TRAN VAN TRA, "CONCERNING EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS, 1973"

With regard to the exchange of prisoners in accordance with the agreement, we succeeded in securing the release of our people who had been captured during the war. Maj Nguyen Thi Dung, a member of our military delegation, was responsible for the POW exchange. She was very active and aggressive, visiting all of the puppet prisons, from Bien Hoa to Con Dao and Phu Quoc. She was the only female member of the four military delegations, spoke French and English fluently, was attractive and polite, and struggled resolutely, which won the respect of the Americans and puppets. We were proud of her. She worked at disseminating the articles of the agreement regarding the exchange of POW's to our men who were still imprisoned, struggled for the improvement of prison conditions, and demanded the return of those who were still detained. The enemy did not return everyone and were not sincere, but we were able to liberate a considerable number of our cadres and men, people who had fought heroically but had fallen into the hands of the enemy and had been subjected to their barbarous treatment.

We returned all American and puppet POW's we were detaining.

But another important matter was that in the course of the 60 days of face-to-face meetings with the enemy we gained better understanding of them. The Americans were only interested in obtaining the release of their POW's as a gift to the American people, and in bringing the U.S. troops home, as demanded by the American people. Otherwise, they continued to implement their policy of Vietnamizing the war so that they could remain in Vietnam.

. . . .

I informed Woodward that because our communications were difficult I had only just received a delayed message that there was one additional American POW our forces were holding in Tra Vinh Province. In order to express our good will and correctly implement the Paris Agreement, we wanted to turn him over to the Americans. On the following day the two sides would assign cadres to carry out the turning over of that last American POW. I said that personally I regarded that as a friendship gift to the lieutenant general to commemorate the 60 days we worked together on the Four-Party Joint Military Commission (my intention was to suggest that because of that Woodward would be commended and promoted).

Woodward was openly very pleased, thanked me profusely and, in order to express his gratitude, inquired about my health and asked if I had any plans for the future.

It was a question that was asked at the right place and at the right time. That was all I could hope for. I replied that I planned to take a trip to Hanoi and, along the way, visit Laos. Woodward and Wickham thought that I intended to help resolve the question of American and puppet POW's in Laos, but could not say so. Woodward appeared to be very anxious and asked, "When do you plan to go?" "I'll go tomorrow if you'll provide the means." He replied, "You will have the means. I'll arrange for a C130 flight to Hanoi tomorrow morning."

I expressed my gratitude and reminded him that on the following morning one of our officers would meet with the American officer to arrange the turning over of the POW at Tra Vinh. He thanked me and asked me whether the C130 should wait to bring me back. If not, how would I return? (The U.S. delegation would cease operations and return to the United States on 31 March. After that date it would be necessary to use a puppet facility.)

I smiled and said that I might return to saigon by way of Paris, so that I could visit another famous European capital (Woodward thought that I needed to meet with our delegation to Paris).

Woodward was very pleased, said that that was a good idea, and said goodbye. He did not forget to affirm that an airplane would be available on the following morning.

On the morning of 30 [March] 1973 the puppet officer who brought a convoy of sedans to pick me up at my residence and take me to the ramp of the airplane was very deferential. Accompanying me to the airfield to see me off to Hanoi were Maj Gen Le Quang Hoa, Major General Woodward, head of the U.S. delegation and his wife. I warmly shook hands with and said goodbye to everyone. The warm, affectionate, and extremely moving handshakes secretly signified a victory and the sympathetic handshakes secretly expressed mutual gratitude. Woodward wished me a safe journey and good luck, and said that he would send an airplane to Hanoi to bring me back, even though I had not requested him to do so. I wished Mr. and Mrs. Woodward good fortune, stepped aboard the airplane, and waved to everyone. Thus aboard the American C130 (the Americans were courteous enough to provide a seat for me in the cockpit) I, Lt. Col Nguyen Quang Minh (a research cadre with the Joint Commission), Dr. Le Hoai Liem, the interpreter Dung, the bodyguard Hoa, and a number of other cadres, would fly from from saigon to Hanoi, thus ending 60 days of very seething and tense activity in the bosom of the enemy.

Sitting aboard the airplane and for the first time flying the length of the country, from Saigon to Hanoi, I felt disturbed and moved. There it was, a country that had existed 4,000 years and had been built by the blood and sweat of countless generations, in the past and in the present. The fresh green villages, the endless mountains and jungles, the long coastline with white sand beaches, and the immense blue continental shelf were truly a phantasmagoria. The gentle rays of the bright March sky embellished the scene with marvelous, sparkling colors. It was very beautiful, that homeland of ours. Also very beautiful were the heroism, intelligence, creativity, and persistent labor, generation after generation, of the millions of Vietnamese who built the beautiful country of today. I was very grateful for my ancestors and suddenly I remembered Uncle Ho and what he once told our troops in the Hung Temple on the side of Mt. Nghia: "The Hung kings achieved merit by founding the nation; you and I must work together to preserve it."

The words of Uncle Ho have been deeply engraved in the hearts of the Vietnamese people. No enemy, even the chief imperialists from across the Pacific or the shameless expansionists from the north, will be smashed to smithereens and be chased out of our country. L Chief Thong in the past, and Nguyen Van Thieu in the present, will live in infamy. Our homeland was certain to be independent, free and unified by any means.

The airplane was flying over the Red River Delta! Hanoi - our beloved capital and the heart of the homeland. I had lived in Hanoi for a long time and had worked there. Several times I had left it and returned. But this time was somehow different: I was strangely excited and moved, as if I were a child who had been far away for a long time wrestling with the difficulties and dangers of life and now was suddenly able to return to my warm home and be with my sweet, beloved mother. I was home: the child had returned to his sweet mother, so that he could again prepare to set out on another distant journey completely different from the one he had just taken.

Three days later a C130 from Saigon landed at Gia Lam airfield to pick me up - just as Woodward had promised. I sent Lt. Col. Nguyen Quang Minh to inform the American officer commanding the airplane that I was not yet able to leave. Comrade Minh wrote a notice stating that Lt. Gen. Tran Van Tra was busy and could not leave, and authorizing the airplane to return to Tan Son Nhat without having to return to Hanoi at a later date to pick him up. He did not forget to express my thanks.

In my extreme happiness over being able to return to our beloved capital, and with a feeling of freedom and relaxation from being with my friends, comrades and compatriots, I thought fondly of my comrades who were still at Tan Son Nhat. Because of a mission that was indispensable in the present phase of the struggle, those comrades had to live and work in a tense atmosphere while surrounded by the enemy, for how long no one knew. In the future, what would happen to those comrades at the hands of the obstinate and insidious enemy? I calmed myself by thinking that those of us in the liberated area must go all-out and cooperate closely with those comrades in order to win victory for the revolution. It was certain that those comrades would not be isolated, for they had us and the people, even in Saigon. One day we would meet again to celebrate the victory.

 

 

Source: Tran Van Tra, Concluding the 30-Years War (1982), pp. 25, 27-29.

 

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