I am a surviving witness of the Vietnamese communist atrocities that followed the 1968 Tết Offensive. I wish to report the details surrounding the deaths of my paternal grandfather, my three brothers, and a close friend of theirs. This account aims to echo the plaintive cries of my cherished deceased family members and many citizens of Hue City. It is also a testament to the atrocities committed and the suffering endured by my family and many others during the Tết Offensive. It serves as a plea for justice for the innocent victims of the Vietnamese Communist Party and its brutal enforcers. It speaks on behalf of those whose loved ones were slain and who, currently trapped in Vietnam, cannot voice the gross injustices inflicted by the Vietnamese Communist Party (CPV) and its henchmen like Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan and Nguyễn Thị Đoan Trinh, who were ruthless, trigger-happy murderers.

Author Nguyễn Thị Thái Hoà

Translated by Nguyễn văn Thái

In 1968, I was a first-year student at the Huế nursing school. Our theory classes were joint, but students were divided into teams of 8 to 10 for our internship program at various wards of the Huế Central Hospital. Some wards had practice sessions during administrative hours, while others, like the ER (Emergency Room) and the internal medicine room, operated in shifts: morning (7 AM to 2 PM), evening (2 PM to 9 PM), and night (9 PM to 7 AM the next day). Each ward internship lasted 2 to 3 weeks.

Two weeks before Tết, our team was assigned to the ER. On the 2nd day of Tết, two friends and I were on the night shift. My father was on active duty far away and could not return for Tết. As per our tradition, my siblings and I went to our paternal grandparents’ home on the 30th day before Tết and stayed there through the 1st day. After dinner on the 1st day of Tết, around 8:30 PM, my eldest brother gave me a lift on his Honda motorbike to the hospital, promising to pick me up the next morning.

The ER was relatively quiet on the first night of Tết. Some medical students, two ER workers, and I were joking about our luck and snacking on the sweet goodies we had brought. We were taking turns overseeing the patients who had been admitted the previous night and had not yet been transferred to another ward.

Around midnight, we started hearing gunshots. At first, they were distant, then they grew nearer and nearer. Panic set in as we anxiously looked at one another. We initially thought the city and hospital were being shelled. But around 3-4 AM, a group of more than ten people claiming to be “liberation army militants” swarmed into the ER. Clad in black pajamas, rifles on their shoulders, and sling bags at their hips, they forced us to bandage the wounded while ransacking the place for medical supplies. They went through the area with a fine-tooth comb, leaving no stone unturned, including the goodies we left in the on-call room. Amid their frantic search, a shell exploded nearby, and the power went out. In the chaos, we escaped, each on their own.

Once out of the ER, I ran with my head down, gunshots echoing everywhere. I lay down to avoid being shot, then stood up to run again, not knowing where I was heading until I bumped into Father Trung. He looked haggard, and anxiety was etched on his face. Seeing me, he asked where I ran from. I told him from the ER, and we ran together to the hospital chapel, his regular residence. Two nuns and some other people had also sought refuge there. I recognized one of the nuns as a proctor from my boarding high school, Jeanne D’Arc.

Father Trung knew my grandfather and my parents, so I decided to stay at the chapel. For four or five days, we huddled together, not daring to venture outside amid the constant gunfire. After the group of self-proclaimed “liberation army militants” had left, we didn’t see any other Vietcongs; they might have been hiding elsewhere in the hospital.

On the fifth day, anxious about my family on Hàm Nghi Street, I told Father Trung I wanted to go home. He advised against it due to the danger, urging me to stay until our soldiers arrived. I asked him when our soldiers would show up and his answer was sooner or later they should launch counterattacks. Despite his efforts to calm me, I could see his anguish.

One person from the group reported that a great number of people had sought refuge in Phủ Cam Church. The news heightened my resolve to go home. Hungry and worried about my Mom and my brothers, I decided to run home. Dressed in a blood-drenched uniform, I ran to the hospital’s back gate, cautiously trying to makemy way home. I looked back and forth and saw not a single soul, but the gunshots sounded so near. I did not know how many times I stumbled and fell. I fell and then painfully crawled up to a standing posture, and tripped again after a few steps. I felt freezing; my teeth were chattering, looking at human bodies lying around, with pools of blood nearby. The spectacle of death haunted me. I was wondering if they got wounded somewhere outside, and tried to run and succumbed inside the hospital.

Extremely frightened, just as I intended to run back to the chapel when, all of a sudden, I encountered Văn, panic-stricken, running in from the back gate. Văn was a friend of Hải, my next elder brother; both were attending the Faculty of Letters, at Huế University. Văn’s home was located in the upper part of town, near Thiên An Monastery. Văn looked pale, befuddled, his eyes sunken in. Seeing me, he gabbled on and could hardly utter his words: “Oh, Ti, Hải was shot to death. He was killed at the Faculty of Letters.”

I trembled and sank to my knees. Văn helped me stand up. Again more explosions thundered very close by. Frantically Văn pulled me aside to run and hide at the inside wall next to the back gate of the hospital. The two of us, shaking violently, were trying to snuggle up against each other. A moment later, he started mumbling. He gave an account of the last few nights when Văn and my brothers were hiding in the Cathedral ( Phủ Cam Church), some university students of ours led a group of Vietcongs to the church on the previous night and read out a list of numerous people to be taken away; nobody knew where. He told me in one breath the whole long list of the “university students of ours”, whose names I could not remember. When the group of selected people was driven away, their relatives were wailing lamentably.

Later on, Hải and his friends all together stole out of the church and then it was everyone for himself. Once out of the church, they tried to conceal themselves in different places and then ran hither and thither in such a way that somehow Văn and Hải finally ended up at the Faculty of Medicine. My brothers Lộc and Kính lost their way somewhere. No sooner did Văn and Hải decide to hide in the laboratory than they saw dead bodies lying around with pools of blood still fresh. Frightened, they ran out. As they were barely out of the laboratory, they saw Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan, Nguyễn Thị Đoan Trinh, and some other students, whose names were unknown to Văn. He only knew that they belonged to the same cabal. Văn knew Phan because he had a brother who attended the Faculty of Medicine with Phan. Seeing Văn, Phan browbeat him, yelling, “Where could you run and hide, bastard?” “Damn you, you’d better not fail to go to the Faculty of Letters in the wait for transporting the wounded”. Hải and Văn knew there would be no way to escape their sway and hurriedly decided to run to the Faculty of Letters, hoping they would rather be forced to transport the wounded than be killed.

Trinh and Phan rode their Honda motorbikes ahead and shot dead some other people. Not knowing what had happened, Hải and Văn arrived. Hải came first, thinking he would meet other friends and would be ordered to transport the wounded as Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan had said. No sooner did he approach the auditorium than Phan shot him dead right away on the spot. Due to the need for bowel movement, Văn arrived late. As soon as he was in proximity to the auditorium, he heard the gunshot and Hải’s wail; he turned around and ran. All of a sudden, a thunderous explosion clattered somewhere near inside the campus. Hardly catching up with Văn, Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan and his accomplices, panic-stricken, hurriedly took off on their Honda motorbikes. Narrowly escaping death, Văn frantically ran to the hospital and then chanced upon me.

The news that my brother Hải was shot dead at the Faculty of Letters led me to abandon the idea of going home. I wanted to run to the Faculty of Letters to look for him, hoping he had not expired as yet so I could take him to the hospital for emergency care. In tears, I told Văn that I would go and look for Hải. Văn protested and advised me, “Ti, please don’t go there, they may return.” Turning a deaf ear to his advice, I started running while crying…A moment later, I heard him follow me from behind, hollering, “Ti, go hide in the hospital. Hải was already dead.” I was scared out of my wits, walking, running, and crying. Oh, my gosh! It was so eerie to see so many corpses lying around with clothes scattered in different places just a short distance from the hospital gate to the Faculty of Letters.

As soon as we reached Jeanne D’ Arc High School, we saw Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan and his clique skulking in front of the school gate along with a group of northern soldiers, their faces filled with murderous intent. Seeing Phan again, Văn was shaken to the bone. Hardly had Phan said anything when Văn apologetically gabbled, “I went to the hospital just to look for Ti. I had no intention to run away.” Then he begged, “Please, would you allow me and Ti to bring Hải’s body home, and then I will come back to…transport the wounded!” Not responding to Văn’s request, Phan looked at me with an evil eye and said, “You go home and ask the bastards Lộc and Kính to come here to take Hải home.” Tongue-tied, I mumbled, “I don’t know where my brothers are.”

Previously I did not know of Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan, nor did I ever hear of his name because before 1968, I was still a high school student. Probably my brothers knew him because they belonged to the senior group of university students, who had gone through many difficulties confronting the clique of leftist students in various political demonstrations in prior years.

Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan whispered something to his clique, then turned around and ordered me and Văn to take Hải’s corpse home. Barely had we figured out how to bring Hải home when Văn saw a pedicab with a flat rear tire lying abandoned next to the wall of Jeanne D’Arc High School. Văn signaled me to follow him. We struggled to carry Hải onto the pedicab. His body had turned stiff, bowels spilled out horribly, eyes glaring, mouth open. Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan hit Văn with the butt of his gun while cursing, “You, son of a bitch, if this time you should try to run away again and come across me, you sure will be a stiff.” Trembling, Văn, prostrating himself before Phan, stammered, “Yes, big brother, I would no longer dare.”

We pushed the dilapidated pedicab toward the Faculty of Letters, where there lodged about 10 corpses. I did not dare to look long. We then exerted all efforts to push the pedicab with my ill-fated brother’s corpse on it toward the direction of the Kho Rèn Bridge.

My house was located on Hàm Nghi Street, a short distance past the bridge. There existed many groups of 3 to 5 northern soldiers spreading along the street to my home. We were not stopped by them because Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan was ahead of us, giving signals to them to let us go.

The path from Jeanne D’Arc High School to Thiên Hựu (Providence) High School was strewn with corpses. Pools of blood and bodies attracted dense swarms of black flies. I retched, having not eaten for days. So did Văn. While we struggled to push the pedicab, Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Phan and two women on motorbikes instructed us to move faster. I overheard them wondering if anyone remained on Lý Thường Kiệt and Nguyễn Huệ Streets.

Honda motorbikes, transporting rice and sticky rice cakes, presumably confiscated from somewhere, were heading straight into Providence High School.

Suddenly, helicopters appeared in the sky, unleashing a barrage of bullets. Văn exclaimed with delight, “Ti! It’s our helicopters.” We barely had time to rejoice before torrents of bullets from Providence High School windows, aiming at the helicopters, forced us to realize that Viet Cong soldiers were lying in ambush. Terrified, Văn and I ran, dropping to our knees against the school wall to avoid the bullets. Phan and his group vanished like ghosts. Moments later, the helicopters disappeared. Disappointed, we saw Phan and his group reappear, urging us to move faster.

At Kho Rèn Bridge, we saw a group of men, women, and children, tied together, sitting at the bridge’s entrance. The cries of babies and mothers trying to calm them filled the air. We did not dare to look. Someone called my name, and I recognized our house helper and the wife of an acquaintance from my father’s Phú Bài Artillery Battalion 12. They must have come from Phủ Cam, the Kho Rèn area, Hàm Nghi, and nearby streets and arrested while escaping.

As I was about to inquire, Phan appeared and barked, “Hurry! What the hell are you looking at?”

On our way past Providence High School and the Kho Rèn Bridge to my grandfather’s house, we saw many people tied together, walking in front of Viet Cong soldiers dressed in black, wearing Hồ Chí Minh sandals, with guns on their shoulders.

Gunfires erupted from all corners, but our soldiers were nowhere in sight—only northern guerillas were everywhere.

Nguyễn Thị Đoan Trinh sped past many houses on Hàm Nghi Street. Whenever she nodded at a house, people were dragged out and shot or taken away. Old men and women ran after them, wailing. The soldiers cursed, “Shut your fucking mouths up or I’ll mow you down.”

We clenched our teeth and pushed the pedicab with Hải’s body on it. As we neared my house at 24 Hàm Nghi Street, Phan and Trinh slowed their motorbikes, accosted me, and ordered, “You are not permitted to enter your house. Push it further.” I knew they meant my grandfather’s house, also on Hàm Nghi Street but up the slope toward Phủ Cam. My parents’ house was near the Kho Rèn Bridge.

I didn’t know Nguyễn Thị Đoan Trinh before, but I recognized her from what Văn said. Poor Văn! He thought his life would be spared when Phan ordered us to push the pedicab carrying Hải’s body home. We had no idea that our journey from the Faculty of Letters to my grandfather’s house on Hàm Nghi Street would be our last together.

At my grandfather’s, we pushed the pedicab inside the hedge and left Hải in the courtyard. We ran into the house, calling for Grandpa and Grandma. A faint voice responded from a bedroom, “Who… who’s that?” _“It’s me, Grandpa!”

Grandpa hurried out, his legs shaking. He embraced me, crying, and thanked God I was alive. I couldn’t cry, trembling in his arms. He thought I was scared and consoled me, “You are so fortunate to be alive. Stay here with Grandpa. It’s going to be all right. Your Mom has taken your younger brothers to Phú Lương. I don’t know where they are now or whether they can escape. Let’s pray for their safety.”

Exhausted, I pulled him out of the room. When he saw Văn sagging on the floor, he murmured, “Is that Văn?” Văn burst into tears; I cried too, dragging him to the courtyard. Seeing Hải’s corpse, Grandpa sank to his knees, lamenting, “Oh, my God! How could misery like this befall us?”

We brought Hải inside and laid him on a divan, covering his body with a blanket.

Two of my elder brothers, hiding in the ceiling, asked to come down to see Hải. Grandpa didn’t agree. Lộc dislodged the access panel, poked his head out, and said, “Ti, bring the stool.” I fetched a stool from the kitchen and placed it in the corner. Grandpa waved his hands, whispering, “Don’t come down, stay up there.”

Kính, also in the ceiling, was crying. Barely had Lộc jumped down when voices and steps were heard from the courtyard. No sooner had Lộc reinstated the access panel than Phan and his group arrived. Seeing Phan enter, Văn, pale-faced, mumbled, “Grandpa, it was Phan who let us bring Hải home.”

Grandpa stood motionless and silent.

Phan glared fiercely and demanded, “Where are the bastards Lộc and Kính?” Grandpa said he didn’t know. Phan sneered, “Are you sure? They always come here for Tết. How come you don’t know?” Grandpa replied, “After Tết, they visit relatives. Do you expect them to stay home all the time? How can I know where they are?”

Noticing a stool in the corner, Phan snorted.

I hid behind Grandpa.

Phan aggressively stepped forward, pushed Grandpa aside, grabbed my hair, and pulled me toward him. Looking up at the ceiling, he yelled, “Lộc, Kính, Hiệp, if you bitches don’t come down, I will shoot Ti!” He twisted my hair, yanking me back and forth. I felt excruciating pain, petrified, my face swollen with tears, but I didn’t dare to cry out. Grandpa clasped his hands, prostrated himself before Phan, and begged, “Please, spare my granddaughter’s life. She knows nothing.”

Phan screamed, “I know you’re up there. Come down, or I’ll shoot Ti.” He pushed me down, pressed his foot on my back, pointed his gun at my head, and started counting, “One, two…”

Straight away, Lộc dislodged the panel, poked his head out, and hollered, “Don’t shoot my sister. I’ll come down. Let me come down.”

Grandpa tried to hold the stool for Lộc to descend but fell face down. Lộc was trying to descend, dropping his legs first, his hands still holding the ceiling. As soon as his legs barely touched the stool, Phan fired. The bullet hit his neck. Blood gushed out, and Lộc collapsed, convulsing for a moment before becoming immobile.

Ignoring Grandpa’s hoarse screams, Phan aimed his gun at the ceiling and fired, following the sound until he ran out of bullets. He grabbed another gun and kept firing until Kính fell along with broken boards.

Văn slumped to the floor, closing his eyes and ears, trembling. Sitting next to him, I froze, passing feces and urine in my pants.

Grandpa rushed forward to embrace Kính, whose eyes were glaring, mouth muttering final words. Grandpa was crying and cursing Phan, which enraged him further. He shot Grandpa dead. Grandpa collapsed next to Kính.

After shooting my grandfather, they took off, taking Văn with them. Left alone, I crawled to Grandpa and held him tight, descending into silent tears. I could hardly breathe, my hands drenched in blood. I crawled to Lộc. I crawled to Kính. I shook them. I called. I screamed. Nobody heard me. Nobody responded. Six eyes glared. Grandpa lay still, jets of blood surging from his chest. I slumped onto his body, fading into unconsciousness.

I didn’t know how long before I awoke. I could hardly sit up, just lying next to Grandpa and my brothers. My hair was soaked with blood, and my body was sodden with wet blood, feces, and urine. I had no strength to sit up. When I became conscious, I saw the Hậu couple and neighbors in the house. They were cleaning up, moving the wood divan from the kitchen to the living room, and laid Grandpa and my brothers on it. Two women bathed me like a baby. Mrs. Hậu dressed me in her clothes. I felt mentally paralyzed. I couldn’t cry or speak. Day and night, I sat sullenly beside Grandpa and my brothers. I no longer feared death, wondering why they didn’t kill me too.

Seeing me so frail, Mrs. Hậu cooked a few spoonfuls of tapioca flour daily and forced me to eat. Grandpa had nothing left in the house; rice and sweet goodies from Tết had been looted. Mrs. Hậu had hoarded some rice and coal so we could survive.

The next day, Phan returned. Mr. Hậu asked permission to bury Grandpa and my brothers in the back garden, but Phan refused, ordering him to leave them where they were. More than a week passed. The corpses swelled and emitted a strong odor, but Phan didn’t return.

One night, a group of communist soldiers searched for rice. Mr. Hậu again asked permission to dig graves in the back garden. Because of the strong odor, they approved but allowed only one grave. Crying, Mr. Hậu pleaded, “Please, let me dig four graves!” They declined but helped dig one, then ordered him to fill it quickly. No one had the heart to take on the task. They just looked at one another and cried.

That evening, Văn came back with Phan and some other communist soldiers. Phan ordered Văn to help the northern soldiers to carry the bodies and drop them, one by one, into to same grave. Mr. and Mrs. Hậu followed them to the garden. On my last legs, I just lay in one place but could still hear the dialogue from outside. I did not have enough grit to go to the garden and witness the barbaric burying of my loved ones. Even though I lay in my grandparents’ bedroom, I still could hear with so much clarity the sounds of the hoes filling in the grave. My mind was in a whirl, my stomach was churning. “Where is Heaven on Earth?” I called Grandpa. I called Lộc. I called Kính. I called Hải. No one heard me at all!

When the four bodies had been dropped into the hole, barely had it been filled in when I heard the sound of a gun being fired and the wailing of Mr. and Mrs. Hậu. I didn’t hear Văn, only the desperate and exasperated Mr. Hậu’s voice calling Văn’s name. I then realized what had happened to Văn.

My entire body was shaking violently; I felt hard to breathe, feces and urine one more time sluicing out freely.

I heard the communist guerillas’ voices hollering and ordering that the hole be filled in. Mr. Hậu and Grandpa’s neighbors had no choice but to follow the order. When they took off, Mr. Hậu stormed into the room, pulling his hair out, and exploded in a vituperative voice, “Văn was buried together with your three brothers, oh! My poor little girl. Oh, God; oh, God”. He pounded his chest and said he wondered if Văn was still alive, yet he was forced to bury him. He kept wailing, “Oh! Poor Văn, please forgive me. Oh! My God, how can anyone be so brutal.”

I stood speechless, listening to Mr. Hậu crying for Văn.

After that time, none of the clique, including the guerillas, came back, probably because

Grandpa’s house had no one left to be killed, no more properties to be looted.

For more than twenty days, I was lying bedridden in Grandpa’s. Outside sounds of gun fires reverberated everywhere.

Mr. and Mrs. Hậu couldn’t find it in their heart to leave me alone. Following the news expectantly and informed that a great number of people from Phủ Cam had found their way of escape to Phú Lương, they insisted that I ate a little more to have enough stamina to run and that it made no sense for me to just lie there and wait for death or to not look for Mom.

The day after next, I followed the Hậus’ to find a way to escape to Phú Lương because we heard that the Americans and our soldiers were showing up around the area. As we were heading down toward Kho Rèn Bridge, we saw it already collapsed. Mr. Hậu followed the crowd in another direction. I followed suit like a lost soul. I went wherever they led, not remembering which area I had passed. One thing that baffled me was on their escape journey, missiles were thundering down everywhere, and yet, they, carrying one another on their back, kept walking, not even trying to find a place to hide and avoid being hit. They told among themselves that any time missiles were fired, the Vietcongs would hide away and would not dare to come out to prevent people from fleeing. Therefore, the more missiles were fired, the more people would crowd the streets to find a way to escape. Poor citizens of Huế! They would rather die under the erring missiles than fall into the hands of the cruel Vietcong murderers.

Finally, I succeeded in arriving at Phú Lương and being reunited with my mother and my three younger brothers. Mom looked so doleful and distraught when she heard about the deaths of Grandpa and my three elder brothers.  Sometime later, my father returned after a military operation somewhere under orders from the Phú Bài Artillery Battalion 12. With Mom in such a miserable condition, he knew we wouldn’t be able to come back to our house on Hàm Nghi Street. He rented a lodging in Phú Lương.

After Huế had been liberated. Dad relied on our neighbors to help disinter Văn’s, my brothers’, and Granpa’s bodies for reburial. The funeral was held at Phủ Cam Church, celebrated by Father Phùng Tuệ. Văn’s family agreed to have him buried in Grandpa’s garden with my brothers.

Dad was discharged from active duty in the middle of 1969. Mom’s hysteria showed no sign of abating. Dad decided to leave Huế and took the whole family to Long Khánh to start a new life. Grandpa’s house was entrusted to the Hậus’ care. Our house on 24 Hàm Nghi Street (near the railway) was sold to someone, whose identity was unknown to me.

That was how my most beloved ones, the victims of gross injustices, met their end. I had to witness all those atrocities in great pain with my very own eyes. Among my relatives on both the paternal and maternal sides, there existed many people who were taken away from Phủ Cam Church and others from the Redemptorist monastery. The number of people who were buried alive or just disappeared amounted to seventy. They were high school and college students, common citizens, or local merchants at An Cựu Market. After the Tết Offensive, the surviving relatives of mine, because of the excruciating pain and fright, quietly left Huế, scattered about, and changed their names to start a new life…

After the historical incident of April 1975, my family again became the victims of the brutal and immoral communist gang. My father and younger brothers passed away after more than 10 years of cruel hard labor incarceration in their concentration camps.

Forty years have passed, but the wounds are still fresh. They are filling up my broken heart. The wrongful deaths of my beloved ones are among the thousands of the citizens of Huế.

I am the only surviving member of my family after the Tết Offensive and the loss of South Vietnam. I am recounting the pitiful deaths of the members of my family in the capacity of an eyewitness and also victim, intending to denounce the Vietnamese Communists’ crimes, so that Grandpa’s and my brothers’ souls can be set free from bondage.

I offer myself to be a witness in an international court or appear in front of all mass media channels whenever deemed necessary.

Hereinunder are the names of my grandfather, my three brothers, and their friend who were savagely slaughtered by the Vietcongs.

My grandfather’s name:

  • Nguyễn Tín, 70 years old

My three brothers and a friend’s names:

  • Nguyễn Xuân Kính, medical student, born in 1942
  • Nguyễn Xuân Lộc, Law School student, born in 1946
  • Nguyễn Thanh Hải, Faculty of Letters student, born in 1949
  • Lê Tuấn Văn, Faculty of Letters student, Hải’s friend.


Maryland, USA. February 15, 2013

Nguyễn Thị Thái Hoà


Translated by:

Nguyễn Văn Thái






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