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Biến Cố Mậu Thân 1968

Massacre at Hue, in my Eyes.
Nguyen Ly Tuong, witness of the massacre at Hue, 1968.  

1. Speaker's profile

          Mr. Tuong Nguyen (NLT) is a former Republic of Vietnam (Lower House) Congress Representative for Thua Thien province, Hue City, term 1967-1971. Ten days before the (Lunar) New Year Day, Rep. NLT was in Hue, visiting his local electorate (districts and province), also rendering his New Year wishes to the administrative and military commanders (I-Corp Commander General Lam, First ARVN Division General Truong, Thua-thien Province Chief Colonel Khoa, Archbishop Nguyen Kim Dien, Venerable Thich Don Hau. Colonel Nguyen Am Quang-tri province chief, ...). He also took chance to evaluate the rumors about the latest communist units (VC) infiltration.

          When the gun fire broke out in Hue, Rep NLT was seeing his mother in Quang Tri. The next day, he already arrived in Danang, Tactical Zone I ‘s Head Quarter. He also took contact with the police chief of Thua Thien …

          On February 9th, 1968, while the ARVN and the US Military Forces taking back the right bank of Perfume river (District 3) but the areas Phu Cam, Vy Da, Gia Hoi and the citadel were still controlled by the communist forces, rep. NLT attended the meeting at Phu Bai airport comprising the central delegation from Saigon, the 1st Army Corps', First ARVN division commander; the Huong Thuy district, Thua Thien sub-sector chiefs. He also spent the night at Thua Thien police office and another night at the 12th artillery battalion.

          "I was indeed being in favorable conditions to closely witness and follow up the development of the communist agressions named Mau Than (1968) offensive. Besides, I made visits to the families' who had member(s) slaughtered by the Vietnam People Army (Quan Doi Nhan Dan) Units. I also joined the local groups who volunteered in several of victims mass graves' exhumation. Five people of my own family were killed including my father in law, a younger brother, 16, and a 13 year old nephew. I examined and collected the facts, took notes of the events, of what I had seen and what I had listen to such as the survivors, the victims families delineation. As a witness myself, I would like to present the following facts"

2. The massacre at Hue

Fact 1: VC had violated the Tet Mau Than (1968) ceasefire agreement that they themselves requested and guaranteed to the US and the ARVN to observe. They took advantage of this most traditional celebration for the Vietnamese to launch massive attacks on most cities and towns of South VN, particularly Hue.

Fact 2: Dozens, and hundreds of victims had been buried in mass graves. Their hands being tied with electric wire or bamboo strips. Some victims being  stabbed with bayonet, bludgeoned to death. Several got shot or being buried alive. Most of victims are religious monks and priests, students, innocent civilians, old people, children, those who were un-armed, those who stayed inside with their family, or those who submnitted the VC order, primarily turning up for attending instruction about the policy of the (communist) Revolution Authorities (South Vietnam Liberation Front.

Fact 3: Locations of the mass graves:

*    Gia Hoi primary school
*    Therevada temple
*    Bai Dau (Mulberry field)
*    Con Hen (Pipi sandbank)
*    Tieu Chung Vien (Little seminary)
*    Eastern Hue - area close to the tombs of king Tu Duc and Dong Khanh
*    Bridge An Ninh Thuong
*    Dong Ba gate
*    An Ninh Ha school
*    Van Chi school
*    Thong market
*    Xa Con village
*    Area close to king Gia Long's tomb
*    Area close to Tuong Van temple
*    Localities Dong Di, Vinh Thai, Thuy Thanh, Luong Vien, Phu Luong, Phu Xuan, Thuong Hoa, Vinh Hung
*    Da Mai creek
*    etc …

          Twenty three (23) locations with 2326 skulls counted. These are the number I collected among the estimated 6000 slaughtered victims of Thua Thien province and Hue that had been reported dead, missing or taken away by the VC, during 26 day period of North Vietnamese Communist Army offense against Hue.

3. A number of horrific/gruesome massacres

A. The massacre at Da Mai creek

(This creek is in the Dinh Mon, Kim Ngoc range, Nam Hoa district, Thua Thien province)

          VC had used automatic rifles, machine guns, grenades and mines to slaughter the victims then threw the bodies into the creek. By time, their decomposed remains were washed away, only 428 skulls (and bones) were found left, accumulated in piles under the streams. Some remains were identified base on personal belongings: cardigans, figurines, ID cards, ... among piles of bones and skulls. Le Huu Boi (president of Buddhist student association in 1963) and Le Huu Ba remains were found via their sweater colors. Teenagers Bui Kha (16 years old), Phan Minh (16), Nguyen Duyet (17) and many others of Phu Cam catholic parish were massacred by VC at this location.

*    An escapee/survivor story
          The story, scripted by the priests Nguyen Huu Giai and Phan Van Loi, is about the massacre of innocent Catholics at the Da Mai creek

          At the time of the event, this (name is not disclosed due to security reason) 17 year old high school student was captured at Phu-cam parish churh. "Due to the un-secure situation, my family moved from the country to Hue city, resided in Phu Cam catholic district, Phuoc Qua village, Thuy Phuc hamlet, Thua Thien province now known as Phuoc Vinh. My family and the Catholics at Phu Cam had run to take refuge in the cathedral. That night, VC had poured into the cathedral, captured all males persons whose ages range from 15 and over, regardless of who they are, students, civilians, and ordered them to go for a few days of "education" before being released and returned home. I was among the captive group.

          Early next morning, we were taken by communist soldiers follow the railway from Phu Cam to Ben Ngu through Tu Dam temple. There were a lot of VC at this location; they were local guerillas and VC cadres from North VN. The house, which we were taken to, had 5 rooms. Four of them were full of people captured by previous days. The one left were for my group and those  who arrived after us. I saw so many familiar faces: Tin the photographer; Ho the barber; Tri the son of Mr. Ngoc who played organ at the church; Mr. Hoang the physician at Xep market; the 2 sons of Mr. Thang making wine and breeding pigs; 2 sons of Mr. Vang playing trumpet. Thinh the son of Mr. Nam; two brothers Binh and Minh, sons of Mr. Thuc; Minh 16 yo, son of Mr. Danh, an employee of the Hydro-electric company, they are all high school students. We sit at Tu Dam temple from dawn to dust without being given any food or water. They handed out to each of us, a piece of paper to write down our personal details, name, occupation, parent's names, location of birth. "whoever made false statement would be shot". I had seen a number of people who were tied to the bodhi tree, shot and buried in the court of the temple. Among them was Hoang Su. They allowed a few persons who had more than one-brothers in captivity, to go home asking their family to provide food, clothes, medicine for the captives.

          When it's got dark, they asked us to get out sitting in lines in the court of the temple.
          A communist cadre (can binh cong san) said: "Don't you worry, the Revolution will get you to be indoctrinated within 3 days then you will be allowed to return home with your families. Now let's go."

          They tied our hands at the back with telephone lines, one by one. Then 20 persons were chained up together to make a group. There were more than 25 groups, I counted. One local went around looking at each of us then said to them (VCs): "Can't find Trong He and Phu Ro". Trong, Mr. He's son, and Phu were 2 young men at Phu Cam, well trained in martial art and being looked-up by the bad guys (trouble makers) around Hue. Trong and Phu followed the popular soldiers retreated when the cathedral was invaded by  these VC forces.

All the detainees were innocent civilians.

          They ordered us to go through the road, left of Dan Nam Giao, round Thien An monastery, to Khai Dinh's tomb, around the back of Nam Hoa district office, out to the river Ta Trach, the up stream of Perfume river. When reaching the river bank, VC asked us to cut down the bamboos making rafts to cross the river, to gather again near by King Gia Long's tomb, in the Dinh Mon and Kim Ngoc range. From there, we started to get deep into the jungle. Night falls. It' s very cold, … climbing up, going down hill, wading across creeks, … Taking us were about 30 VC cadres, they used torches to lead the way, we walked through thick and dense jungle of bamboo and old trees.

           By mid night, the communist soldiers made us stop, for a rest. Each of us was given a handful of rice. We guessed that we had traveled for over 10 kms. Coiled up, head down, under the rain, we tried to get some sleep to have energy to continue. Suddenly, I overheard two VC cadres talking to each other:
"In 15, 20 minutes, we'll kill them all"

          I was trembling. Reaching close to my friend sitting right in front of me:
"Try to get loose and escape! In 15 minutes we'll all be shot dead!
It rains. The wire was slippery, after a while, we managed to free ourselves but stayed still, scared of being found out. I whispered:
"When I tap gently on your back, let's run!"

          The VC woke us up, in a loud voice to make all of us heard, one of them said:
"We are arriving to the reform camp. Those who have jewellery, money, watches, cigarette lighters, ... give them all to us, you are not allowed to keep them. You will have them back once you have been reformed and completed the learning."

          So they robbed us of everything and put all into the knapsacks. The one who stood close to me had on him a dozen of radios taken from those in the city (down town). The rifle on one hand, things taken on the other, he slowed down, walked behind the others by a distance. When we started going down hill, hearing the running water, I tapped gently on the shoulder of my friend. Both of us, pulled out our hands, threw ourselves out of the line. I gave the communist cadre (carrying the radios) a hell kick. He tumbled over! We hurled into the jungle …

          It was dark, in the middle of the jungle; the VC did not chase us.

          Once the group had gone away for a while, we crawled out, walked back to the other direction. In about 15 to 20 minutes, we heard from the creek down below the resounding of AK gun fire, explosions of grenades, which were thundering, flaring up a corner of the jungle. Crying, screaming and howling voice were heard from far away ... horrible!
          It was around midnight or half past 12, on the 8th day of Tet.

*    Another survivor's story
          Quynh, a university student, son of a retired physician.

          In his family, 3 bothers were captured at Phu Cam cathedral then taken to Tu Dam temple to be detained there. That night, VC allowed each room to send 2 persons (those who are among 2 or 3 brothers in captivity)  to home to ask their family bringing food and other things to the temple for the captives. Quynh was allowed to go home because he had an older and a younger brothers detained in the same room. "If you would not come back then your two brothers would be killed". Through out that night, with the authorized pass in his hand, Quynh went around, knocked on the door of every house, for food. Afterwards, he came back to the temple. Nobody was there. All the food, clothes, brought up to the temple by the captives' families were actually for the VC instead. They (the captives) had left before Quynh returned to the temple. They all were taken up to the mountains. Later on, he learned that the whole group was killed! Fortunately, Quynh survived.

          Quynh told: At 3pm on the third day of Tet, while he was sitting in the room (used as a prison cell), Le Huu Boi came over from next room, knowing that he was a university student, made friend and talked to him in a low voice: "We have to find a way to get out of here, right away!". He remembered clearly, at that time the weather was cold, Le Huu Boi had a large overcoat on him, in grey color. Le Huu Boi was the older brother of Le Huu Ba, they both were killed.

B. People bury people alive

          Tuan, 16 years old, a student of Nguyen Du high school,  was living at the corner of Nguyen Thanh and Mai Thuc Loan streets, inside the citadel near Dong Ba gate recalled :

          In the morning of the second day of Tet, VC captured 5 persons who were brought to the scene in pajamas and bare feet, each lined up at the gate. Among the VC cadres Tuan recognizes Mr. Ton That Duong Tiem, a teacher at Nguyen Du high school, "also was my teacher". Tiem carried an AK rifle, wearing green khaki pants and a white shirt. Each time Tiem nodes his head, the VC squadre ordered his soldiers to opened fire at a victim. The victime' s relatives crying, begg to get the bodies to bury but they were not allowed. These executed were exposed for days. Few days later, waiting for dark, they sneaked out to get their bodies and buried them.

          A few days later, choppers of ARVN and US started open fire at the Dong Ba gate. My father said: "If we stay we would be killed anyway. Let run". We fled towards Mang Ca, being stopped by the VC soldiers. They forced me to do labored porter. Five (5) kids from the village about the same age like me had been gathered in the group. They wait for night fall to got us out to Dong Ba gate, going across Dieu De temple, forced us to carry rice and ammunition for them.

          The days come, ARVN and Allies air strikes become even heavier.

          That night, VC soldiers gathered more than a dozen of teenagers (15, 16 years old) in their hands They gave each of us a spade/hoe, ordered us to dig up trenches. The trenches were by 1 meter (3 feet) dept and both-arm length wide. Each of us digs up a section. Then section joins together to make a long ditch. We thought the trenches were to cover from the air strikes. By 3 am, we finished digging. The communists forces led out a group of people to the site. These people were with both hands tied at the back. Each was tied up to other by black telephone wires to make a chain. Each chain compile of about 15 persons. They lined then up, the back turned to the trenches. The VC cadre read out the verdict: "You are condemned as enemy to the revolution, guilt to the people." Once finished, the guerrilla opened a salvo of AK on one victime. The shot victim fell over into the trench, pulling ohter in the chain falling with him. The whole group of 15 victimes (tied  together) filling up the ditch. They all fell into the trench whether they had been hit or not. Then, the communist soldiers ordered us to back fill the soil on top of these people. Seeing that the victims were still alive, I did not fill dirt on them. They beat us. We cried out loud. They pounded on our back with their AK, also stabbed us with the bayonets. Then, natching the spades and hoes from my hands, they smashed the heads of those victims whose heads were not completely covered with dirt.

          We were forced to do such horrific job about a dozen times on the following nights. All the VC cadres had the accent of North VN. Those who were buried alive, gasping, being suffocated, died slowly. On the following days, they had the victims buried at night, smashing their head or burying them alive. They did not shoot the victims, afraid of being discovered from the air surveillance.

C. Stories from the victims' families

*    VC got in the house at 176 Bach Dang street, took Mr. Tu Ton Khang's wife and children to the front yard and threatened to kill them all if Khang would not show up. Khang turned himself in. VC tied him up to the post in the front yard, cut his ears, his nose, and tortured him to death in front of his wife and children. Major Tu is an office chief, the Rural Reconstruction Agency at Thua Thien province.
*    Mr. Tran Ngoc Lo, a member of Dai Viet Cach Mang party, a marshal art instructor at Phu Vang, both husband and wife were killed leaving behind their little children.
*    Mr. Tran Mau Ty, a university student, captured and barbarically tortured to death.
*    Mr. Tran Dinh Trong, a student of the Technical School of Hue, taken away on February 6th, 1968. His body was found on 02/26/1968.
*    Ms. Nguyen Thi Lao, a 48 years old merchant, captured on the street, her hands were tied up, gagged away. Her body was found at Gia Hoi, being buried alive as no wound found.
*    Mr. Pham Duc Phac, a teacher and a member of Viet Nam Quoc Dan party, and
*    Mr. Le Ngoc Ky, also a member of the party, they both were killed.
*    Mr. Vo Thanh Minh, a scout veteran, the person who played the flute at the Leman lake in Geneve 1954, was also captured at the worship-house of Phan Boi Chau, taken up to the mountain and killed as he refused to assume a position assigned by the revolution forces.
*    Mr. Tran Dien, senator, captured and buried alive in Xa Con village, behind An Cuu market, his body was found on April 9th, 1968.
*    On November 8th, 1969, the body of Father Buu Dong (56 years old) buried together with Father Hoang Ngoc Bang (73) and 2 Brothers' of La San monastery, Agribert and Sylvestre. Their bodies were found at Luong Vien, Phu Thu district, Thua Thien province.
*    Besides, 3 Brothers of Thanh Tam (Sacred Heart) monastery, Ba Long, Mai Thinh and Hec-man together with 3 other french born Priests (Fathers Guy, Urbain and Cressonnier), all being dragged away and killed. Their bodies were found on March 27th, 1968 in the area near Dong Khanh's tomb.
*    Three seminary students Nguyen Van Thu, Pham Van Vu and Nguyen Luong, captured at Phu Cam cathedral, being massacred with other Catholics at Da Mai creek.
*    On February 9th, 1968, the VC battalion K8 attacked Duong Loc hamlet, Quang Tri. The battalion was badly defeated by the local forces. When retreating, this VC unit captured and took away Father Giuse Le Van Ho, 62 and 2 students Nguyen Tiep (13), Nguyen Lut (15). On May 31st, 1969, Father Giuse Hoi's body was found at Cho Can shore, Trieu Phong district.
*    Four elite citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany. Medical doctor Horst Gunther Krainick, and his wife; Dr. Raymund Disher and Dr. Alterkoster, lecturers at Hue University, School of Medicine and Hue hospital. They were picked up by the VC and killed in the vicinity Tuong Van temple, East of Hue. The witness was Ton That Sang MD, a student of the slate lecturers : "… I look down following the pointing finger, and see the people, soldiers and civilians, with spades and hoes, unearth a shallow grave, 2.5 meters in length by 0.7 meters in width and 0.9 meters in depth. Four slaughted blond hair people were found in this grave. Each one was tied up at the back with telephone wire, then being tied to each other, all in kneeling straight up position. Their left temple is the entry wound; exit wound on the right, much bigger and more detrimental. Their faces distorted, the eyes poped off and the jaws pushed out, wide open.

D. Mr. Ho Dinh's story

          As a company commander, battalion 3, regiment 3, infantry division 1, he told:

           "After destroying the agressive communist forces and driving them out of Hue, I was wounded and being treated at the military hospital Nguyen Tri Phuong. By chance, the convoy of Thua Thien sub-sector on their way to exhume two mass graves at Xuan O and Dien Dai passing by, I decided to follow them. Those areas are familiar to me as my unit has been in charge for the security. The convoy headed on a country gravel road toward North-East. The convoy stopped at Sam market. A repulsive odor in the sea breeze could be smelled miles away. The group walks towards the mass grave, at a distance of 500 meters, a horrific view appeared. It was visibly an evil painting found in fiction stories. Along the shore were the dead people. They were dead standing, where bamboo stick pierced from the butt through the throat. Around 40 groups, each group comprises 5 to 10 cadaves. Beneath them were other's bodies. The head chopped off, their legs hacked, and their tummy slashed, ..

          Underneath the sand dunes, sipping wet (it was raining for the whole month), were those buried alive. Both hands tied tightly at their back, their faces faced to each other just like they were chatting. Some still had their hat on. Another with a cigarette butt stuck to the cap. All bodies turned dark purple, dripping and oozing with yellowish, horrendously smelt. Lastly found  shallow graves, all shallowly covered with sand. Legs and hands sticking out. There were 4 to 5 dead people in each grave. Their hands were pierced with barbed wire. Victims seemed being bludgeoned to death. The faces were smashed; all decomposing badly, it's hard to identify.

          It may take us days showing horrific images of Hue destruction,and thousands of victims murdered through the 26-days Hue (Mau Than-1968) Massacre. I feel the pain. And you all might have suffered quite much hearing talks about that calculated killing. Why don't we hold up the presentation, and take a few questions emerged off our mind upon this 40 year-media-hidding Hue atrocity ? from whom should we look for the answers ?

Posted on 08 Mar 2009

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Biến Cố Mậu Thân 1968


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