TO: DFC III MAF - Ambassador Koren
Following are the experiences of my fiancée, Tuy-Cam, during the enemy occupation of Hué for the period she was there, January 31-February 14, together with some related information she learned.
When the attack began the early morning of January 31, Tuy-Cam was in her family residence, along with several other members of her family, including her mother, five sisters, and three brothers. The two eldest brothers are both RVNAF [Republic of Vietnam, i.e. South Vietnam, Armed Forces] officers.
The first time the family saw enemy forces was about 0300, when a large number of troops dressed in camouflage uniforms, similar to those worn by ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam, i.e. South Vietnamese regular army] airborne troops or PFF [South Vietnamese Police Field Forces], were observed running down the railroad track to the rear of the house. Later, Tuy-Cam learned that VC/NVA [Viet Cong and/or North Vietnamese Army] troops had come about 0200 to the house of a refugee family behind her house and had arrested two men of this family. Also later, an NVA soldier told Tuy-Cam that his unit had moved in from the jungle [mountainous area west of Hué] to Hué that night in seven hours, running most of the way, and that they were all exhausted when they arrived.
At about 0630, a group of NVA came to the house. Previously, the two eldest brothers had hidden in the attic. Four of the NVA banged on the door with their rifle butts and demanded and were given entrance into the house, while a group of others waited in the yard outside. On entering, the leader said, in effect, You are reactionaries and people who sell the country to the Americans. You have been living in ease, but now you must suffer. He put a pistol to the head of one of Tuy-Cam's sisters and forced her to lead them on a search of the house. They looked at the attic and asked if anyone hid there. She said, No one is there; if so, you can shoot me.
After the search, the family was taken to the Nam Giao bridge, about 100 yards from the house, where the NVA had assembled all of the people from the neighborhood. There, several family members were questioned about whether they knew of anyone who worked for Americans, where puppet forces might be hiding, etc., and especially about one of their uncles, who was a senior judge in the GVN [Government of South Vietnam] judicial system but had died a few months ago. There they also saw the owner of a bicycle repair shop in the area, who is widely believed to be the VC area cadre [official]. (He has been arrested twice [by the GVN] but released for lack of evidence.)
Later in the day, one of the NVA cadres made a propaganda speech to the assembled people. He told them, among other things, that Ho Chi Minh, whose old heart was suffering for the poor people of the South living under American domination, planned to visit Hué personally five days after its liberation was made final; and that the North Vietnamese government planned to build a textile mill in Hué so that the people might have employment. Leaflets were also distributed, listing Ten Policies of the Front [Communist provisional government], of which Tuy-Cam remembers the following three:
The family, except for two boys (Tuy-Cam's youngest brother and her cousin), was allowed to return home about 1700 that day, and they remained there until February 9. (The two boys, both teenagers, were allowed to return to the house the next day, on February 1.) A group of NVA troops came the evening of January 31 and took some boards and some banana trees for camouflage, and told them not to go out of the yard or to be curious about what the NVA were doing.
On each of the following days, a group of NVA came during the morning and searched the house, but they never looked in the attic, where the three young men were hiding. Also, the family was required to cook food one to six times every day for groups of 10 to 25 NVA. They were not compensated for this food, but they were told they would be repaid after the success of the revolution. The NVA soldiers who came to the house were polite and well-disciplined, and there was no looting or destruction of property.
From observation and the sound of firing, the principal enemy positions in the immediate vicinity seemed to be at the railroad station, the Government Delegate's residence, the Bao Quoc pagoda, a two-story building on Lam Son street near the Nam Giao bridge, and a doctor's house next door. Also, numerous individual foxholes were dug along the railroad track behind Tuy-Cam's house. Some sort of command post seemed to be located at the doctor's house.
All of this area was hit by Allied artillery, which seemed to come from Nam Hoa District and Phu Bai [a U.S. military base south of Hué], beginning February 1. This shelling increased in intensity, until by February 9 the area was receiving several rounds per day. Tuy-Cam's house was about 40% destroyed, but none of the family members was injured. [They had a sand-bag bunker in the house where they could take shelter.] On February 7, five new enemy mortar positions were installed in the immediate vicinity of the house. Moreover, on two occasions [GVN or American] speaker aircraft had urged the people to go to pagodas, churches, and schools; and the same information was broadcast on [GVN] Voice of Freedom radio. For all of these reasons, therefore, and because all of the other people in the neighborhood except the doctor and his family had already left, the family decided on February 9 to try to flee to their home village, located on the Perfume River about five kilometers west of the city.
From there, the family proceeded to a nearby hamlet, which is the native hamlet of VC General Than-trong Mot, who used to be a laborer on land belonging to Tuy-Cam's paternal grandfather. Tuy-Cam's mother knew him when he was young. There, they were hoping to get news of the arrested brothers. They observed that this place was occupied by a large number of both NVA and local VC, and several hundred bags of rice were stored there. One of the local VC told Tuy-Cam that this was General Mot's headquarters. An old man told them that the two brothers had been brought there but were taken away.
Tuy-Cam's mother went to visit one of Mot's uncles, whom she had know many years ago, to see if he could intercede on behalf of her sons. He replied sadly that one of his own relatives had also been arrested, and there was nothing he could do.
Next, the family returned to Tuong Van pagoda and spent the night there. The chief bonze, Venerable Thich Chon Thuc, knew Tuy-Cam and knew that she worked for the U.S. government. He told her it was very dangerous for her there and hid her under the altar. Groups of VC or NVA frequently came to search the pagoda but did not look under the altar. Chon Thuc was also hiding a local Vietnamese employee of CORDS at the time.
While hidden in the pagoda that night, Tuy-Cam overheard several conversations. In one, Thich Chon Thuc commented that the lack of U.S. response to the NVA attack on Hué seemed to indicate that the Americans might in some way be condoning it, perhaps to force a coalition government on the South. On another occasion, Chon Thuc told a group of NVA cadre that We Buddhists also fight the Thieu-Ky [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu and Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky) government and U.S. policy, so you shouldn't make a military base of this pagoda and thereby cause harm and destruction to Buddhism. In another conversation, a group of people were speculating that Allied tardiness in retaking Hué could be an effort of the GVN to punish the people of Hué for their past history of opposition to the [South Vietnamese] government.
One of Tuy-Cam's sisters overheard another group of people at the pagoda saying that Phu Cam village, a nearby Catholic area, had not been occupied by the NVA until February 2, and that the NVA had met stiff resistance from armed Catholic youth. Because of this resistance, they continued, all of the priests in Phu Cam whom the NVA could find had been arrested.
The family joined another group of refugees the morning of February 13 and went to the refugee center at Hué University Faculty of Pedagogy. There, however, there was no room for them, and conditions were very unhealthful, so when they met a family friend who was working as a guard at the Hué CORDS guest house, they accepted his invitation to stay in the guest house.
The guard at the CORDS guest house told Tuy-Cam that he had been arrested by the VC/NVA. He was also taken to a propaganda meeting, similar to the one Tuy-Cam's family was forced to attend, and was questioned as to whether he knew the whereabouts of anyone who worked for Americans or of any GVN soldiers or officials. He was told that anyone who worked for Americans would be shot immediately and their skin would be used to make shoes for VC. He was not harmed because he told his captors that the house where he worked belonged to a Vietnamese pharmacist (which it did before being purchased by CORDS) who was currently visiting Saigon, and one of the local VC confirmed this story.
The morning of February 14, a young man who had been held prisoner by the NVA and was later released told Tuy-Cam's mother that An had been held for two days and was then shot. He had no news about Long. [Neither was ever found, and they are presumed to have been executed by the NVA.]
[The day after this memorandum was completed, on February 17, Tuy-Cam and I returned to Hué for several days to assist her family and help with recovery efforts and reporting. We were married at the consulate general in Danang on March 16, and then departed for the United States.]