Colonel Hoang Minh Phuong, who was assistant to General Vo Nguyen Giap during the wars against the French and American invaders, has heart-warming tales to tell about Giap the human being.
General Vo Nguyen Giáp (L) meets veteran and war photo journalist Bui Duy Ly of the Quan Doi Nhan Dan (Army) newspaper Photo: Tuoi Tre
Phuong, 83, who will be in Ho Chi Minh City along with 350 other veterans to celebrate the 100th birthday of the legendary general on August 25, said: “I will never forget the image of General Giap who had to cover his head with mugwort leaves to keep awake a whole night to work out the strategy for fighting the Dien Bien Phu battle [to defeat the French].”
Mugwort has been used since ancient times as a traditional remedy against fatigue and headache.
“It was the night of January 25, 1954,” he recalled.
“I entered his office the following morning, saw the leaves covering his head, and asked him, ‘Do you have a headache?’”
He recalled Giap as saying: “I have been worried about the coming battle for the last 11 days. It is scheduled to start today but I do not see enough factors to achieve victory. I was sleepless last night, weighing the factors.
“You go and see the chief of the consultancy team and ask him for a meeting so that I can persuade them to delay the attack and withdraw the artillery.
“Our rule is steady fight and steady progress for sure victory.”
The Vietnamese people and soldiers owed him a debt of gratitude for his correct decision to delay the attack, Phuong said.
It was the decision to postpone it by four months that gave Vietnam final victory against the French on May 7, 1954, he said.
He began working for Giap in 1950 when he was just 22. It was two years after the great man had been promoted as general at 37.
General Vo Nguyen Giap with his wife finds leisure time with a piano in their house (Photo taken from archives by Tuoi Tre)
Phuong mentioned a story to highlight Giap’s humanity.
“I was assigned to be at the airport to complete some procedures so that Giap can board at 7 am. But I had stayed up until 4 am the previous night to translate documents and could only wake up at 7 am.
“I rushed to the airport and prepared myself for a severe reprimand.
“On seeing me at the airport, Giap just told me, ‘You stayed up late to translate, right? I guess I should help you find a wife to take care of you. It’s not good at all to stay up late like this.’
“I sighed and felt totally relieved. But General Giap did care for his teammates and soldiers and treated us as close friends. That is why we soldiers consider him our eldest brother.”
Giap remembered various popular folk songs sung by farmers in his home town in Quang Binh Province while harvesting or watering rice plants and grinding rice, he said.
At a recent meeting in HCMC, Giap’s daughter Vo Hoa Binh met veterans on behalf of her father.
“My father would tell me the biggest happiness for a general during war is staying with his soldiers on the battlefield.”
“I feel touched by the emotions our soldiers have for my father,” she said.
Followings are other images taken from archived photos:
Parents of General Vo Nguyen Giap (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Vietnam Army's chief commander Vo Nguyen Giap reviewed the troops for the first time in Hanoi after gaining power on August 26, 1945 (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
General Vo Nguyen Giap raised hand waving to greet his troops returning after winning the Dien Bien Phu battle (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Army soldiers carried General Vo Nguyen Giap on May 13, 1954 -- six days after winning the Dien Bien Phu battle (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
General Vo Nguyen Giap reviewed strategy to fight back US's B-52 planes raiding Hanoi in 1972 (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
General Vo Nguyen Giap (R) and astronaut Pham Tuan (sitting, L) at the space center Gagarin of the USSR in 1980 (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
General Vo Nguyen Giap (L) shakes hand with French former president Jacques Chirac in 1997 (Photo: Tuoi Tre)