Never give up Explosions, screaming, chaos everywhere. The day was November 19th, 1946. I was thirteen years old. I had always been used to some bombings in Vietnam from WWII, but this was horrible. There were hundreds of people flooded on Highway Ten evacuating with all their belongings on their shoulders and backs. The French Vietnamese war had Just started. I had escaped from a bunker with only a shirt and ran for my life. At that time I had been staying with my sister, whom had Just given birth to a new baby. Along with her uncle-in-law, we fled to Kien An, my home town, and met with my mother and three sisters.
When we arrived, I saw there was nothing left except the school I had gone to. It was the place where I had learned, enjoyed, and loved. I remember that when the school had first opened, my teacher, Mr. Than, asked me to read a welcoming speech and answer a couple questions in French for the school. I was chosen because I was a responsible and studious child. He told me, “You must answer three questions. One. What is your name? ‘ Two. ‘How old are you? ‘ Three. What grade are you in? ‘” I went home and recited my aanswers hundreds of times. On the day of the festival, I was sweating like a pig roasting on an open fire.
There were Vietnamese officials, military troops, and even a band. I got up on the stage in my black robes, unfolded my speech, and then read it fluently. Then the resident superior asked me the three questions. The sweat then began dripping down my back. “What is your name? ” he asked. Ledinh 2 “Ninh Le,” I replied smoothly. “How old are you? ” he asked. “Nine years old,” I replied confidently again. “What grade are you in? ” he asked finally. Then I froze. I had forgotten my answer. I was sweating hard and I felt as hot as a day working in a drought. Luckily the province chief sitting down helped me answer he question.
I finally answered, “Fourth grade. ” Everyone then started cheering and I felt a wave of relief overcome me. The resident superior rubbed my head and shook my hand. That was my greatest memory of my school, but now it was the only thing standing in the whole town. My house was gone, but my family was still here. From there we went to Kien Thuy, but in 1947, after Tet, we decided to split the family and head in different directions. My brother Qui and I would go to a youth camp set up by the government, while my mother and three sisters would head to safer area.
That morning when we ad set off in different paths, it reminded me of an elementary school book quote. “Oh! The good bye scenery was so sorrowful. ” We never looked back and I felt sorrow tthroughout my body. we arrlvea at tne camp wltn only a couple sets 0T clotnes ana no nope tnat I would ever see my mother again. The youth camp was in a big pagoda in the middle of some rice fields. The camp had about 100 youths in there and we were assigned in groups of 12. I was a leader of a group and had to take role, give instructions, and supervise other kids. It was a very hard way of living.
We had no cleaning utensils, education, or beds and blankets. All we had was each other’s company. Ledinh 3 A few months after we came to the camp, the French had come closer and we were in danger. While we were leaving, one of the leaders, A’, persuaded me to stay and fight in the resistance movement. I should have declined because my brother was moving with everyone else, but I was naive and wanted to be a hero so I stayed. I became a messenger for the Viet-Minh, a communist organization leading the revolution. Along with Tien, we were the only two staff members of our district.
We went from village to village transporting messages to help the revolution. I xperienced many things along my Journey with Tien. We escaped from the French, had my first taste of milk in years, watched a man get tortured, and another man executed. Months working in the war zone passed by and soon, I was reunited with my family and my mother. I was ecstatic when I saw my mother again. I thought I would never see her again but everything worked out. My family had been living in Tai-xa, where my mom and siblings sold items at the local market. I no longer starved, but it was still difficult for my family to provide enough rice for everyone.
My brother and I were in the stage of ur lives where we ate like horses. To earn more money, Qui and I got Jobs at the market. Again I became a messenger, but this time it was for the Indochina Communist Party. There I was able to read political books on Kemal, Marx, Tito, and Stalin. My Job carrying letters and doing favors, became very hard physically. Sometimes I would have to run for hours in the dark and in rain, and then in the blazing sun. One time I was running for eight hours straight, and I collapsed in the middle of nowhere. I felt like my brain froze and stopped working.
It was as if I had be drugged and couldn’t control my body. Somehow I managed to slowly get up and drag myself to the closest town. Ledinh 4 Soon life had become almost normal again. Although the war wasn’t over, there were no more bombings and my family returned to Kien-An while I went to school in Dong-nam. Dong-nam was a city that was like a Chicago of Vietnam. It was a very busy city with restaurants, pharmacies, and bookstores everywhere. There were even paved roads. It was a fun city where my five school friends and I hung out. My high school was very small and only had a few sstudents and teachers.
We lived at school and cooked food at school for ourselves. I would only go and see my family once a month to receive my allowance. I was basically living on my own. One day, I was walking home from school, and my teacher came up to me and told me I had to Join the army. He gave me a small yellow card. It was very rough and I just wanted to rip it to shreds. Only low educated people were enlisted in the army. I was almost done with my 1 lth grade and was ready to geta good Job. “WHY ME? WHY ME? ” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Plus I wasn’t even fighting for the right side.
My siblings fought for the resistance and I worked for the resistance previously. Now I nao to Tlgnt Tor tne Frencn. I packed up my stun ana agaln sala gooaoye to my family. Again I was afraid I would not be able to see them again. “30th platoon, 9th company,” the man told me. I was a reserved officer student assigned to an artillery company. The only items we received were a pair of chopsticks, our uniform, and a drinking glass. The chopsticks were made out of a rough wood, the uniform was uncomfortable and ugly, but the drinking glass was so clear, it was hard to determine whether or not it was there.
Training in the military was harsh. We woke up at five o’clock every morning to o physical education. I didn’t struggle with the running and obstacle courses, but the worst part was learning about guns. I was assigned a Garand MI . It was way too heavy and too long for my body size. Whenever I shot it I would be Ledinh 5 sent back a foot because of how powerful it was. As a soldier, we had to learn about all the functions of a gun. We had to take apart the gun and then put it back together. I feared by doing this, if I messed up putting the gun together, it could possibly explode and kill me.
We also had to sit in the sun for hours at the firing ange, working on our firing position and aim. At first I felt very sad that I left my family, but I realized that this was Just another bump on the road and I needed to get past it. After I realized I needed to get past this challenge, I worked harder every day. I eventually got on the list of top ten quickest times for assembling and disassembling a gun out of twelve hundred sstudents. I became so happy after I graduated from training and could temporarily return home, but then I ran into a mountain I couldn’t get over.
When finishing our training, we were allowed to chose where we could deploy. I chose the 33rd Artillery because they were deployed in the North and I wanted to leave the army and visit my family. The biggest problem was a day later, a major told us that we weren’t allowed to return to the North because the South’s troops are retreating from there. I was devastated. There would be no chance I would ever be able to see my family again. I’ve been separated from my family so many times, but this one hurt the most. I was unable to send letters or telegrams to my family because the postal service had been separated when the North and South split.
The 33rd artillery was then disbanded and I Joined the 22nd Artillery Battalion. I then rose through the ranks. I was very lucky, because one of the Batter Commander’s Lieutenants, became sick. This allowed me to become commander of the “C” battery. Then I became a 1st Lieutenant. It was quite a shock to me, that a twenty two year old could have control of over one hundred soldiers. Soon however, I left to go to France for more training. I decided to do this Ledinh 6 because at the time I had no one in my life and I thought it would be a good oopportunity to experience a new country.
France was Just like they said back in Vietnam. The Eiffel Tower was so magnificent and beautiful that when I saw it my Jaw hit the ground. I visited the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Pont Neuf, and even saw the best long range runner at the time, Zatopek, a Russian Colonel. Everything was great about France except for the weather. In the winter it was freezing there and we would have to Jump up and down to Keep warm. 10 enjoy ourselves we 010 skate on our metal stuaaea snoes, out I always fell down and was laughed at. Months later I returned to Vietnam as part of the 2nd Division.
I was a battalion firing officer, a non-commanding position, so I was able to take a vacation at Da Nang. There my life changed completely. One day when I was playing soccer, I saw this pretty girl standing on her porch across the field. One could say I got a coup de foudre, or love at first sight. Every day I would try to find out who she was. I would try to stand behind her at mass or accidentally walk into her on the street. I eventually found out her name was Phuong, meaning flame tree. We eventually started spending time at the beach drinking and playing ping pong or foosball.
She was my partner in foosball and it was always fun playing with her because she was good. One evening, Phuong went out alone to pray at church. She was alone at the alley when I stopped in front of her and asked, “Although I do not know you, I am very sympathetic to you. ” All she could reply with was, “Thank you. ” I had done this because of an old Vietnamese folk song: “l regret so much that you are married. Why did you not ask for my hand the time I was still single? Ledinh 7 I am married now. Like a bird in a cage, like a fish that bit a fishhook. How a fish escapes after being hooked.
When can a bird get out of the cage? ” I felt that this was my only chance to tell her my feelings because if I didn’t, she may get married to another man. On the last day of my visit to Da Nang, Phuong came up to me and told me to ask her mother about my feelings. Sometimes in Vietnam, we would see burning traces from meteors in the sky. We would make a wish as the traces passed by. A few months prior, I had made a wish of wanting to get married. Now was my chance. I asked her mother if I could marry her daughter. She said one thing, “Will you convert to Catholicism. ”
I thought to myself, “However many religions you want me to convert to I will do it. As long as I can be with her. ” I married her on September 2nd, 1957. Oddly, back when I was in school I had promised myself three things. First I would never enlist in the army. Secondly I would never marry a girl with curly hair. Lastly I would not marry a Catholic girl. I guess the old Vietnamese saying is always true. “You always get what you dont like. ” Although I never got to see my family or North Vietnam again, I found pleasure in living with my true love in South Vietnam, my new home.