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Jul 03, 2022 / 21:22

Who is the Vietnamese for whom a Paris’s square has just been named?

Do Huu Vi (1883-1916) was honored by France as one of more than 300 people of overseas origin with meritorious services to the European country.

A small square in the 16th arrondissement of Paris has been named after Vietnamese pilot Do Huu Vi, one of the first pilots in the French military, who died at age 33 in combat in France during World War I (1914-1918).

 At a ceremony marking the official naming of Do Huu Vi Square. Photo: VNA

In late June, a ceremony took place to name a small square in the center of the 16th arrondissement of Paris after Do Huu Vi, in the presence of Paris Deputy Mayor Laurence Patrice, Mayor of the 16th arrondissement Francis Szpiner, representatives of the Vietnamese Embassy in France, along with Do Huu Vi's relatives, local officials and residents.

Do Huu Vi Square is located at the intersection of Versailles Avenue and Quai Louis Blériot, 16th arrondissement, overlooking the Radio France headquarters and the Grenelle Bridge.

A hero of Cholon, Saigon

Do Huu Vi was born in Cholon as the youngest in a family of 11 children in Saigon. According to Trang An Newspaper, No. 856, currently archived at the National Library of Vietnam, Do attended La San Taberd High School (Saigon), before being sent by his father to France to study at the Lycée Janson de Sailly (Paris) and then in preparatory classes at the Lycée Louis le Grand. At the end of 1904, he took the entrance exam and was accepted into the Special Military School of Saint Cyr.

In 1906, Do graduated with the rank of Second Lieutenant and joined the first regiment of the French Foreign Legion, fighting in Casablanca, Morocco. In mid-1908, he returned to France, joined the crew of Louis Charles Joseph Blériot, flew over the English Channel and became interested in flying. During that time, he made friends with young pilot Victor Ménard.

Between 1908 and 1910, Do volunteered to fight on the border of Morocco and Algeria. After that, he returned to France again to receive military pilot training and was granted a co-pilot’s license by the Aero-Club de France. At the end of 1911, he and Ménard made a flight around France.

In December 1912, he returned to Morocco, joined General Brulard's reconnaissance squadron, and was promoted to First Lieutenant. At the end of 1913, he took leave in Indochina and was asked by the then Governor General, Albert Sarraut, to help build facilities for the colonial aviation agency.

Do also took part in testing a type of surfing boat, powered by an aircraft propeller engine, built by Charles de Lambert, on the Mekong and Red Rivers. His airshows in Saigon and Hanoi were hugely popular among the locals in those days.

Becoming famous during World War I

In August 1914, Do Huu Vi volunteered to return to France and join the reconnaissance squadron in World War I. He achieved many feats of arms and was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government.

In 1915, on the way back to his unit after a battle, his plane was caught in a storm and crashed in the village of Laffaux (Picardie region, France). He was seriously injured with a broken left arm, fractured jaw and skull, but still came out of a nine-day coma.

After receiving treatment, Do continued to fight. Unable to pilot aircraft, he took the position of aerial observer in the crew with pilot Marc Bannin.

In 1916, due to ill health, he was forced to give up his career as a pilot, reassigned to the infantry, promoted to Captain and appointed commander of the 7th Company of the 1st Foreign Legion, fighting in the Battle of the Somme.

On July 9, 1916, during an attack on the Germans, while leading the assault unit, Do was hit by many bullets and died on the front line. He was interred in the village of Dompierre in the Somme region. In 1921, his remains was sent to Vietnam and buried in the family plot.

In order to honor his contribution, the French government issued stamps featuring his image throughout Indochina, as well as gave his name to many schools and streets in the colonies and even in France.

Leaving his name on the roads

Currently, there are nearly 200 streets and landmarks in France named after Vietnamese places or characters. The preservation of their names in public memory through public spaces is intended to concretize French President Emmanuel Macron's aspiration to “strengthen the unity and cohesion of the peoples, with their diversity”.

Before 1945, Cua Bac Street in Hanoi was also called Do Huu Vi Street. In Saigon, there used to be a street named Do Huu Vi, now renamed Huynh Thuc Khang Street (District 1). Da Nang also had Do Huu Vi Street, which is now Hoang Dieu Street.

Today, in the village of Laffaux in Picardie, where he crashed, there is a short road named Do Huu Vi, located in a residential area, crossing the hill with old tunnels and blockhouses next to it.

Since Do Huu Vi spent most of his life living and working in France, newspaper articles from the period were the only records of him.

Not only being honored as one of more than 300 people of foreign descent with contributions to France, Do Huu Vi is also the only Asian face to be included in the “Portraits de France” exhibition at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, held at the beginning of 2022.