Story by Tra My

May 07, 2024



Calling himself a grizzled old soldier, Colonel Nguyen Huu Tai recounted the years of arduous fighting on the battlefield with the spirit of "determined to fight, determined to win" during the Dien Bien Phu Campaign in 1954.

He served as political director of the 209th Regiment and then Deputy Director of the Department of Military Political Training and Public Affairs, Ministry of National Defence. It’s been 70 years passed by but he still has fond memories of Dien Bien.


Colonel Nguyen Huu Tai said that around late January 1954, his regiment had struggled for seven days to cross a 7-8km forest track dragging 12 artillery pieces into the battlefield. But then, there was a halt to the attack and orders from his  superiors for these 12 artillery pieces to be moved back to their original positions.

On the night of February 1, 1954, in the midst of rain and slippery roads, To Vinh Dien and his comrade named Ty pulled a cannon up Chuoi Hill - a treacherous 70-degree slope, narrow and dangerously curved. Halfway up, the tow rope snapped, sending the cannon hurtling down the slope. Without a trace of fear, Dien remained calm. He grabbed the reins and steered the cannon straight down the path. Unfortunately, another of the four tow ropes broke, causing the cannon to accelerate even faster. Ty had to jump into the creek at the side of the road to avoid being run over. "Let's not spare our lives to save the cannon," Dien shouted before releasing the reins and running forward to wedge himself under the cannon's wheels. The cannon jammed, leaning against the mountainside, and came to a halt.

For this sacrifice, he was honored as a martyr and awarded the title of Hero of the People’s Armed Forces.

On March 13, 1954, an all-out offensive was ordered. Colonel Tai was in charge of the attack on Him Lam Hill. That very night, Vietnamese artillery killed two French commanders.

“Him Lam base was one of the strongest positions in the cluster of northern bases. By taking Him Lam's base, we created momentum to attack the eastern heights,” Tai said.


Tai vividly remembers meeting the General, Commander-in-Chief Vo Nguyen Giap, before an important battle. General Giap greeted him warmly and smiled, asking carefully about the details of the terrain and the situation of the soldiers.

General Giap was particularly concerned about the food and health of Colonel Tai’s soldiers in the fortifications at the defensive battlefield on Hill D1. After discussing the battle situation, the Commander-in-Chief invited Tai and his comrades to stay for lunch.

"The food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was friendly and open, with officers returning from the battlefield. It was a very happy and unforgettable moment for us in an arduous and fierce campaign," Tai recalled.


At the meeting, the General pointed out the specific tasks that had to be carried out immediately: To consolidate positions on the battlefield, to attack, to snipe, to seize enemy parachuted supplies, and to dig trenches. In order for the soldiers to fight for a long time, General Giap stressed the importance of securing their material and spiritual lives.

“Although the time for the meeting was short, it was very useful for everyone. We discussed and expressed our determination to successfully carry out the general attack, to end the fate of all enemy troops in the Dien Bien Phu stronghold. I still remember General Giap's encouragement and concern,” Tai said.

On the eve of the final offensive, the enemy circulated leaflets claiming that "the major commissar had surrendered to France". They bragged: "Him Lam stronghold is an iron gate that no one can breach" and boasted: "Don't attack Him Lam, you will fail” to weaken the will, spirit, and psychology of Vietnamese soldiers.


But the order from the superiors: "Absolute subordination, trust your superiors" spread the belief in victory and the determination to fight.


During the day on May 6, the Viet Minh (Vietnamese troop) had transported a ton of TNT down a mine shaft into the tunnel under the French position Eliane 2 (Hill A1) and set the timer. At 8:30 p.m, a powerful explosion shook the center of Dien Bien Phu and completely destroyed Eliane 2. This was the last bastion of French resistance in Dien Bien Phu.

Unlike the previous attacks, which had been carried out at night, the soldiers were ordered to launch a general assault in daylight at 3:00 p.m. on May 7. In the morning, a Viet Minh flag flew over the bunker of the French Commander, General Christian de Castries’ bunker, in the center of Dien Bien Phu.

At 5:00 p.m., a ceasefire was declared on the battlefield at Dien Bien Phu with the Viet Minh winning and the French army surrendering.

“When General De Castries was captured, the Vietnamese soldiers jumped up and shouted in celebration and then fired into the sky. That moment will never be forgotten by me or the soldiers who fought that battle," Colonel Tai recalled.


The Dien Bien Phu Victory (May 7, 1954) was a great event in Vietnamese history, marking the collapse of the French colonial regime and one of the greatest defeats in France's war history.

According to Colonel Tai, the French prisoners of war cheered in celebration, shouting "la guerre est finie” (the war is over) because they had survived.

“After 56 days and nights of piercing the mountains to clear the way and dig tunnels, enduring hardship and making sacrifices with unwavering determination, the Vietnamese Army, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, won a historic victory,” said Tai.


Seventy years have passed, and the old Dien Bien soldier emotionally wished that hundreds and thousands of years from now, generations of descendants would continue to learn about the historic victory of Dien Bien Phu so that they would respect the sacrifice of their forefathers to protect the country’s sovereignty.

“I want to tell the stories of Dien Bien Phu until my last breath to let people know about Vietnamese history, the patriotism of the people, and the sacrifices my comrades made for the country,” Tai said. 



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