On a Monday in January 1973, at the Regional Command Headquarters, in a bunker in the middle of a jungle base area, the atmosphere was bustling and seething. We were monitoring the situation on the battlefield and the units, but our focus was on urgently discussing a plan and measures for implementing the Paris Agreement strictly and effectively. Many tasks had to be carried out: quickly reorganizing our forces, being vigilant toward the enemy, whom we had known well for a long time, etc. Suddenly a staff cadre entered and handed comrade Nam Nga (i.e. Maj. Gen. Nguyen Minh Chau), regional chief of staff at that time, an urgent message. Comrade Nam Nga quickly read the message with a serious expression that could have meant either happiness or worry, handed it to me. The message said that the Central Committee had appointed me head of the military delegation of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam to the Four-Party Joint Military Commission in Saigon. Oh! How sudden! The Central Office (COSVN) and the Regional Military Party Committee had decided on the make-up of the delegation in advance, and it had already been approved by the Central Committee, but now there was a sudden last minute change. In only three more days, I would have to be in Saigon.
During my several decades as a soldier, I had experienced many surprises, on the battlefield, in my work, and from people -- both friends and enemies -- but that surprise both pleased and worried me. It worried me because I was unfamiliar with such work and the time was too pressing: I had to pack and set out before I had time to get a handle on the job, let alone making full preparations for the new struggle front, which was completely different from the battlefield. However, that was not the first time I had been surprised by an assignment from the upper echelon. I was used to it. I had confidence in the leadership of the upper echelon and in my colleagues, and confidence in myself. I calmly accepted my responsibility. In fact, in this instance there was greater enjoyment in it for me. My beloved Saigon! For a long time, during the era of the French colonialists, I had lived, engaged in seething revolutionary activities, won victories, and tasted defeat there. I had been away from the city fighting for decades, and was now returning in full view of the people and my comrades, and within the thick encirclement of the enemy. The streets, markets, factories, poor workers' neighborhoods which I knew in the past had now certainly changed greatly, but even so I still had memories of other people from Saigon, like myself, who decided to leave so that they could later return in triumph. Once before, I had tried to return but couldn't. This time, although it was not to be a permanent return, was as delightful as a beautiful dream. Every minute many imagined images of Saigon, both in the past and in the present, passed across my mind like a roll of film. When he saw he sitting in silence, comrade Muoi Khang (i.e. Senior General Hoang Van Thai, then a lieutenant general), asked me, "What else can you do but accept the mission? Congratulations!"
He then came up to shake my hand and hug and kiss me, and suddenly the room was echoing with congratulations and requests, and was tumultuous with the sound of laughter. There was no longer the atmosphere of a meeting. I exchanged a few pleasantries with Muoi Khang, then requested permission to prepare for my trip to Saigon. Muoi Khang would care for everything for me at home.
When I went back to my house and looked around at what had been familiar surroundings for years, I was suddenly saddened by the prospect of leaving. A light breeze blew in, bringing along the sweet scents of a myriad of flowers in the green jungle. In front of the house, in a narrow field extending along the valley, flocks of small birds hastily gleaned the grains of rice, which were dropped during the recent harvest. The stream running along the fields was winding its way under rows of trees that were leafless because of the bombing and shelling. There had just appeared a few fresh young saplings. Every object that day seemed to have an overflowing, fresh, affectionate soul. I don't know how long I would have sat there mediating if Chin Vinh (Maj. Gen. Tran Do) and Hai Le (Maj. Gen. Le Van Tuong), the deputy political officer and political director of the Regional Command, had not come in and pulled me back to reality.
"Do you need anything else? Are you satisfied with the organization and composition of your Joint Commission delegation?" asked Chin Vinh.
I agreed to maintain unchanged everything that had been arranged, and only requested the addition of comrade Tu Bon (Senior Colonel Nguyen Huu Tri), an intelligence cadre and Army Hero who had lived in Saigon more than 3 years and who had come to the base only a few months previously, after learning that he had been compromised. He was an expert on Saigon and knew all of its streets and many people in various circles in the city. In addition to helping me carry out a number of tasks, he would be my driver if the enemy agreed to let us provide our own drivers.
Hai Le informed me that "The Central Committee had requested you to tell it what name you intend to use so that it can be passed on to Paris. Our delegation must inform the U.S.-puppet side."
Like everything else, I had never used my real name, but had habitually used a code name, which I had changed now and then to make it difficult for the enemy to monitor me and maintain secrecy for our operations. The usual practice in wartime was for us to use a different name for each task during each phase. Now, faced with a new mission, I would meet the enemy face to face and would of course have to choose a name. Almost without thinking, I took the name "Nguyen Viet Chau," the name of a younger brother with whom I had been very close and who was killed in 1969 when he was presiding over a meeting of the party committee of Can Tho City. My brother and I had lived in Saigon, had participated together in the August 1945 uprising, and had left our beloved Saigon to take part in the resistance war. Now I was returning to that city and naturally thought about my esteemed younger brother, my comrade in death as well as life. I was happy to take that unforgettable name. But then one day, during an ordinary meal at the Regional Command at which Bay Cuong (comrade Pham Hung, a member of the Political Bureau and secretary of COSVN) was present, I suddenly remembered that I was not returning to Saigon as a stranger but was going under an assumed name, which would be inconvenient.
Many of the people of Saigon could not forget their children who had gone to fight in the resistance war years ago and in whom they had placed their confidence and hope. And a considerable number of the enemy, such as Tran Thien Khime, the puppet premier, Lam Van Phat, a puppet major general, and a number of others, knew me. After graduating from the French military academy in Dalat they went to Dong Thap Muoi to join the resistance. As the commander of Military Region 8 at that time, I accepted and sent them to study and practice at the military region military administration school. But then, because they could not bear the hardships and did not love their country or their people, they deserted, surrendered to the French, and continued to serve their French, and the American, masters. Even the Americans might have dozens of photographs of me. Thus it would be best to use a name with which everyone, friend and foe alike, was familiar. The members of COSVN and the Regional Military Party Commission agreed. Thus I recommended that the Central Committee agree to the change and send a message to Paris so that the other side could be informed that the head of the delegation of the PRG of the RSV would be Lt. Gen. Tran Van Tra.
Source: Tran Van Tra, Concluding
the 30-Years War (1982), pp. 7-9.