Women’s stories of liberation

As the whole country mobilised in the resistance war against the Americans, Vietnamese women played integral roles on and off the battlefield, securing victory and freedom for the nation. Le Huong reports.

It was a chilly winter night in 1965. American bombers hovered around Ta Vai Bridge in the northern province of Son La’s Yen Chau District, a vital route o­n the road that transported weapons and food to liberation troops in the south.

The bridge had been destroyed by an earlier series of bombings, hundreds of trucks formed a line of several kilometres along the meandering earthy road leading up to the stream.


With the help of army sappers, the ethnic Thai road maintenance team, comprised of 11 young girls, built a road of stones and wood over the water within two hours. But soon, another problem arose: the trucks could not drive over the makeshift bridge without guard rails, due to the darkness. They couldn’t use lights either; they didn’t want to attract the attention of US aircraft.

At that precarious moment, an idea popped into the mind of Quang Thi Linh, the 19-year-old head of the team.


She and the other girls took off their traditional long dresses and wore o­nly the white inner cotton layer, holding o­ne another’s hands to form a line so drivers could see the road in the misty night.


"That was a difficult decision for all of us," recalled Linh. "According to the Thai people’s custom, single women should never publicly wear our white underdress, and we o­nly wear white during funerals.


"But, to save the materials and men heading for the front and the lives of the drivers as well, we were willing to do anything," she said. With that thought in mind, the girls stood in cold water for ten hours to form a "living light" for hundreds of drivers.


Heroine shoulders burden

The enthusiasm of the Yen Chau girls is o­ne of thousands of examples of heroism found throughout the northern region during the battle against American forces that lasted from 1960 to 1975. An armed forces heroine, Ngo Thi Tuyen, is another legendary figure from that period.


As a local militia woman, Tuyen transported two boxes of anti-aircraft artillery shells to Ham Rong Bridge in the central coast province of Thanh Hoa. The boxes weighed 98kg, double her own body weight.


"I don’t know how I managed that incredible task," she said. "But at that time, my o­nly thought was that our soldiers were in need of equipment to shoot down the bombers." Tuyen added that several months later, she o­nce again proved the power of Vietnamese resilience in an interview with a Western journalist. "He didn’t believe that such a small person like me could shoulder such a heavy burden," she said. "I persuaded him by picking up a sack of potatoes and a sack of rice that together had a total weight of 105kg."


A heroic region

"We had wholehearted support for the southern people, Thai Binh was always bustling as during festivals during the support campaigns for the southern battle fields," recalled Do Gia Bot, head of Thai Binh Province’s Department for Information and Education.


"Young people flocked to army recruitment sites, some people even wrote their application forms in their own blood."


According to statistics, during the American War, Thai Binh sent 151,993 people to the fronts, and had the highest enlistment rate in the northern region at 14 per cent. The province also had the highest number of war invalids and martyrs, with 33,000 killed in battle and 22,000 wounded or sick.


Apart from sending troops to the front lines, Thai Binh’s local militia kept watch 24 hours a day for low-flying US aircraft and spying warships. Between 1964 and 1975, the militia shot down 44 American airplanes, set four warships o­n fire and captured two pilots.


The province also sent 650,000 tonnes of cereal and food to the front.


Rear offensive

Late president Ho Chi Minh stressed in his speech at the 3rd Party Congress in Ha Noi in September, 1960, the need to establish socialism in the north to turn the region into a great rear force for the war.


Five years later, the face of northern society changed dramatically. Eighty-nine per cent of farmer households joined agricultural co-operatives. Agricultural yields increased 4 per cent per year, 1.5 times greater than during the French colonial period. Nine districts and 125 agricultural co-operatives in the region reached yields of five tonnes of rice per hectare, the highest ever at the time. More than 3,100 factories and 1,500 irrigation systems were built. Several industrial centres were established in Ha Noi, Hai Phong, Thai Nguyen and Viet Tri.


"The northern region has made the greatest steps ever in history," remarked President Ho as he assessed the results of the first five years of implementing the congress resolution. “The entire society and people have been renewed."


With the Ba San Sang (Three Readiness) Movement — ready to fight, ready to join the army and ready to go anywhere needed — launched by the Central Youth Union, 4 million young people in the north played leading roles in production, combat and academics during wartime.


The number of soldiers and military specialists sent to the southern battlefields rose according to the increasingly fierce features of the war. In 1960, more than 1,200 people went to the south. By 1974, the number reached nearly 296,200.


Over the 16 year period, approximately 1,349,000 tonnes of weapons, military equipment and food was transported through the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the front lines.


The Ba Dam Dang movement (which included three tasks: taking over jobs for men who joined the army; caring for families to encourage husbands and sons to fulfil military missions, and serving the army when necessary) turned the fairer sex into a force to be reckoned with. Nearly 70,000 of the 133,200 female volunteers have been named heroines for their work maintaining the invaluable supply line.


"Women shouldered a crucial task during the war: they built up a strong socialist rear and provided the front lines with endless material and spiritual support," noted late Party General Secretary Le Duan at the 4th Viet Nam Women’s Congress held in Ha Noi in March, 1974.


A powerful rear force and thousands of unnamed heroic women produced and transported the vital materials that clinched the spring victory of 1975. Without the contributions of average citizens in the north willing to sacrifice all, peace may have come too late.

(Source: Vietnam News Agency)