opposed or stopped me from joining the military back then. There was no discouragement or obstruction. It was military service. It was all for the nation. Therefore, it was very easy for everyone to join the army. All the families were like that. Everyone was like that. It became a movement for the whole nation to serve in the army. Every single family had at least one member being a part of the military. When you turned 18, you joined the military. It was inevitable. Because it was a movement, everything was very smooth. There were no obstructions.
How was your life after you left the military? Is there anything from the war that affected you during that period?
After leaving the military, I came back to ordinary life to attend vocational training. I attended vocational school programmed by the government. However, the nation was still heavily affected by the war. It was still a subsidy period. I could not continue my educational journey because I already passed the age of college. All I could do was to join the workforce immediately. Life was very tough during that time. I had to work as a worker for the government. Everyone was the same. We all had to work in the government during the subsidy period. There were no other places or jobs to work back then. We all worked as workers in government facilities and factories.
How does the war affect your life now?
Nowadays, I still think that I am very unlucky to be born during wartime. The war still had lasting effects on me until now. The images of bullets, bombs, and blood still haunted me and made me think about it. Whenever I think about the war, I got horrified. I always ask myself why the war had to happen. I feel that Vietnamese people suffered too much from the war. Because I witnessed everything that happened in the war. The more I recall it, the more I got scared by the effect it had to me, even nowadays. If the war did not happen, I would have a chance to attend college. I would have a better job and a better life. But because I was born during the war, I had to endure disadvantages.
How are you affected mentally? How are your comrades affected?
People who joined the military back then now think about the fact that some are dead and some are still alive makes all of us scared. We all witnessed soldiers being killed. Soldiers were being killed not only during the war but also after the war. After the war, a lot of the soldiers died while retreating back to the city by stepping on booby traps or mines. If they were not killed, they still got injured or paralyzed for the rest of their life. A lot were affected mentally when they saw people losing their arms and legs. It lasted in their memories forever, which became trauma and mental illness. Because we were too scared, the remnant of the war remains and became a sequela.
Is there any particular event that reminded you of such emotions?
The memory of marching to Bac Giang never fades away. I still remember that when I was marching with my unit, we were too tired, and it was raining. We decided to sleep out in the wood. But the next morning, we realized that were sleeping on top of a graveyard. It was very scary. Even some soldiers died from practicing throwing grenade. Sometimes even before we reached the targeted destination, a lot of soldiers already died due to various reasons. It still haunted me nowadays. All of my comrades back then were also very scared whenever we talked about it. Although a long time has passed, somethings can be faded away, but certain things will always last. I still remember all of the memories of living and eating with all of my comrades. Now, every month or year, the veterans always gathered together to meetup and recall the past.
Do you still keep close contact with your comrades?
Everyone who were in our unit and stayed in Ha Noi always meet up on December 23 every year to celebrate our companionship. Not only that, if any of my comrades need help nowadays.I always reach out and help them as much as I can. Everyone still stay in close contact and support each other.