Story by Tra My

May 08, 2024



In 1958, four years after the liberation of the Northern mountainous province of Dien Bien, many soldiers returned to the old battlefield to rebuild the economy and bring life back to the area. With their enthusiasm and responsibility, they waged a new battle, that of eradicating poverty on land plowed by bombs and bullets, of covering with greenery the battlefield soaked in the blood and bones of their comrades.

The soldiers brought their families to Dien Bien, rebuilt it, and made it as rich and beautiful as it is today.


Sergeant Hoang Van Bay (born in 1933) is one among thousands of soldiers from the former 176th Regiment who heroically fought in the battle and enthusiastically worked at the Dien Bien Military Farm in Dien Bien Province, which was established on May 8, 1958, with more than 1,900 officers. 


At that time, the farm managed by the Ministry of Agriculture included affiliated departments and 23 production units, each of which was a company (called C) responsible for growing crops, raising livestock, processing agricultural products, transportation, and irrigation.

On December 22, 1960, the Dien Bien Military Farm was transformed into the Dien Bien State Farm, directly under the Ministry of Agriculture. Its mission is to continue reclaiming and expanding agricultural land, growing perennial crops, and developing other industries while guiding ethnic minorities to make production and be ready to fight in the event of war.

With the determination to "make the Northwest our homeland and the farm, our family," soldiers like Bay overcame countless hardships and devoted themselves to the exploitation of the wild, boldly applying science and technology to production, serving as a model for people from all ethnic groups in the province to build Dien Bien together.

Bay said the first task was to remove the barbed wire, level trenches, and clear remaining bombs and mines, followed by land reclamation, building houses, baking bricks, and burning small clay pots to collect the remains of comrades killed in battle in Dien Bien Province.

The old soldier said his hands felt strange as moving from holding a rifle to a plow, but within a short time, things had fallen into place as Vietnamese soldiers were mostly from rural backgrounds.

"In 1959, we created good rice varieties named Dien Bien 1 and Dien Bien 2, which were given as gifts to the Cuban Government," Bay proudly said.

1960 was a special year for Bay when he brought his wife, Ta Thi Tho (born in 1942), to Dien Bien, marking his determination to settle down in this province as living conditions had changed and was relatively stable in the old battlefield. Tho followed her husband to the farm, helping to grow rice and vegetables before moving on to bookkeeping.

The couple had six daughters, but one of whom died at a young age. The remaining five now have families of their own and live near Bay and Tho's house. The daughters and sons-in-law are all successful and have contributed to making Dien Bien as rich and beautiful as it is today.

"We were a large family, so it was very difficult to feed the children. At that time,  they had to go to kindergarten at three months old, so I used to take advantage of breaks and run home to breastfeed. The family members kept encouraging each other to work hard over the years. I am happy that my husband and I are still together at this age, and our children are all successful and conscientious," Tho said.

Veteran Nguyen Thi Ly, born in 1936, from Hanh Phuc Commune, Tho Xuan District, Thanh Hoa Province, and her husband Hoang Hai fought in the Dien Bien Phu campaign. Later, they joined the resistance war against the US before settling in this province. Hai passed away many years ago.


She first worked in the Food Department and then moved to the construction of the Nam Rom Irrigation Project, which kicked off the agriculture development in the province in the early 60s.

Nam Rom Irrigation Project was the largest irrigation project in Lai Chau Province (now Dien Bien and Lai Chau), built on the heart of Dien Bien Phu. It was the second largest project in the country, after the Bac Hung Hai Irrigation System, built after the historic victory of Dien Bien Phu.

Ly recalled that construction began in 1963 and was completed in 1969, involving more than 2,000 workers, including more than 800 young volunteers from the capital and many lowland provinces such as Hung Yen, Thai Binh, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Nam Dinh, Vinh Phuc and Thanh Hoa. The irrigation work has brought water to Muong Thanh's fields, making the land more fertile to sustain agricultural growth with two rice crops a year instead of one.

She said they have a noble mission and responsibility to complete the Nam Rom Irrigation Project as soon as possible to provide a lifeline for Dien Bien's agriculture. Ly is one of the first to break stones and carry bricks to build this project.

"Those days were full of difficulties, but now that I see the dramatic changes in Dien Bien, I feel happy and fortunate to have had my part in history. I only hope that young people will strive to develop our homeland to make it richer and more beautiful," Ly said.


Echoing Ly's sentiments, veteran Nguyen Hong Thai (born in 1932 in the northern port city of Hai Phong) expressed his hope that the younger generation would be active and creative in their daily work.

"I hope young people can absorb technology and build the country into a rich, strong and powerful one," Thai said.


After the war, Thai also had opportunities to leave Dien Bien to pursue his career elsewhere, but thinking of his fallen comrades, he could not bear to leave.

"Seventy years have passed, seeing the old battlefield transformed into a spacious, rich and beautiful Dien Bien, we all feel joyful but sad as we remember our fallen comrades. To preserve this land and make it what it is today, previous generations had to pay a high price," Thai said.


Chairman of the  Dien Bien Province Veterans Association, Major General Luu Trong Lu, who has lived and worked there for nearly 50 years, said he had fallen in love with the land since his youth and always felt a deep affection for the local people.

Lu is fluent in several local ethnic minority languages, including H'mong and Thai. "If you want to help build the province, you must first be able to speak and listen to ethnic minority people so that you can understand and sympathize with their thoughts and aspirations."

I can sing H'mong and Thai folk songs or join in the Khen Xoe dance at every festival - it helps me do my job as a soldier and commander more effectively".


Lu said that many soldiers had not only traded their blood and bones for peace but also laid the first bricks to rebuild their lives on the battlefield, laying the foundation for today's province.

"The second generation, the children of Dien Bien soldiers, have also continued their careers, and many of them hold key positions in the province's political system," Lu said.

These days, Dien Bien province is decorated with flags and lights, beautiful flowers and new works to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu Victory. From a hardscrabble land devastated by wars, Dien Bien is now rising strongly from the ashes. The historical evidence of the war in Dien Bien has become a historical address and a tourist destination for every patriotic Vietnamese. The development of Dien Bien is the joint effort of the entire political system, Party committees, authorities, people from all walks of life in the province, and a contribution from people living in all parts of the country.



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