| Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh and his son's child |
“Boat 235 was a high-speed transport boat that was built in China. The boat was installed in with comparatively modern equipment and weapons that could operate for a long time in high sea and could combat against adversary vessels.
In the summer of 1966, I and some other comrades were entrusted to receive the boat in China. Nguyen Phan Vinh became the Captain of the boat. When we arrived in Hainan Island, China, we were trained for a time and assigned to hold different responsibilities on the boat. We were very happy being sailors on such a modern boat and all tried to train hard to quickly master it.
In February 1968, the crew of boat 235 was ordered to transport weapons and supplies to the landing place of Hon Heo, Khanh Hoa Province. During its journey in international waters, the boat was closely chased by enemy aircraft and ships. In this situation, Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh decided not to go ashore but find ways to deceive the enemy. Finally, we escaped from the enemy’s chasing and quickly steered the boat ashore.
On March 1st, 1968, the boat reached Hon Heo, we sparked signals for friendly forces from the shore but there was no reply. The Captain decided to anchor the boat and we started to unload the cargo. It was getting lighter and suddenly we saw many enemy boats going toward us. They started to engulf us and later enemy aircraft flew above our heads and called on us to surrender. In this life-and-death situation, Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh was still patient and ordered the crew to take positions and be ready to fight the enemy.
Waiting for enemy ships to come closer, the Captain ordered to fire at the enemy ships. All DKZ guns and 14.5 mm guns of the boat shot out at the targets at the same time. Surprised at our strong fire-power, the enemy ships, which were approaching close to our boat, got shot. Some were sunk immediately, others were on fire. The left enemy ships had to turn back out of the fire range. It was a chance for us to carry out the third combat plan: destroying the boat to keep secret of the mission.
We were ordered to lay blasting charges on the boat. Although destroying the boat could mean that some should sacrifice themselves with the boat, the Captain looked so calm and persistent and his iron will encouraged us much. After the explosives were reported to be deployed, the Captain went to every position to ensure that the explosives had been charged. Things were well done and some of us were ordered to stay on the boat to fire the explosives, the others jumped down and tried to swim ashore.
When we swam near the shore, we heard a mighty sound. Looking back, we saw a huge fire basting from the boat position. After a while, we, the surviving sailors, landed ashore. Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh divided us into two small groups. Our group was composed of 7 people and led by officer Doan Van Nhi, who was injured when fighting with the enemy while onboard. The other group was led by Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh. The two groups went in different directions in an effort to find friendly forces. Later I knew that the group that was led by Captain Phan Van Vinh encountered enemy and the Captain and members of Boat 235 fought against the enemy to the last breath on the next morning. The battle was then reported by both Hanoi’s and Sai Gon’s mass media as fierce fighting.
Our group kept moving slowly for 7 or 8 days. We all were hungry, thirsty and worn-out. The wound of the group’s leader Doan Van Nhi became worse. One day, when our group took shelter, Mai Van Khung, a member of the group, was assigned to get water. But he was arrested (he was later sent to Phu Quoc prison) and the enemy found us. We tried to fight them away but leader Doan Van Nhi laid down and surrendered. The five members of us who were left then moved to another place to hide. In the daylight, we took shelter to avoid the enemy and tried to move along the coastline during the night in an effort to go back to the North.
On the thirteenth day of our hard journey returning home, we had almost no food and water to eat and drink, and we were losing our last strength. At night, when the hope to find the way home was almost gone, we saw a figure wading along the beach and seemingly looking for something. Two of us crawled to him and suddenly overpowered him. Fortunately, he was of friendly forces, who was trying to find us. We were then taken to a friendly force’s base. Escaping from death we were all happy but then we became so painful when having known that Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh and other members laid down their lives in a brutal battle with enemy. At the base, we were fed and attentively cared for so we recovered quickly.
After a short time, all five of us decided to go back to the North. It took us 6 months to walk across the Truong Son Mountain Range to the North. We returned to our unit and continued our journeys to transport weapons and supplies to southern fronts.
Recently, I had a chance to return to Hon Heo. I visited the people and comrades there, who had covered and saved my life in those fierce days. I also visited the monument there, which commemorates the 14 heroic soldiers, including Captain Nguyen Phan Vinh, who laid down their lives for the secret mission.
Translated by Thu Nguyen