Ngoc Van Tran: A South Vietnamese Perspective
Profilers: Dan Accordino, Thomas Lieu, Quan Nguyen
Interviewer: What is your name? Where were you born?
Ngoc Van Tran : My name is Tran Van Ngoc. I was born on July 15, 1945. I was born in Nam Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
Interviewer: Before the war, what was your occupation? What did you do?
Ngoc Van Tran: Before the war, I went to high school in Hung Dao, Saigon. After I finished high school, I volunteered for the South Vietnamese Air Force in 1968. I was apart of the 26th class at Thu Duc Airbase and I learned to become a pilot there. After that, I was sent to America for training for six months at Lackland Airforce Base in Texas. Because my english was so bad, I was sent back home, and from then on, I worked at Bien Hoa Airforce Base. From 1971-1973 as a lieutenant, I worked at the Vietnamese National Military Academy at Da Lat. At first, I was an instructor of new Air Force recruits. After that, I became a commander within the academy until 1975. After July 30, 1975 (the end of the war), I reported to the new government in Da Lat. They made me attend a reeducation camp for six years and three months at Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang. After they released me, I went home to my family in Da Lat, and I started working on 2000 sq meters of land as a farmer for ten years. After ten years, I immigrated to America under Humanitarian Operations in June 1991
Interviewer: How did you feel about the division of Vietnam during the war?
Ngoc Van Tran: During the division of Vietnam and as a lieutenant under the old government, I was very sad and I could not be happy. As a South Vietnamese soldier, I could not be happy about the expansion of superpowers, especially Russia and China who tried to control South Vietnam. Even with American military help, we could not overcome North Vietnam backed by China. All of South Vietnam fell under Communist power.
Interviewer: What were your feelings of your American allies and their eventual withdrawal?
Ngoc Van Tran: My colleagues knew why the Americans withdrew. There were many reasons. One of the main reasons was that the superpowers (America, China, Russia) had already agreed to let South Vietnam fall. All of my fellow colleagues in the military knew that the American government decided to let South Vietnam fall. If American did not want South Vietnam to fall, we have never fallen. If they kept sending support, we would have never fallen. If the Americans supported us like China supported North Vietnam, I guarantee you we would have never lost. As a lieutenant, I knew that the spirit of our soldiers was very strong. I worked among them so I knew. We were strong and we were resilient. The Communists had many deaths but they were very smart. They inserted their spies everywhere, but they could still not win. However, since the Americans cut their aid from $750 million a year to $350 million, we could not win. With that small amount of money, South Vietnam could not fight the communists. America did that on purpose so that we may lose. If people say that we lost that is not right, because America forced us to lose, the communists won.
Interviewer: What happened to you under communist rule?
Ngoc Van Tran: The communists followed the way of the Chinese. The first thing they did was they targeted the wealthy. Then, they took all of the officials under the old government and they sent them to reeducation camps. They said that they were camps but in reality they were hard-labor sentences. As a victim, I knew that anybody that called it “hard-labor” would be punished. In the camp if you called it that, they would say that you were going against the government and you were dead to them. They said that “we do not have prisons; we only have camps”. These camps “helped” those who were “wrong” become loyal supporters of the new government, but in reality, it was hard-labor. The way that the communists punished was very smart; it was not like Western countries. They don’t kill you with guns, but they kill you slowly with hunger. If you died to hunger, they let your family know you died of sickness and not because they starved you. The communists said when you die, “poor guy, poor guy” but they were the real reason you died (alligator tears). I was in those camps; I knew. There was no medicine from the simple to the complicated. The only medicine they gave us was hydroxychloroquine. There was only that medicine. If you can’t make it you die. They said you died of sickness not because they killed you. Food was bad quality and too little. In the morning, they gave us one bowl of rice and two pieces of cassava with salt water. With that little nutrition and that much labor, sooner or later you would die. Because of lack of nutrition, your body is vulnerable to disease which was a smart way to kill people. I lived in the prison, I know. Under their control, no one dared to say anything. Even your fellow prisoners betrayed you. They were called “snitches”. My fellow prisoners held high rankings but they turned each other in because the communists said “the more you betray, the faster you get to go home”. To be honest with you, every prisoner had a set sentence and it depended on your ranking. It could be one, five, or thirty years; it all depended on your ranking. Communist officials within the Hanoi office set your sentence before you even got there. When you finished your sentence, you would go home, but they would never let you know exactly when. They only repeated the same sentence “work hard go home faster”. But in reality, this was not true; only naive people believed this. Many tried to work hard to go home but they died anyway. For people that left early, they told us “this man left early because he worked hard. You do not get to leave early because you have not worked hard yet”. As my president Nguyen Van Thieu said, “Don’t listen to what the Communists say, but look at what they do”. To put it simply, he said to do the opposite of what they said. It doesn’t matter if what they say is right or wrong, sounds good or sounds bad; go the opposite way: that is the right way. If you turn 180 degrees back to what they say then it is the right thing.
Interviewer: After the camp, how was your life?
Ngoc Van Tran: After the camp, everyone knew that it does not matter who you were. Whether you be a lieutenant or a regular soldier, it meant nothing. The only source of income was if you had land. If you had no land, you became a taxi driver or a dock worker. You had to work any available job to make money. I had two acres of land in Dai Lat and I worked as a farmer. As a former lieutenant, I became a farmer. How did I have any experience with this job? 80% of people would get lost if this happened to them because they do not have the experience. Luckily, we had the American Humanitarian Operations program. I was released from this hard life in 1991. After I lived a hard life under the Communists, I say this honestly, no job in America was difficult for me at all. Any job in America compared to Vietnam was too easy for me.
Interviewer: Were you ever homesick? When you left, were you sad or relieved to get out of Vietnam?
Ngoc Van Tran: When you move to America from another country, you are always an immigrant. Of course, it is important to remember where I came from. But who even remembers America? America is the place where I live temporarily and for the rest of my days only. I hope that one day when my country becomes free again and becomes democratic again I will return. As Vietnamese people, we will return to our country when it has real freedom. Living in your own country is always better. I return home and bathe in my own pond. Regardless of whether it is clear or shallow, my home [pond] is still better. Our home country is always the best because we are Vietnamese. Wherever we go people call us Vietnamese who calls us American?
Interviewer: Do you consider yourself to be patriotic?
Ngoc Van Tran: Everybody is the same. Of course, we always think for our country. We always hope that our home country can become free again. If I return home, of course I will be happier. Americans speak english and it sounds like gibberish and the we don’t know the roads. Of course, I would like to live in my own country.
Interviewer: From your eyes, who was the perpetrator of the conflict in Vietnam? Does the US bear responsibility in your opinion?
Ngoc Van Tran: As I said before, the fault lies in the superpowers. They fought with each other and we were just lowly people who were supposed to bow our heads and take it. They were all big countries, superpowers, Russia, China, and America. They sold and bought between each other. A small and poor country such as Vietnam could not avoid the large reach of the superpowers. They fought with each other and South Vietnam was lost because of them. If North and South Vietnam fought without their influence, we would have never lost. I guarantee 99% that they would have never won. For example, there is A and B fighting and the A is the North and the B is South. Let’s say the referee tied up B and let A beat him up. How could B win? We had bullets for our guns, no gas for our tanks, no money for our soldiers. Of course we lost. America forced us into military suicide. America killed us and let the communists win. If this was a fair fight, South Vietnam would never have lost. They had spies everywhere even in the house of the president. For example, Let me tell you the story of Huynh Van Trong. There was a strange signal that went from the city of Saigon to Hanoi at 1PM everyday. Later on, the South Vietnamese national guard found it and paid more attention to it. They asked for permission to look into it more. The Prime Minister Tran Trinh Khiem called President Nguyen Van Thieu who gave permission to look for it. This led to them finding Huynh Van Trong at his own residence. With the lead of federal agents, they arrested him at his house. At first, they opened every door in his house without him knowing and at the time, he was communicating with North Vietnam. They caught him red handed in his own house. Huynh Van Trong was a big spy who we captured. Now, moving on to religion, Thich Chi Quang, a monk, was a major general of the communists. The father of the temple was also a communist. Huynh Tan Man was an important professor who was also a communist. Senators and government officials were also communists. After the war many eyes of communists were opened to this, but they are all old now and they cannot do anything; it is too late. In summary, the story of South Vietnam is very sad. To make it short, we lost because the Americans forced us too. Our military on equal grounds would never have lost to the Communists. To say we lost is wrong.
Interviewer: What are your thoughts on communism?
Ngoc Van Tran: Everyone knows that the communists were crooks. They killed their own people. They would rather kill a person wrongly than let anyone get out alive. Even President Trang Dai Quang, they killed him. Even, General Trang Do. Also, Dinh Ba Thanh. They raised them up from the beginning, but when they said one thing wrong, they killed them. They poisoned them with radiation and when they died, they said it was a strange virus. When General Trang Do started questioning them, they killed him. The communists are this way. It is not like the old government of South Vietnam which still had a justice system. All courts under communist countries have no authority. Your sentence is already set under the government. They have no power. There is no debate your sentence is already set.