Friday, June 12, 2009
Author Dang Chi Binh
Translation by Robert C. Trando
Robert Trando translation of “Black Steel” of Dang Chi Binh has been rendered all the more timely by recent new stories concerning treatment of Muslim prisoners by American troops.
Black Steel shines a light on the manner in which the North Vietnamese Communists treated their prisoners of war from South Vietnam. It is a horrifying testimonial to men’s humanity.
Although “the story” is in non-fiction, there is no back, plot, or suspense. Once started, the reader will want to find out just how the gripping report winds up.
Bob Trando has done all us a great service. He has taken us behind a dark curtain that would otherwise remain impenetrable. It contains a bit of macabre humor that serves that serves to vouch for its authencity.
Let us hope that the American military will purchase few copies for those in charge of prisoners to whatever stripe. No one wants to mollycoddle enemy prisoners. Even so, there is no justification for treating fellow human beings like animals.
Neill A. Gardner
In the cell of the Hoa Lo prison of the communist, the prisoner has his two legs locked on a cement platform 65 centimeters wide. The iron lock made of thick cold steel forged solidly to press down tightly on the person’s ankles. The two wrists are locked in the back forcing the prisoner to lie on his side. He has to slowly slide to the edge of the platform for his excretion needs, urine and feces splattered all around a pot on the floor.
Day in day out his two legs paralyzed, he lives in the fetid and moldy environment like an animal. He still has some freedom left for his mouth to swear, sob, scream or insult at will. Then, a monstrous tool, the symbol of the utmost communist democracy, the mouth lock is put to use. It is a steel apparatus having spring and bolts to close up the mouth of the victim so that he cannot anymore badmouth the regime, the leadership or screaming obscenities at Ho Chi Minh with the hope to be executed, ending an inhumane half dead half alive life. The Vietnamese communists are not in such a hurry that is why they have invented the mouth lock.
There is nothing “more precious than independence and freedom.” What a sensitive and miserable slogan!
* * *
Among the rows of cells, the prisoner has the visit of a tiny mouse as small as the small finger. In the cold cell, out of stone and steel, and the sweat and blackened dry blood on the cement floor, what else can attract that mouse? The mouse still slips in, and if caught he would jiggle free and still come back because out there in the freedom of animals he is hungry. In here, he still has the hope to get a few grains of rice from the chained and paralyzed prisoner. Each day the prisoner saves a few grains of rice for the four legs friend. It is his self-liberation, one bit of love for that unfortunate creature, showing that he is still living. The tiny mouse is guilty and the foot of the jail warden crushed him to death. In here, the prisoner does not expect any liberation, except by befriending a tiny mouse whose teeth he pulled off.
There is nothing “more precious than independence and freedom.” Is there any more vicious and terrible slogan?
* * *
Also in the Hoa Lo prison he has known a world famous prisoner who some years ago was the hero leading his company to plant the flag of victory on top of the commanding fortress of de Castries. He has infamously ended his life in Hoa Lo like any political prisoners. His crime was to have mistaken for truth what the communist say. It is not yet a crime. His crime is to have questioned that truth. This patriotic soldier from a bourgeois stock is typical fro may others whose dream is like a bubble bust and were found stitch in between what the party professes and what it does. They ended up crushed to bits without any echo. In Hoa Lo, the scariest thing is silence, silence in life and silence in death. The veil and the smell of a cemetery shrouded everything. The difference between life and death is sometimes the subdue breathing in cell number 7, unbeknown to anyone. How can you hear death when all those living devils surrounded you?
Though no one had recounted it, through the marks which are still vaguely imprinted on the stone surface, the prisoner know that in here sometimes Mr.s. Thuy An was locked. She was a famous writer, well known for the infamous death of the revolutionary Do Dinh Dao, who naively thought he was the patriot building up the regime. Many still have the same wrong beliefs. They are cadres, party members, the intellectuals, the common people, and the typical images under the magnifying lens of the microscope. They were all wrong.
* * *
The author does not err on the foundation of the system He had emigrated South after the Geneva accord. The Counter Intelligence Department, during the era of President Ngo Dinh Diem trained and sent him up North. He was a spy, one of those shadow fighters who had found the way to Ha Noi on a still unclassified secret mission. As soon as he had completed his work, they arrested him. It was in 1962, during which time in the South we are still very hazy on the real things up North, his eighteen years in jail gave him an unprecedented experience. He has lived and witnessed things with a very meticulous vision. The sites and spectacles that could have occurred in the mindset of an abnormal person, a terrifying movie that was set up and produced by a sick director, the whole and entire Vietnamese communist system, and at the real bottom of Hoa Lo, the jail life and the end result of the most scary inventions.
If the truth encompasses our imagination because we have wrongly estimated the value of the communist regime, wrongly valuate their madness and crazy disease. It is worthy to say that author Dang Chi Binh, be it his real or pen name, is not engaged in a terrifying race, it means that his not trying to create all the most dreadful details. The normal truth would be enough to scare the shit out of us. Author Dang Chi Bing is not a writer. He has never used a pen to write literary prose. And as he avowed clearly,” In any instances I am only a dumb, a defeated. I have nothing worthy to relate to others.” He is only intent to write a living testament for those who are still dragging their life in the Viet communist jails. He has to write to remind everyone that under the bright sunlight there is still a world of darkness, which is the inhumane Viet communist society. He wants to carry a small candle to bring light to the vicious devil territory, to close eyelids to the fallen ones and to massage the chest of those who are still bleeding in the lock-ups of the communist.
He does not want to write a literary piece, he only does it from his memory like pulling gradually the thread from a spool, from start to ending. It then makes things so scary to all of us. All the words he uses. His way of saying and seeing, and even the manner by which he makes the mockery of himself, all his writing reflects only one thing. He put down on paper what he remembers and thinks. Something in there makes you shaking at the way he recounted things so shockingly natural and real. More then twenty years have evolved. He calmly unthread the pool of his prison life…The scream, the noises of men torturing men, the sound of iron chain scraping the stone floor, and all the thunderous silence are still echoing at times, regularly with the pulled out thread of the dark days and months of a deadly place. He does not produce a literary piece but his literal expressions make us quiver.
* * *
Nevertheless, the most worthy thing to remember is not entirely the meticulous description of the devils’ country. Things that makes us astounded are not life in the darkness of death. The constant struggle of the man makes us all tremble. The most worthy to mention, and it is the most wonderful aspect of this memoir, is the resurrection of human innate nature within the world of devils. Even in Hoa Lo, the prisoners still realize at night there is still somebody trying to discretely help them. At times, it was only a brief inquiry or a compassionate sigh, or a bit of tobacco slipped through the door crack as blood coagulant… only the jail warden can move back and forth outside. Who was that person? The prisoner does not know, but he is aware that among them, there are still somebody keeping some bit of humane behavior and silently acting like as a human being. Just discretely, acting otherwise they would be fast changing position from the free outside to the silent environment of a prison cell. The Viet commies want to change humans into animals. The Ha Noi Hoa Lo is the best place for them to succeed. Nevertheless, in there the author has lived and witnessed the victory of humankind. “The communist is unable to taint red the souls of everybody.” That is his conclusion. He is right to the point. Because he can finish his job if only up North there are still people who keep struggling since the years 1960. There are those certain priest, a medical doctor, a young girl in her khaki pants and brown shirt…, and so many other unknown heroes who are still fighting secretly. Even the plain peasants who are the first victims of the system, they live and exist through the complete darkness and, still display enlightened acts of humaneness.
The fact that Dang Chi Binh, after spending all his youthful days in the world of animals, is back among us, wholesome, describing to us in his mocking but sincere words his own mistakes, along with his generous and appeased remarks on the bad behavior of mankind, is that not an wonderful feature? He returned from the grave. The liveliest thing in his memoir is that he feared of losing the human substance that he had seen lost at some other instances. That is why BLACK STEEL is a monumental masterpiece. It is not only big with the content, the details. It is so in the meaning humaneness of the author. Let us say our thanks to Dang Chi Binh who had struggled to survive, to evade and record for us the victory of humankind over the devils.
The above is the preface written by Dong Tien Publisher
It never occurred to me that some day I would write the story of my life. In the context of my country, following the ebb and flow of life, I undertook the mission penetrating the enemy territory and I was caught. Therefore, in any instance I am dumb, a loser, having nothing worthy to tell. Moreover, a number of close friends always advised me against writing: “You better take care of your life first, you have suffered so much. If you strive writing it, your piece will share the same fate of others, those who wrote on their lives in the re-education camps. People would feel as banal without any urge to read. In this country, the young have to go to school and the adults are struggling with daily living. No one would care about your country of origin and its people. You’d better look for some other job, and that is the most useful thing for you.”
Actually thinking of my refugee status, I have to recognize the value of the advice they gave me. I rushed head on out to earn my living. During several sleepless nights, my heavy conscience tied knots to my entrails. I cannot find an inner peace with my country and my life, so many contradictory reflections on the birthplace and existence. All those things kept disturbing my inner self. The sounds of the jail gong ringing still haunt me like some invisible clamp squeezing me:
Hearing the phone ringing,
I feel jumpy as if it was the morning jail gong.
The image of the living skeletons moving about in the jail, the cold desolated tombs amid the jungles; the echo of the lengthy sighs interspersed with the mute screams in a never-ending dark night …; and the imploring eyes when I bid farewell to freedom, all is still haunting me. I have the conscientious thought that they all are screaming and supplicating me to write their living testimony.
I know that even though I am not that strong and talented. I am still much luckier than the unfortunates who are still in prison. That is why I bear the responsibility, the duty—if I might say—to close the eyelids of the fallen for the grand duty, the people and freedom; I must massage the chest of the ones who are clenching their teeth. Their bloody and confused lives were still in the chains and locks of the communist of Ha Noi.
I hope that this memoir will be a small candle among the other big ones illuminating the darkness of the inhumane system of the Viet communists. If I can lighten my small candle I would feel very happy to have somewhat fulfilled my responsibility toward the promised living testament.
As my last words, I only intend to loosen my pool of thread from start to end. For security reason I must change names and places regarding five or seven people. Otherwise, everything is real, real occurrences, real names still living in the country or overseas. For the sake of truth, please forgive me. Dang Chi Binh
The first meeting
On a late spring evening in 1959, there was so much wind. The rows of tamarind trees on street 16 swayed back and forth at each gust of wind. I watched clumps of dry leaves quivering in succession on the street like swarms of humming golden bees.
It was a weekday evening. The area around the Tan Sa Chau church next to the tomb of Bishop d’Adran is empty. From afar on Truong Minh Ky Street the flickering lights showed through, giving a hazy sight of a half shadowy half-glittering place. Looking from across the church, I saw in a dark corner some people like me expecting a certain person. Then at 8:16 pm, a civilian Jeep came from down street 16 to pull slowly to a stop under the shade of a tamarind tree farther from the church. The shadow of a man stepped down and moved toward the church. Not saying a word, we all understood that he was the person we were expecting. In the darkness, we saw that he was wearing a grey jacket and a soft woolen hat and he walked slowly to Father Khue’s office at the end of the church.
About 10 minutes later a small altar boy came out urging us to enter. After he asked Father Khue the permission to use one of the classrooms upstairs, the man turned to us, and with a thick Hue accent said,” Please go up.” In complete silence, we just orderly followed him. In the room, there were eight persons, including my uncle. Now I did not understand why my uncle was here. Most of us were young; my uncle was an exception not only due to his age but also due to his status like a politician. His presence seemed causing some uneasiness to the Hue man who watched him, half-quizzical and half-hesitant. I was sure that my uncle was aware of the situation and I saw him follow the Hue man to the balcony for some talk. After that, my uncle left.
I remembered clearly that more than a week ago my young brother came home interjecting: “Uncle Thuong needs to see you for some urgent thing.” Uncle Thuong is a respectable man not only for his high rank in the family but also for his knowledge and his extensive social relationship. After a few minutes inquiring about my schoolwork, through his bright eyes he suddenly said,” At present, the presidency office is setting up a special training class for about ten persons vouched by VIP’s. If that interests you I can introduce you as a candidate.” The months and years toiling in classrooms added to the practical view of real existence had molded in me a certain concept of life and the world: A boy was born in this life, grows up, gets married, has children, becomes old, sick and … he dies. Therefore, starting as nothing, he ends up as nothing, just clothes rack and a pot refilled with rice every day. The grandiose and fiery ideals of Nguyen Cong Tru attracted and impregnated my budding soul vibrating with the adventurous mind of a juvenile. I jumped at the opportunity offered by my uncle.
The next day he introduced me to Father Khue. The Father asked many questions on my family, my life and several other things regarding my conception of the society, the country and the people. He seemed very interested when my uncle indicated that since childhood I had practiced martial arts for many years. He nodded while watching me and said:” We have here a total young man with intelligence and strong body. I blushed at his remarks. On my way home, I asked my uncle whether he knew anything about the special class. In reality he is just a close friend of the Father having the opportunity to exchange with him ideas on politics, the present events, but as for this class he would not know any more than what I had heard from the Father.
The man from Hue came back, looked at me with sympathy, while opening his black briefcase he raised his eyes looking at us with solemnity and clearly stated. “You have been referred to this special training class. I feel very pleased and confident. As a start you are required to fill your personal dossier.” Handing out a stack of papers, he explained the contents and showed how to fill in the blank spaces. It is no different from any other personal file document. Out of the personal information, there were two additional things:
- input your thinking and expectation,
- Give the names of your three best friends, clearly indicate their age and address.
Nearly one hour later when we had finished our personal file he very carefully emphasized. (1) Back home you must tell your family and friends that you are ready to go to the training class of the Republican Youth. (2) You must be on standby, I will get in touch with each individual at the indicated address on file, and in any case, if you need to go somewhere you must let your family know of your whereabouts and the time of your return. (3) An intermediary referred you to us. I formally forbid you to say the result of your acceptance. If the intermediary asks, tell him only that you are still waiting.
It was 10:30 pm when we left. My uncle had also left. Father Khue came back to his room for prayers. I saluted the Hue man who walked to me saying,” Binh follow me to my car and we shall talk.” I was a little surprised but I realized at once that, might be my uncle or Father Khue had given some recommendations in my favor. When we reached street 16, he walked slowly at my side, intimately put his hand on my shoulder and inquired about my life, my class works, etc. Finally, he said,” I like you very much and feel very comfortable with you. Therefore I want you to introduce a close friend having the same ideal.” As a very enthusiastic young man, I felt very proud hearing that. I thought right away of Nguyen Vinh Ly, a very close friend, a Chasseloup Laubat School student. He just got his Baccalaureate certificate and nurtured the same expectation and dream. After writing down Ly’s address, he again put his hand on my shoulder and said with a very warm and sincere tone,” I’ll get in touch with Ly. Good bye, see you next time.”
On my way home and before going to bed I kept thinking of the scenario that evening in the church of Tan Sa Chau. Though not knowing a thing yet on the training class, all I have seen and heard during the previous evening plunged me deep in the expectation of a tomorrow. The next morning I rushed to Ly’s home in the Dakao area of Bong Bridge. I recounted to Ly all events of the evening and said that I had referred him to the man. Ly was very happy and asked a series of questions to which I did not have the answer, what is this class, where is the class, what do you study, how long does it last, what will you do after that? Ly was all joy. Because he trusted me, he just awaited for the Hue man to come. I added,” You deal with him and try to dig further so that you may know better.”
About ten days later Ly informed me of the meeting and that, he had completed his dossier. Ly had inquired on the man’s name but the man just told to call him Huong (it may be a false name). Ly did not know any more than what I was aware of.
We had to wait for more than a month, maybe the time to get the class ready for the training. In addition, they could have sent agents to investigate secretly each one of us. One day Ly rushed to my house very excited, telling me that Mr. Huong asked me to stay at his place tonight. The next morning (April 28), he will pick us up to class and we must bring along clothes for one-week stay. We were all very tense, speculating at length but still having not a single clue of the situation. We slept next to each other in a tight upstairs room: we talk, talk, and finally sank into a sleep awash with dreams on the future.
A risky notebook …
The next day it was so beautiful. A few clouds hung leisurely on a perfect light blue sky. At exactly eight am Mr., Huong parked his car at the street corner and walked towards us (that was his normal cautious way). Each of us, one bag in hands, moved towards the car. A simple handshake, a faint smile, we quietly boarded the car. The car headed towards Bach Dang Quay, turned on Truong Minh Giang Street, on to the Jasmine Garden to pick up two more boys. With Mr. Huong we were five in total, the car was fully loaded. As the car swiftly headed for Cho Lon, no one would have a clear idea of where we were going. When we reached National Highway 4 to My Tho, one of us showing his cunning knowledge muttered. “We must be going to the Cay Mai School.” As I was ignorant of what they were teaching in Cay Mai, I glanced at him and he explained in low voice “the training for Police Intelligence.”
In reality, things did not work out that way. After reaching the Phu Lam crossing the car slowed down, turned into a closed steel gate with number 365 on it. Somebody waiting behind the gate, dressed in the traditional brown “ba-ba” garb rushed to open it. We went straight to a big building, got out of the car and followed Mr. Huong upstairs. There were already nine others there, among them I focused on a man about thirty five to forty years old while people in our group were only of the twenty to twenty five. In the big house, there was a large room, maybe the living room, with 14 military beds fully equipped with orderly arranged mosquito nets, blankets and pillows.
One man about thirty years old, wearing glasses, dressed in a light color pajama, came up. Mr. Huong introduced him as Mr. Lam, the supervisor who will be here full time with the group and ready to help in any eventuality. Smiling, Mr. Huong shook hands with all of us, and Lam too, was a Central Viet Nam man. Afterwards three more men also dressed in brown uniforms went up and they introduced them to us as the team in charge of the kitchen. They all talked with the Central accent. According to Huong and Lam, this is a group class needing a set of internal rules to ensure stable and smooth functioning. As a start, we must select a nickname for each of us. I will be J. or John, Ly K. or Karl, and we must address each other accordingly. There is strict limitation to go out. If someone asks, you only say that you are a group of students in economics and politics compelled to understand the doctrine of personalism. We borrowed this villa to study during the few months of summer vacation.
The villa is a two story sturdy construction with several rooms, surrounded by a brick wall, with barbed wire. According to people in the vicinity, it used to be the French Second Bureau and is now under the Presidency Office. Mr. Huong suggested selecting a group leader. Being all strangers (Mr. Huong certainly knew it and would have some purpose in the back of his head), how could we know the character and ability of each other? At the end, we picked the oldest among us. He was Dao. At meals and in the fridge there were always enough soft drinks, beer, lemons and sugar for us to enjoy at our discretion. We felt confident of a hopeful tomorrow. That night I went down to see the supervisor as instructed. He seemed quite impressed about me. As time went by, through the exchanges of thoughts, he treated me like his young brother. His name is Cao Dinh Tieu, he was a defrocked priest and had volunteered for the Army. I started to have some clearer information about the training class.
The next morning all fourteen of us boarded a fully covered Dodge 4 truck going to Saigon to no precise direction. We arrived at a colossal castle like building having two huge side gates without guards. In the courtyard, there were some geese noisily quacking on a lawn, amid flowers, as peaceful and tranquil as in a private residence? It is villa no 2 Jean Jacques Rousseau which I later knew was the house of former General Nguyen Van Hinh, the Chief of Staff of the National Armed Forces of the years prior to 1954. They guided us to a room on the right in where there were already Mr. Huong and a few other well-dressed persons. They got busy setting up table, chairs, and flags. The walls and the doors were sound proofed by thick leather cushioning. On one wall were displayed a big national flag and the framed photo of President Ngo above an urn burning incense exhaling aromatic smokes. All fourteen of us were sitting at the bottom row.
At exactly 9 o’clock, one person came in. We stood up at attention while the person went up the platform. After the traditional flag ceremony, the national anthem and the minute of silence, he watched the audience with bright sparkling eyes through his thick pair of glasses. With a heavy and thick Hue accent, he gave advice, at time with very compassionate nuance and at other times delivered orders with a stiff voice. “You are to become the future foundation of the country. You must do your utmost to study and perform, to be worthy of the love and confidence of the President. The President is tied up in a special inspection tour and is unable to be here today to witness the start of this special training class.” 30 minutes later, he left.
That afternoon, the assistant director Minh taught the doctrine of personalism. Then it was Mr. Huong’s turn to talk on communism. For the first time we saw two big photos 40x60 of Engels and Karl Marx. He quickly brushed the main traits of the communist doctrine going from the First International through the Fifth with Tito of Yugoslavia (of course from the standpoint of the free world). The chief of office of commerce, Mr. Tao taught Economics and Social Studies, and then Mr. Duc disserted on freedom and individuals…It was just a rough sketch of the program. Nevertheless, we have to write essays on topics like
-Men and society
-Communism and men
-Centralized economy versus free enterprise, etc.
We were free to consult all available publications. I must say that we first wondered why we had to study such subject matters. It took me more than a month to comprehend.
Every day we went to class in a fully covered truck. It came to my attention that the several sedan cars in and out of the place had their license plates covered. The people in those cars were mostly foreigners and they seemed very fast and discreet.
During break times, we wandered in the courtyard. However, when we were close to the gate the instructors waived us in, telling us that we could not go out “because they might take your photos.” Those things aroused our curiosity. I guessed this might be the place for international spies coming in and out. I wanted to know the real names of the instructors because they could have used false ones. For example, the teacher of personalism, Mr. Minh wears a belt having the initial K. During break times, Mr. Minh often called Duc as Thai. I wanted to know their real names and true jobs. Besides, I jotted down the license numbers of all cars going in or out of this No 2 address. I thought that if I came across with those vehicles anywhere in Saigon, the riders and the places could certainly suggest some spy activity. My weakness was that I recorded all those things on a small notebook that I carried all the time.
In class as well as for my homework very often they commended my pertinent thoughts. Director Huong showed his appreciation. Every week they permitted us to go home, from Saturday noon until Sunday night. Through daily conversations and activities, I knew that among the 14 young friends many got certificates of Baccalaureate 1 or 2. The majority was children of prominent persons, province chiefs or bureau chiefs. That is why Ly and I felt fully confident for our future. After about a month, I lost my small notebook. I looked for it everywhere and even asked Ly about it. May be, on the bumpy rides of a crowded truck, I had dropped it somewhere. Then I quickly forgot about it.
One evening, after doing away with my homework, I suddenly remembered about the notebook. I opened my suitcase, shuffling through the whole thing; I found a pack of Dai Quang fireworks stuffed in it. It is a special firework pulverizing into tiny scale like bits when exploded. I bought it at Tet and intended to save it until next Tet. Being a stubborn and rousing person, I picked out one piece. In front of Ly and the whole group, and with a lighted up cigarette dangling on my lips, I ignited it, still holding it in my fingers, I watch it slowly burning and exploding to show off my cool and stamina. They all thought that I was just kidding and no one tried to interfere. The explosion was so loud that everyone, including me was all white. The three cooks rushed up from down stairs, bewildered. They all helped us clean up the place. It was 10 pm and the supervisor was out. Glancing down to the street at the Phu Lam corner, I saw one MP and two police officers looking up and one of them took off North on his motorbike. I implored the three kitchen men not to report what had happened to the management.
Everyone went back to bed. I was fully disturbed, thinking that it would not be that simple. I reached out to Ly, whispering that I had the feeling that the situation could bear from the top down. Ly tried to calm me telling me to go back to sleep. I worried so much but very quickly sank into a profound slumber. Suddenly somebody shook me up. It was Cao Dinh Tieu, haggard, no glasses, hair unkempt, saying with his broken voice that I had to get dressed quickly and go down to see Mr. Huong. It was terrible! I jumped up at once. When I was half way downstairs I saw Mr. Huong and Lam, all ruffled, looking like just out of bed. It was 2 am. I looked at them with apprehension. What made me so sorry and shameful was that up to now the whole management and supervisory team always thought high of me. I bowed my head. It is certain Mr. Huong had inquired in detail with the cooks. Mr. Tieu did not know a thing, being absent that night. His first question was “Binh, do you know what date it is today?” I thought that his question was to get me aware of my serious mistake, and I just bowed my head, sitting quiet. May be as a 45 years old man he could have sympathized with the senseless impelling of a young man. He went on,” today is the 15th of May, the birthday of Karl Marx (that was why I saw the presence of one MP and two policemen out there). He went on,” Binh, do you know that you surprised so many places, including the Presidential Palace?”
As it was Karl Marx’s birthday, they had increased security to prevent potential increase of communist activities. If it were at any other location the police would have come in to investigate, and seeing that it was only fireworks, they would have written a ticket for a $20 fine. Here, the explosion came from # 365, which the MP as well as the police was aware that it was a government property. They would not dare enter to search. As the occurrence was under their jurisdiction, they must report to higher and higher echelon and it finally went back down to the school director. The faces of Huong, Minh and Tieu looked like the wrinkled hand of an old woman. I felt that my face was elongated more than half size. Mr. Huong slowly said,” I cannot use my prerogative to hide it, drawing suspicion from others. Tomorrow the police will be here to write report. We shall tell them that we have a group of student of personalism during their summer vacation. One of them had fun making a paper balloon and crushed it in a big pop which gave out such a loud noise in the building.” Mr. Huong asked Mr. Tieu to make the paper balloon and I had to crush it flat. The noise was loud but how could it sound like a real firework?
Now I wondered why Mr. Huong did not tell the truth. How can the police believe him? May be he was trying to protect me and he was doing his best for his own sake (how had he selected a student with such an erratic behavior?).Next morning, a police jeep with three persons including the police chief came in. They displayed a very polite attitude and showed that it was just a routine matter. They would not believe the whole story but they had to write a full report accordingly on the duty book. Afterwards Mr. Tieu scolded me so much. He had two mistakes, to have let things happen, and he was out of his post. He also frowned saying that as this location became uncovered we might have to move to another address. The stormy time was over; things became calm again! We went on with our class. Anyhow, I felt shameful and avoided to see Mr. Huong and Minh altogether.
More than one week later, at 6 pm, the cook asked me to go down to see the supervisor. When I entered his office, I saw on his desk a bottle of liquor. His face was all red and he seemed very sad. He nodded toward a chair and casually talked:
-Binh, did you have a small notebook?
My heart squeezed, I nodded yes looking at him with apprehension.
-Binh, do you know where it is now?
I cautiously said I had lost it more than half month ago and was unable to find it.
He suddenly turned back and stared straight in my eyes, his voice sounded firm, “Now, it is at the President Office.!”
Ha! Why did so many things happen to me! I was disoriented and scared. He added,” Who had introduced and vouched for you to be admitted to this class?”
-Father Mai Ngoc Khue.
He looked so sad and opened himself up:
“I have no young brothers. Since I know you, I like you so much and treat you like my young brother. I was in a more than two hours meeting. I used several arguments in your favor but there were limits to my prerogatives. They already decided on your fate. They will send you to Military Security. They will work you out and may be torture you. Now go to see Father Khue, may be he can use his reputation to save you.” He also asked whether I have some cash for a taxicab ride. Then he gave me $50 from his wallet. I had the feeling of sitting on a hot fire. I thanked him profusely saying that I had some cash on hand. When I was about to go, he pulled my arm asking,” Why have you recorded those more than ten license plate numbers, and the real names and titles of all the teachers?”
I displayed a long regretful face telling the truth that it was merely due to my curiosity. He rushed me to go and tell the whole truth to the Father. I thought about Dao, our team leader. They put him there to check on our mind. Thinking furthermore about it, I just said how idiot I was for blaming Dao because it was his job. In the following months and years, I realized that in life, one cannot avoid good or bad luck, but I must recognize that “one’s basic character is the foundation of one’s life.” For some hyperactive one, not being afraid of dangers, liking kick and box, hammer and knife, smuggling or politics and revolutions, in general his life would mean above normal difficulties. On the contrary, those who are afraid of dangers, and hesitant in front of new situations, generally would have an uneventful and calm existence. That is why having such a character I must expect a causal result, without complaining!
I saw Father Khue. He used to be so affable, all smiling with me. Now he becomes aloof his trait cold and distant. He said only a few short words “So you did that!” I felt shameful and gloomy. I would not come to see him again unless in real urgency. I returned, all worrisome to #2 Jean Jacques Rousseau again. At the end of the month, we went to class and they told us to wait. We took turn to enter next room for quite a while. I inquired with those who got out first and they all shook their head without saying a word. When Ly was through I asked him and got only a brief answer “get your pay, sign the paper, being told not to say a word to any other persons.” I was the last one to go in. I was not at ease in front of Mr. Huong but he pretended not noticing it. I signed a paper, got the $2,500 for the month (You go to class, they feed you well and you are paid). I signed a typed form, emphasizing that you cannot tell anyone, even your family of the training class. You will bear total responsibility if you violate the agreement. Then I can go home and wait until somebody will pick me up to school.
I went home thinking that the mishap was over but it was not that way. At times, I went to see Ly for information. That day when I came, they told me in the morning somebody picked Ly up. Did they drop me out? To know the truth, I must venture out riding my bike straight to villa #365. It was noon, very quiet. I went upstairs and saw Ly with nine other boys still sleeping. I shook Ly up and we moved down. Ly said, very concerned, that “when Mr. Huong came I had to leave with him at once, having no time to write you any note.” Having inquired about you, I got only a cold answer,” Just think about your own sake.” Seeing that Ly would not know any better, I told him that we would talk during next weekend. I entered Tieu’s office and he told me “you are eliminated and the class now has only ten students.” Then I understood clearly that the month was just for fully assessing and selecting students. Out of team leader Dao who had a special assignment, they eliminated three of us. I felt hopeless! Seeing my sadness Tieu put his hand on my shoulder and gave a few words of consolation: “In spite of the situation, I still want you to be connected on a man to man basis, but do not come here any more.” He gave me his personal address and promised to see me during weekends.
On my way home, I my heart sank when I thought of what had Tieu told me. “The whole team of directors commended me highly on my resourcefulness, alertness, etc., but.” In reality, the strange words but and if at times make you so happy, it could in other instances give you misery and pain with blood and tears, and even ruin your whole life.
The intelligence work …
Back home I felt distressed during the many rainy and foggy days. I listened to the raindrops on the rooftop, reverberating like mocking laughter. Anyhow, sometimes it sounded like ovation urging the young man to stand up instead of lying down negatively and face the difficult problems ahead. Then I sat up and my sorrow evaporated like clouds disappearing in the faraway horizon.
A few days later, the Joint General Staff issued a communiqué for candidates to the Reserve Officers Class 11. I applied, attaching the certificate of Superior Military Training with the rank of “aspirant” (during that time undergrad high school students must go through that military training). According to what I knew, besides Can Tho and Hue, they already had more than 1,000 applicants. Owing to the special political situation, this Thu Duc class 11 will admit 800. I must review all my books and I felt fully confident.
One day during my visit to Tieu, he asked whether I was interested in intelligence work. “With your ability, if you like it, I can refer you to the foreign department where I have some friends.” As they had exposed me to some of that thing lately, I accepted the offer. I gave Tieu my address, expecting to meet my contact. Through exchanges of ideas with Cao Dinh Tieu, I understood clearly that it was intelligence work done in North Viet Nam. I had then a simplistic view of things. Fundamentally, I am not afraid of dangers and had always nurtured the intention to do something useful in this life even though I was not quite sure of what it would be. My anti communism was still dormant, and I did not comprehend why a young Viet must go to the North communist area to fight them. The Southern leadership lacked strength to provide good teaching to young school kids on the problems of communism.
The Thu Duc entrance examination came. I did well due to the two math problems, geometry and algebra which I had done before while with teacher Phu at Hung Dao School. As for the Viet essay, I felt quite comfortable because I always got high grades at school. While waiting for the result, I still had to be concerned with other matters. About ten days later one man, thirty-five years old, came to see me. He was a man from central Vietnam! Why there were so many Central men up there? He was in civilian dress and introduced himself as Ngoc Can, referred by Lam (the false name of Cao Dinh Tieu). “This is my first contact with you and we shall exchange our views.” The discussions were about points of view, expectation, responsibilities of a young man towards the people and the country. After about two hours, Ngoc Can said he would be back another time.
He came two or three more times and brought an identification paper for me to fill up. Compared to the paper at Father Khue Church this time there were a few more details. Additionally, I must give the names of five close friends. Upon leaving, he looked at me with compassion saying,” While waiting for the decision from higher authority, as I will have some free time, let us go out together.” I agreed and we went sitting at the riverbank or having drinks in some places. One day he came on his Lambretta scooter and took me on the back seat to a few central places of Saigon. He talked of different subjects. One time, while going, he suddenly said. “I forgot, I have some business in the Khanh Hoi area.” When we were there, he went into a narrow alley with many left and right crossways. He entered a house for about 5 minutes. On our way back to Saigon, we stopped by Thanh The for a drink. While both of us were talking with glasses in hands, his hat suddenly slid down to the floor. He watched me and I did the same, still holding our glasses. I went on speaking, leisurely extinguished my cigarette and picked up his hat. His hat was already on the floor, there was no need to rush and I just calmly did what I was doing.
I was not aware that he was testing my cool. The second time I fully knew it. While we were eating, he poured some beer and inadvertently, put his half-full bottle on the edge of his towel. Suddenly he picked up the towel and the beer bottle flipped over. I quickly grabbed it. Another occasion while we sat at Hoa Hung, he suddenly remembered something and told me. “Binh, I need some help. I stay here and please take my scooter to the Cong Hoa swimming pool to buy for me five packs of Pall Mall and one pack of Capstan. They sell it behind the entrance gate.” I thought it illogical. From Hoa Hung on to Ong Ta market there were so many stores, why do you have to go to the Cong Hoa swimming pool? However, I did what he told me.
When I came back, he looked preoccupied and he asked me “Binh, will you be free tomorrow?” I watched him cautiously and said,” I do not know yet but if you need something, just tell me.” He pulled from his pocket a sealed envelope which was left blank, handed it to me, saying expressly “Binh, take your Solex and deliver this envelope to the place at the Cau Cong market where we had been the other day.” More than half month went by; no one would pay attention anymore to it. However, thanks to my good memory I remembered it. That morning I saw Mr. Can go into the house. Thinking that Mr. Can is with intelligence, that house must have some connection with it. At least its owner could be very close to his private life and that is why I remembered it. I did the errand without any difficulty. To sum it up, I was tested several times and I remembered only 4 instances, (1) my cool, (2) my strict execution of instructions, (3) my good memory, (4) my fast and accurate reflex in action. As for buying cigarette, if he wanted to check on it, all he would do is inquiring with the vendor at the swimming pool.
A few checks were not enough to judge the abilities of a person. There will be many more proofs during the training and confirmation. Every few other days, Can came and took me out. Until one day, he very friendly told me,” I shall be very busy, so please stay home waiting.”
I lay down and waited at home. Each day I got my books out to study so that this year, at all cost, I will get my Baccalaureate one. I had failed twice due to my immaturity, my lack determination and patience. I paid the price. I remembered that the partition of the country and the necessity of life had interrupted my school when I emigrated south.
I was a good jeweler when I lived on Silver Street in Hanoi. Down here, with the help of my family and relatives I opened jewelry store Bao Tin in Cay Diep market in 1956. My customers were soldiers of the Quang Trung Training Center and the inhabitants of neighboring villages. After about a year, business flourished though the young owner was only nineteen (my parents and siblings lived under the same roof). Money was so easy. From time to time, some friends from Saigon stopped by and talked of school, teachers and social life. Through my very young head, I looked at life very simplistically. Then I fell into the common mistake of looking down on what you have to aim up to what you do not yet have. It means that it gradually led me to ponder the role of men in society. My thoughts were so raw. Society and men were continually progressing. Therefore as a young man living in the period, you must have certain knowledge to understand, at least superficially, all fields of your time.
Let us use education as a measurement tool. During the 50’s the level of junior high would be enough. In the 60’s one must get a Baccalaureate degree because senior high would be out of touch with the general progress of the society at large. For the 70’s if one could not meet those requirements, you would be unable to understand what happened around you. Therefore, what does money mean to me while my mind always churned about the country and the world? Moreover, you have to know some famous sights of the world. Would I have to live such a humble eventless life? From those crazy and naive thoughts, I decided to close my business. My parents and relatives lavishly praised me. They now put all the blame on me. I naively thought that being a young man I have to focus on school first and then go traveling to know the world. Wait until you will be 30 or 40 to open that jewelry store. Life is not so simple like what was in the mind of a just grown up young man. Then I went to the student refugee’s camp of Phu Tho in Cho Lon (Camp Pavie la Mothe) and pursued my study. (So many souvenirs and friends in that camp, after thirty years I do not know now the fate of so many of them).
I studied hard at home. I had waited for Mr. Can for three or four months and lost my interest in foreign intelligence. I thought that if Thu Duc came first, I would go to the military service. At the end of 1960, I received the call of Thu Duc and went to Cong Hoa hospital for my physical. They admitted me and I spent more than one week there with new people and new life of a military career. All at a sudden, the commanding office summoned me. I worried, but right after stepping into the office, the sight of Mr. Can in a chair staring at me gave me a big surprise. Can was in military uniform with the rank of Captain. Perhaps he made special arrangements and took me to another room. As soon as he sat down, he frowned at me and with a sarcastic voice he said: “Why you went to Thu Duc? It’s impossible!” He repeated it over and over “it is impossible!” I felt uneasy and answered,” I awaited for you too long. Besides I thought that going to Thu Duc is also for the service of the people and the country.” He frenetically waived his hand and spoke at length,” It is not possible! You cannot act that childish! Many people can go to Thu Duc, but for this business, they did not select everyone! Do you know that for more than four months so many persons were involved in it? They made the whole plan, secured the location, and everything was ready. The Presidency had given orders to take you back at all cost.”
I was very distressed, not knowing how to answer correctly. Personally, I also like the military career. Finally, I said “Let me stay here, it would be all the same.” His eyes wide opened, he watched me surprised by my refusal, showing his dissatisfaction and annoyance. Then his eyes mellowed and with an open mind, he said,” So. You want ranks; you will get it in Saigon, it will be like in the Army.” I believed that if he softened his attitude it was because he was afraid to foul up the plan and to lose face with his superior. I did not know how he managed, I had to follow him back right away to Saigon. I bid farewell to all new friends lying that I had to go home immediately “for a dying father.” Afterwards, through many months and years of sufferance’s and pains, it came to my mind that, if (that horrible if) I had been determined to stay at Thu Duc, I would have been changed my life completely different! That was my destiny.
That evening back to the Capital City, all the city colors, filled my heart with a quasi emptiness, I vaguely thought of so many turns in life. While I let my mind wander in bewilderment, the car stopped at a corner of Vo Tanh Street. Can you give me a set of keys? He said that this is the key to room 8 on the third floor, Nguyen Van Trang Street. Before leaving, he insisted that I refrain from going home and he would come in the morning for some talk. After some moment, I found the room there was a transistor radio and some foreign and local publications. The next day Can came. Roughly, he emphasized that I would play the role of a student of Letters of a well off family emigrating from north to central Viet Nam and presently in Saigon for school. That was vis-à-vis anyone, including the building manager. He advised me to go home only once or twice a month. I should tell them that they discovered my heart problem and transferred me to social work training for a certain time. I should seldom go down town, except for meals. There would be weekend breaks for Saturdays and Sundays.
I will be paid $2,500 a month during training (the same as when I was into Jean Jacques Rousseau). At first, Can bring in books and documents to train me. He explained on the secret organizations, their leadership by an individual, a team or a nation. He stressed the definition of friends and foes. Friends are those belonging to the same organization. Otherwise, everybody should be enemies, even your parents, spouse and children, your siblings, friends and other organizations such as police, security, Military security, etc. I wondered about that. He can explain that there are so many twists in intelligence work. In war or peace, there is antagonism between two countries or two groups of countries. Each side employs many agents and assigns them everywhere and in any fields. They could even sometimes penetrate the central government Their roles are diverse in nature but, in general their common goals are to search and listen to discover in advance the purpose, aims and deceits of one country against the other, take advantage of or liquidate as necessary. Thus, it is very important for an intelligence agent to know the other side agents and specially the secret ones.
The free world opposed the communist system. Can gave the example of an agent trained to secretly go into the enemy’s territory in a special mission, the sabotage of a weapons production plant for example. He is a happy married man. They trained him not to say anything to anyone, even to his wife. As he often left home for days or nights, his wife became suspicious. He told her all kinds of lies. Thinking that he was changing heart, she made his life miserable. As they are married a long time, he thinks that knowing the truth she would not harm him. Besides, she is not a communist agent, is she not? He decides to tell her everything stressing that it is top-secret she must keep her mouth shut. His wife pays a visit to her mother. The old woman is very concerned with her son-in-law’s strange behavior. She said,” You had better watch, he might have an affair. The daughter thinks that mom would not harm them and she could not be communist. Then one day she tells her the truth. She did not forget to say,” Mommy, it is a top secret, don’t tell any body.” The mother has a best friend who one day inquired about her son-in-law. She feels so proud, boasting with her friend that her son-in-law is working in some project at the presidential office. And so on, some day or at some place the counter spy would have smelled things and found out the work and activity of that not so discreet agent. If the latter moves to the other side territory, he would end up in either being killed or jailed for a long time…
Therefore, the failure started with the wife. We judged the results regardless of the reasons. Whether it was the efficient counter action of the enemy or the weakness of our agent who failed to do it, it would not matter. The result is it was a fiasco. Through the preceding example, your wife is like your enemy. I remembered having watched movies on espionage during World War I and II in which famous agents like Z-28, etc, trained in the outstanding school of espionage like the Japanese Black Dragon, the German Gestapo, the CIA or the Russian KGB. They were fast draws, rode speedy horses, piloted airplanes or zipped in fast cars with top-notch skill. I was so childish! With the principle of secrecy and compartmentalization, there is no public school training spies. The real things are not like in novels or movies,
Back to Ngoc Can, he explained to me the various types of personnel. We have security guards, middle agents, liaison men, public or semi public agents, the double agents, etc …He was with me daily for about four months. One day, fate April 1960, he came with another person. The man was tall, big and full of stamina. Can look at the big man and me. He half-introduced and half-recommended. “I will be busy with other things. Mr. Phan here is also from the directorate and he will take over to take care of you.” I shook Phan’s hand and watched him. Right from the beginning and through our conversations I found in him a likeable and open person. He is a Southerner.
Just Phan and I now, through his eyes and the expressions on his face he seemed to sympathize with me. As from my initial observations, he was a pleasant and broad-minded individual. I had the feeling of having known him for quite a while. He walked to my bookcase, looked at a few items and said: “From today on I will mold and train you Binh.” Then he sat down facing me, his voice was so intimate and considerate: “Don’t you know Binh that I have heard at the directorate that you are a new recruit with plenty of potential. I had tried to look at your file but it was not possible. They had better give you another assignment because it would be too much waste in this job. (I had to say that at the time, I did not fully understand the meaning of his statement and I had to wait until I was up north to get it). I shall discuss it with Binh later. Now, you have to study, do research, but it would not be suitable to be in this location too long. Tomorrow, I shall take you to Ky Dong.”
In the new place, I continued learning the secret messages, the methods of writing those messages, the secret codes, the personal security and missions, the leaving in dead messages boxes, the covers, propaganda and counter propaganda, how to gather and dig information, principle of compartmentalization, valuation of information. We became closer to each other as days went by. We called each other by first names and opened up our own selves. I knew that Phan had 15 years of experiences and had worked in many years for the French Second Bureau. A communist agent attempted to kill him in Can Tho in 1952. He fired at him from 25 meters pointing to his heart; Phan showed me the scar under a pricey cigarettes box in his shirt pocket that saved him. They arrested the man, but Phan saved him from jail and converted him by his magnanimity into a fully devoted and efficient help. In principle, Phan could not have told me those things and specially let me know his private life. Being a Southerner, he is more communicative than people from Central Vietnam or the Northerner.
One day at the start of October 1960 Phan told me that now the communist are setting up a front towards the formation of a provisional government. I will make you into a student discontented with the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. You will continue going to classes, stirring up some demonstration to connect with the real communist within the students. Then the authority will surround and hunt them and you will break to the resistance zone. Phan wanted my input. I know that it would not be as dangerous as going North. I was not concerned with the level of danger. Then, I asked myself whether it would be as exciting. Therefore, I would leave it to higher authority. Perhaps I did not give a clear-cut response, or there had been changes from the directorate, Phan dropped the subject once for all.
Every day Phan still helped my study and we moved to Ong Tho building. I still reviewed my books for my Baccalaureate 1 to which Phan highly encouraged me. One day he introduced two Americans Brown and Dale to train me in additional matters. Both were dressed in civilian garb, Brown had prescription glasses. They were often together. From now on I had three persons taking turn to teach me the communication equipment, how to follow and to foil being followed, the recruitment and training of personnel, weapons and land mines, survival method at sea and in jungles, psycho-analysis and determination of ability of each type in the society, the technique of a secret action network. I had a hard time. Phan often did the translation because I could write or read English a bit but talking was a big problem as there were so many technical words.
The communists always tried to con overseas graduates to go home for the rebuilding of the country. Therefore, the directorate would give me a scholarship to study electricity or chemistry in Hong Kong or Singapore. Upon graduation, communist agents would contact me. I would follow them back to North Viet Nam as fitting and start working for Saigon. Seeing that it would be too long may be about ten or twelve years I was not so enthusiastic. I did not even think of the opportunity to go overseas and get a diploma. Phan saw my indifference and dropped it off all together.
Time flies, we were already in August, the very sunny month of Saigon. I moved to 62 Tran Hung Dao blvd. It was a large apartment with two rooms having all amenities for foreigners to rent. Time is ready for us to go to Hanoi.
My mission in Hanoi:
Mission code name: COLUMBUS
My code name: X20
Duration: short, 25 days
Deliver document X to Z5 (Hoang Dinh Tho)
Deliver document M to a person (according to convention)
Deliver three blood letters of Father Hoang Quynh to Fathers A, B and C.
Recruiting and training agents
Follow up with your maximum ability and condition on the following,
6 Cau Go Street, 1 Citadel Street and 28 Sugar Street.
Mig’s 15, 19,
Politics, cultural, economics and the military, etc. Assess the general thinking of the people, the cadres and the military.
Tenth grade student of Vinh Linh going to Hanoi for heart problem,
Black market man,
Carrying letter for Nun Dam Huong of Phuoc Hai Pagoda about TC to Tham Hoang Tin,
Documenting Capital Division 308 under the command of Brigadier Vuong Thua Vu.
A yearlong period up to April 1962 of minute preparations inventing all imaginable eventualities.
Have practice sessions, with Brown, Dale and Phan. We always tried to work it out along the motto “the more you study and practice during the preparatory time, the smoother and wider the road into enemy’s territory.
Details of the whole plan:
Since I worked for the directorate, they assigned to me code name X20. For operation COLUMBUS, I still keep that code name.
My main job was to deliver document X to Z-5 Hoang Dinh Tho. They gave me a 4x6 photo of Hoang Dinh Tho for viewing in a week so that I was fully familiar with his face and had it recorded in my mind. Hoang Dinh Tho was then Doctor in internal medicine at Phu Doan Hospital, which changed to Viet-German Hospital. When in Hanoi they gave me a reference paper for heart test and I had to seek the opportunity to give document X to Dr. Tho. The code words will be,” Doctor, please treat my heart at a beat of one hundred twenty,” exactly 12 words. His answer should be,” I only treat your heart beat at one hundred thirty,” only ten words. Document X: wrapped under waterproof-black nylon, 2 mm thick, 4 cm long and 2 cm wide. They did not authorize me to know the content. If Hoang Dinh Tho does not work there any more, I had to destroy the document.
Document M delivered according to preset conventions.
Day and time: from 8 to 10 am, on the 16th or the 18th as occurred.
Location: On the The Huc wood bridge of Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake.
I will wear blue trousers, white shirt with sleeves rolled up, a pair of Thai sandals and the blue worker hat. I will hold in my hands a People Army newspaper.
The counterpart will wear grey khaki pants, brown shirt, Binh Tri Thien sandals holding three notebooks. Upon seeing whomever on the specified day and time on the The Huc Bridge, I have to make sure that he/she sees me and then from my newspaper folded once I must fold it again twice into eight parts. The counterpart will answer by changing the three notebooks from one hand to the other (always be at a distance of at least 10 meters). Then I will keep moving to a convenient spot in a public garden for example, to a public bench at a certain distance (about 50 m) so that he/she can easily watch me. I shall sit down leisurely on the bench, open the newspaper on my lap to read and then, wait until he/she sees me scratch my elbow with one finger pointed at the drop spot. Scratching means that you had dropped the document off. The drop spot would be a crack or a corner that normal eyes would not see but is still convenient for the counterpart to retrieve.
Document M: sealed under waterproof brown nylon, thick 3 mm, long 4 cm and 3 cm wide I have to repeat it repeatedly, practice at length the conventions and the code words to the extent that after 25 years I still remember it.
I used to go out with Phan (according to the regulation they do not want to see me with him but being new in the organization, how can I really know it. It was Phan’s mistake). Phan told me that there were two groups in the organization:
Group (a) with the director and the majority had the view of intelligence work in the conservatively rigid method. Take an example, you want to send somebody out to buy one kilo of apples. You instruct him to use his bike, go carefully on the right side, pay attention at cross roads, use arm to signal turning. There you lock your bike, go in to select what kind of apples, how much to pay, etc…
Group (b) under the deputy and a few other persons including Phan, conceived that intelligence work should be lively and encouraging the agents to be creative and flexible in all situations. Using the same example of apples, you just tell him to buy good fruit and be careful on the street. Use his head to buy the best apples at a good price.
According to me, each method has its cons and pros. Therefore, you should pick up the best in the mix to use regardless of where they come from. That was my opinion and I did not dare to share it with Phan. I asked which one of two methods proved best, Phan answered,” The end justifies the means.” During his training Phan had been quite superficial and I often had to seek further explanation. On the contrary, with Can and later on, with Hoang Cong An we went into too many boring details. With Brown and Dale, being CIA men but due to my English limitation I was not quite clear. Through my observations of their behavior and attitude, I saw that they were right on many things. With situations needing details, they would dig into minute things and would become quite sketchy on unnecessary situations. During the preparation, they provided me with a small transistor radio with earplugs. They authorized me to listen to Hanoi broadcast. They gave me all kinds of publications from North Viet Nam so that I would be fully used to the life and the language up there. Around mid September 1961 Phan introduced a spectacled man named Hoang Cong An who will take over, as Phan must be from Saigon in a special assignment. An was a central man. The training and my experiences at No. 2 Jean Jacques Rousseau showed me that it was not good to be curious on what did not concern you. I did not even bother knowing about the real names of the instructors and their jobs during their two years with me. Even their moving around was no concern to me.
To deliver Father Hoang Quynh’s letters is a very important and complex mission. It had a primordial impact on the northern Christianity. That is why they brought in Hoang Cong An, who had been a defrocked priest. I had to deliver the letters to Father A at church X in Hanoi, Father B at church Y in Hanoi and to Father C, at church Y in Hanoi. They showed me three typed documents on the three Fathers, their characters, including their 4x6 photos.
Father A was graduated Ph D in France. He was a resourceful, determined person having a clear-cut anti communist ideal. Having good reputation with his followers, bound by a past promise with Father Quynh, he now also assumed responsibility at Phuc Xa Thuong and Phuc Xa Ha. The instructions were clear. If after reading Father Quynh’s letter, he agrees to cooperate with the free world it would be a total success. Then I shall lie low in a secured area of the Church at the Father’s discretion. Every day I shall conduct his basic intelligence training and should be able to assess his spirit, ability and his condition, give him the code word and code object which was half of a one north Vietnam bill while the other half will be taken back home. Afterwards if some one gives the right code word and shows the code object to the Father, that one will be the real Saigon man providing him necessary things and instructions for his next assignment.
If the Father, though still anti-communist, would not agree to directly work for Saigon, then seek his introduction to a most confident person having initiative and idealism. Then I will be directly involved with the man and give training as the conditions and situation dictated. In case it would not be suitable, I lie low and have the Father assistance to conduct recruiting and training for ten days. There were no limitations on age and sex of the recruits. If they worked in the enemy’s administration, it would be the best. Know their situation, their family relationship, and their living conditions; assess precise circumstances before giving them two following liaison addresses: In France, Paul Lang, 14 Rue du Four, Paris Sixieme, France. Give them the full details, Paul Lang is 42, mixed blood, wife is also mixed blood and named Marie Nguyen, prior to 1954 lived in Saigon, returned to France aboard the Esperance, presently owner of a big Laundromat at the same address. Second address is in Cambodia, Peck Kim San in Maternity Sokkha at 105 Monivong Street, Phnom Penh. Peck Kim San now 28, work for the Maternity. His wife is Vietnamese with Cambodian citizenship and they have one 4 years old boy. They must have good reason, like social or family relationship to send letters now and then. Sometime later, they could insert questions of security character such as: (1) to the question “how are you today?” If the reply is “we are OK,” it means they watched us. In case the answer is we do not feel good then every thing is OK. (2) “Do you like Pham Duy music” “yes” means they watched and “no” stands for clear. (3) “Do you wish to have enough money to buy a new bicycle?” “No” means clear. (4) “do you like chicken?” “Yes” means that we are being watched and “no” is for clear. (5) “do you feel at ease with life in the socialist system?” “Easy” means watched and “no” is clear.
Besides there are two conventions for letters to the precedent addresses to let Saigon know if the security forced you to write it. (1) If at the heading when you write the date write “day 20 Oct. 1963” it shows they forced you. Just “20 Oct. 1960” is a free writing. (2) In any case, if the year does not show any stop point, they watched you and in case you use a stop point then things are clear. You must make sure that the recruits know by heart the conventions; logical is for being watched and illogical is clear. There are so many unknown conventions and tricks that one must master and avoid confusion.
Father B is a quiet man, hard working and always trying to finish his task even in case of difficulty. He has management ability and is more with religion than social affairs. The Directorate says that Father B is still at church Y. Father C, still at church Y, is rather old but still has high spirit. The Christians of Hanoi and the Vietnamese clergy respected him. According to the directorate, Father A should be our main target. If he is not at church X anymore, or for any reason he refuses to cooperate then go to Father B. Otherwise, go to Father C. According to Hoang Cong An, just like Father Hoang Quynh they are all good priests in the service of God and the believers. They also were very close to the Father and have made vows with him when he went South with his flock. Anyhow, it had been 8 years under the communist rule; no one would know how his or her morale is. Besides their health is also a concern.
I was thinking and rethinking very intensively. Seeing that this is a big and important task requiring a much more capable person, I told An about it. He said,” The organization had thought about it very fully, especially from the standpoint of religion. No one could be given this mission which, if failed would give the communists reasons to squeeze more and more on Christians and the clergy. Moreover, several sides of the situation were involved, especially when the scene of action was in the communist capital of Hanoi. “Be confident, Binh,” the directorate had weighed and searched thoroughly and finally decided on you. I still think to myself that capable men would not dare to go since there were plenty of dangers ahead. They had to pick me among the pack of daredevils. However, I was “on the tiger’s back.” I had to kick him on, whatever the outcome!
One day Hoang Cong An told me that Father Hoang Quynh wanted to see me before he wrote the letters. As we had the approval from higher headquarters, we shall go together in the morning at 9am to Binh An in the Binh Xuyen side. I remembered that long ago, when I was a little boy I used to go with the Father who was the leader of the Dinh Bo Linh Group to many places for martial arts exhibition under his direction. Now that I had grown up, for sure he would not recognize me. We went together to Binh An and waited in the guest room. After a short while, the Father came. He had changed so much after 10 years, his face all wrinkled, his hair now with white strands. However, his is still as agile as before. He smiled and shook our hands. He asked me so many questions on my school and family. I refrained from talking of Dinh Bo Linh Group though I almost could not refrain from doing so.
During more than one hour talking, he often looked at me saying,” How brave you are!” When he went with us to the door, he said. “I admire you. Before you go, I would like to have lunch with you to show my admiration when bidding farewell to a knight in the spirit of Pham Hong Thai?” I did not answer him right away and glanced at An who said,” I acknowledge your words. I shall consult with my superior and call you right away.” On the way home An told me that it is not certain the headquarters would agree to it because you still have so many things to do. I knew that the Father’s reputation was outstanding. He had, at one time, made Ho Chu Minh lose face when he was vice-chairman of the Inter Faith anti-Communist Front chaired by Monk Tue Chieu, when tricky Ho kneeled down in front of Bishop Le Huu Tu for baptism.
About recruiting and training, if due to their enthusiasm and national ideal they would agree, I will conduct their training. Otherwise, I will ask them to introduce reliable persons for me to recruit and train. It would not be too difficult. At first, I shall teach the basics of the job. The hard stuff was to find out the character and abilities of each and uncover their strength and weakness. Though Dale, Brown and An trained me for nearly two years, they still stressed that the human character is very complex and diverse. In general, you can have three types: (a) the shallow ones showing right away their feeling, fun or sadness. You do not have to be concerned much about this type. (b) As for the quiet, introvert who never showed their opinion, you must be careful, always be on your guard and ready to react defensively. Still this group is not as dangerous as the last one. (c) They always smile showing friendliness and ready to share or help in case. As soon as they get your confidence, they could give a surprise stab to your heart. They make you subjective and harm you. In conclusion, you must have keen and fast observations. Regardless of what they say and how they appear, you must recognize the real person behind that façade. The recruiter must know the extent of their ability, how wrong or right they are.
I had to apply my total ability and energy to the mission. Besides, I must pay attention to the following events while moving around in Hanoi. Houses number 6 Cau Go Street, number 1 Citadel and number 27 Sugar Street where they train spies and send them to South Viet Nam. While I was being trained in the South, the directorate informed me of two typical cases as lessons to draw experiences from
Case 1. Around 1957 through information from the people, the South intelligence had set up traps and caught a top agent of the North. After the yearlong work on him using all the technical capability, we surrendered to his stubbornness. If the case were with Northern security, the person would be in jail regardless of what he said, for a long time until he becomes old and rejoin his ancestors. However, we had a different policy. We can incarcerate him only for a duration according to the law. (That was the cases of Nguyen Huu Tho and Nguyen Thi Binh). The man kept maintaining his innocence. We had used all means available, threats, torture, cons, incentives, etc., but to no avail. It was a very difficult problem for the directorate. Finally, the boss offered a plan of execution under his total responsibility. One night of late winter, it rained so hard and it was cold in Hue. A military convoy went out of the central prison led by a Dodge 4 truck having on the front seat the driver, a first lieutenant and one sergeant. The intelligence director was the sergeant. The back seat had four handcuffed prisoners and two armed escorts. The following truck had a half well armed platoon with two second-lieutenants. The convoy was traveling gingerly South when at about 11 PM machine guns cracked and ahead on the highway was a felled tree blocking it. The soldiers jumped down, guns pointed out in a firefight. The enemy already had surrounded them. Their commander ordered everyone down, took all dossiers, disarmed them and got the key to open the handcuffs for the four prisoners. He harangued,” You are with the wrong side, cooperating with the imperialist Americans against the people. I am not going to kill you all. The generosity of the party dictates me to reeducate you and free you so that you will repent and serve the people. The two officers having blood-debts with the people will be taken to our area for judgment.” All of a sudden, the stubborn communist spy stood up, taking out from the seam of his shirt and showed to the commander a 4 cm square piece of red cloth displaying two yellow stars under a white stripe. He said,” CoMr.ades, I am the chief of K-10 Saigon of Block R; you had an unexpected successful operation with such a miraculous result. Tie the hands of that sergeant who is the director of intelligence.” The men were all happy. Their commander ordered anyone to board the vehicles heading back to the city of the Perfume River.
Case 2. Things happened in 1959 at house number 126 0r 128, Phan Dinh Phung Street, Saigon. The house had a seldom-opened iron gate. The owner was a widow about 60 having a brother living with her until after graduation he went to work in the presidential office. No one knew what kind of job he had but he was very close to Ngo Dinh Nhu. They gave him a villa on Cong Ly Street conveniently close to the Palace. So the house became quieter and more desolate. Mr.s. Han had only a servant who was also a relative. Everybody around knew perfectly her situation, that she was a good mannered woman eating a meatless diet, going regularly to the pagodas and doing charity. Her husband and she were from a well off family in Hue. They had only a little son when the big changes came in 1945 and the Viet Minh took control. Being fully aware that the Viet Minh was a group of hoodlums intolerant with the other nationalististic parties her husband refused to join the alliance government of the tricky Ho Chi Minh. They liquidated him. During the troubled period with the Japanese, Chinese, French, English and Viet Minh, the population was uprooted and disseminated to all corners. After losing her son who was her unique consolation, she went to Saigon with her brother.
She was still very wealthy but lacked the homeliness of a family. She spent all the money searching the son to no avail. For 14 years, her sorrow kept building up in the depth of her heart and the communist was aware of it, thinking that she would be a perfect case to penetrate the Southern Government. They found and trained a fitting young man into a perfect person to play the role of her lost son with the same voice and feature. At the front of Mr.s. Han’s always closed door, on the side walk a poor woman set up her bench to sell bananas, candies and teas to the rickshaw drivers. The spy was a good-looking young man 19-20 years of age, poorly dressed, healthy but always displaying on his face hints of nostalgic sadness. Every day after hard work with his cycle, he always stopped at the stall eating a banana or sipping a cup of tea, all quiet and thoughtful. The woman seemed compassionate for a young hardworking man and sometimes asked him a few questions, At first it was vague inquiries on his daily income, the weather, his where about, his lateness to come, etc,.. Then gradually she asked about his origin, parents and so forth. He did not want to talk of his family and unfortunate life. Nevertheless, seeing that she was a warm-hearted woman he gradually opened up. He did not know who his parents were. A family adopted him when he was 4-5 years old. At age 9-10, he became servant for many families. Then he drifted to work strenuously in the rubber plantations and finally found his way to Saigon driving rickshaws to make his living. The vendor woman knowing the story of the owner was suspicious and asked further. “Would you remember how your parents were?” His vague reply,” seemingly, I was very happy, well dressed and remembered sitting with my dad on a rickshaw pulled by somebody.” She wanted to ask some more and the young man looking sad, paid her and moved off.
When she saw the owner of the house, she related to her the story of the young rickshaw driver. Mr.s. Han was all disturbed wishing to meet the man at the earliest and told the woman to bring him in as soon as she saw him. The next day and several other days, he did not show up making the woman and Mr.s. Han all upset and agitated. More than one week later, on a rainy afternoon the young man dropped by all wet. The woman excitingly asked why he did not come lately, poured him a hot cup of tea and rushed to push the doorbell. Five minutes later, she hastily told the young man,” Please enter for a short while.” He shook his head. The woman warmly urged,” Just come in for a short moment, as it is still raining, Mr.s. Han would want to say a few words to you.” She finally had to hold his hand, almost dragging him in. Upon seeing the young man, the eyes of Mr.s. Han displayed all signs of love even though there was nothing yet to show that he is the lost son. Then as for dampening her feelings, she asked with emotion,” Do you have any close relative at present?” He only shook his head. She went on,” do you know how your family was?” Looking very pensive, he said nothing. She again asked, choking her rising emotion,” do you remember riding the rickshaw with your father?” He nodded and she pressed on,” try to remember when you were a young boy, what did you do, what kind of toy did you play?” He waited until Mr.s. Han repeated the question. Then looking out of the window like going back in time to a faraway past he said,” I do not remember things clearly now but it seems to me that my father gave me a top with a very long tip. Mr.s. Han’s eyes sparkled and she hastily rushed,” any other things?” His reply was,” my father gave me a color book with the picture of a turtle which I colored with a red pencil.” The man bent down his head; the room atmosphere seemed tense and expectant. Then he slowly raised his left thumb with a small scar,” one time in the kitchen I played with a knife and cut my thumb making my mother cry.”
Not holding it in anymore, she rushed to wrap her arms around the man sobbing and tearful face,” Oh my boy!” The man cried and even the tea-vending woman had tears circling her eyelids. Breathless and about to pass out Mr.s. Han could not hold her emotion anymore. She pulls him at her saying “I still keep your top and color book in the drawer of my bed as the only souvenirs from you.” She right away called the brother who, in the joyful family reunion made plan for the future of the nephew. He will help him with his education and teach him to drive so that he could take his mother to the pagodas. The whole house became so lively. Northern intelligence had instructed the spy to cultivate relationship with Miss Ngan, the waitress at a coffee joint in Nga Bay. In case the mother and uncle pressed him to have a family, he then would ask the hands of Ngan who also belongs to the Hanoi spy network in Saigon.
Then things did not stay so smooth when the actor had not played his role very well. believing that the cyclist was her own son Mr.s. Han gave him a deep affection. Initially he played his role superbly. Anyhow, in the end he slackened and became cool and detached while the mother felt desperate and she talked to her brother. It alerted the Saigon counter espionage and they used the uncle as a screen to investigate and dig further. Nearly one year later they arrested the whole spy organization.
Dale and Brown brought two models of Mig-15 and Mig-19, about 20cm long, very precisely constructed with insignia and markings. They clearly explained the characteristics and abilities of the planes, emphasizing that during my time in Hanoi if I see them in the sky I should report immediately. They also briefed on the insignias and ranks emblems of all branches of the Armed Forces from marshals down to privates, inclusive of the winter uniforms of Red China and North Korea. Besides, while in Hanoi I must watch closely the street scenes, the media and the small units in training. I had to get in touch with all classes of people to evaluate the hearsay on political, economical, cultural, military, social and the general common views of the populace, the cadres and the military.
Cover (1). I will be a junior high student in Vinh Linh under the name of Le Viet Hung with the following story. Due to the famine and problems of 1945, my parents had to move from Nam Dinh and settle in hamlet Vinh Quang of Vinh Linh. My father is Le Van Thong and my mother Vu Thi Sang. There are three of you, one sister Le thi Thu and a young brother Le Tuan. I had to memorize the names of Vinh Linh high school principal, the chief and assistant chief of Vinh Linh district and those of Vinh Quang hamlet. I was member of the youth organization and remembered the names of the leader and assistant leader. Besides, I must be aware of a few important events in Vinh Linh and in my hamlet.
I must act logically and naturally based on the above. I am Le Viet Hung having signs of a gradually deteriorating heart problem and obtained the district permit to go to Hanoi for treatment during summer break. I carry all the necessary documents, reference to the hospital, student certificate, military certificate, youth organization paper and the month pass signed by the chief of security of Vinh Linh. I had to study and know by heart this cover so that I will think and act as a real Le Viet Hung. To practice it I will meet for three or four times one man acting as a tough communist authority, at time at Catinat Hotel and some other time at Majestic Hotel. He screamed at me, asked tortuous and tricky questions to ascertain that I give the appropriate and logical answers. I remembered during one last session, while talking leisurely, he introduced himself as Dang living and working for the communist side for many years, (I know that he is now with espionage directorate). He said,” To say the truth, the main thing is not to arouse suspicion. Once they mistrust and squeeze you, you would dig out your father tomb for them if they told you so.” I thought he should not have said that way because it would disturb the morale of an agent ready to venture into the enemy’s territory. The more I think about it the more I realize that our trainers lack finesse, sense of responsibility and the real idealistic motive.
Cover (2). The communist caught and detained you. They did not believe and had proved that you carried faked papers and you were not Le Viet Hung of Vinh Linh, then you shall tell your story as follows. My parents were very poor. I failed several times my examination, felt tired of it but having a daring character and not concerned with dangers, a friend introduced me to Mr. Lan who helped me in my smuggling and black market business. As Lan was an imaginary person, to prevent from being harassed by security, I must remember all details of the person to stay consistent. I took a real person for it. He was my uncle, a big and fat man, the owner of an import business in Saigon. Mr. Lan met me at a coffee stall. After several meetings to determine my intention, he went straight into the subject matter. There was a rarity of high quality high priced medicines in the North. To make plenty of money I had to take risks, cross Ben Hai bringing samples to buy and resell to the influential merchants in Hanoi. He gives an advance of $10,000 cash and pay for all expenses. He will split the profit 50/50. One day Dale introduced Doctor Harry. He is about 40-50. Dr. Harry brought 20 or so bottles of medicine, explaining their uses and characteristics. Until my departure, Dr. Harry will also take care of my health needs and requirements.
Cover (3). The communists would not buy your story or they had proof of your lies and misrepresentations. They proceeded to tortures. When you could not stand it anymore, you will use cover #3 that is still not political in nature yet. All things stay the same, your origin; the features of cover #2, your boring with unsuccessful examinations, your adventurous character are the realities. Here is the difference: Due to social relationship, a friend introduced you to Nun Dam Huong of Phuoc Hai Pagoda, Vuon Chuoi area of Phan Dinh Phung, Saigon. During the French domination in 1945, Nun Dam Huong and Reverend Tue Chieu were students-patriots having the common feeling of disgrace and hate against the French. They set up among the students community in Hanoi secret movements of discontents compelling the images of past revolutionaries Phan Boi Chau, Phan Chu Trinh, Nguyen Thai Hoc, etc, and were in the most wanted list of the French secret service. Moved by the same ideals they fell in love with each other and became married. To avoid French detection they shaved their heads and went into hiding in pagodas, as Monk Tue Chieu in Quan Thanh Temple and Nun Dam Huong in some pagoda and finally in Phuoc Hai Temple in Saigon.
After the Viet Minh takeover in 1945, they started liquidating religious activities. Behind the front of “religious alliance” against the French, they took advantage of the differences between religions to instigate divisions and dissentions, providing fuel to fire up conflicts. Reverend Tue Chieu with Nun Dam Huong secretly connected with the Christians. They found the Alliance Front of Religions against Communism under his Chairmanship and co-chaired by Father Hoang Quynh. Politically the organization was the headache problem for the Viet Minh seeing it as even more dangerous than French Colonialism. They set up traps to lure and catch Monk Tue Chieu and Father Hoang Quynh along with other high-ranking persons of the Front. As Buddhism was not a cohesive organization, they cold bloodedly assassinated Tue Chieu while under pressure from a unified catholic church they did not dare to kill Father Hoang Quynh. As they still needed the support or at least the non-opposition of the Christians, they put the Father under surveillance at Church Lac Dao and let the believers see and feed him.
For Nun Dam Huong, when she got the tragic news of her husband’s death, she got his body and buried it hurriedly in secrecy at the Hop Thien Cemetery. She emigrated South with her son after the partition of the country in 1954. She still stayed very active in her speaking tours encouraging the people to struggle against the communist enemy of the nation. Besides, she nurtured the deep wish to build a dignified tomb for her lover and heroic coMr.ade who sacrificed his life to the country and now had departed to another faraway world amid clouds and winds. That is why when she saw me and knew my expectations she was happy and helped me to get false documents to cross into the enemy territory. She will pay me $100,000 after the mission and give me an advance payment of $10,000 to help my parents. I shall cross the Ben Hai River, deliver a message to Mr. Tham Hoang Tin, the owner of a pharmacy and the mayor of Hanoi in 1954. The letter will remind Mr. Tin of their friendship and seek his help to build a proper tomb for Monk Tue Chieu. Hoang Cong An took me to see Nun Dam Huong several times at Phuoc Hai Pagoda to familiarize me with activities in that temple and see the personality of the nun. I also met the son who was 19 and ready to pass his Baccalaureate II.
Cover (4). At the real end, I shall say that my mission is political. Then I use cover (4) which is the last one and stay with it even if they chop my head off or give me a bullet. In this period, I will be tortured, locked up and investigated extensively. They would have concrete proofs of my false testimonies. Then if I cannot any more bear the atrocious tortures, I should use cover (4). I was with the Intelligence Company of Division 7. Being a man inclined to difficult works and fearless of things that most people abhorred, I made friend with Lieutenant Xuong of Military Security. He introduced me to Intelligence and they transferred me to Saigon for training in a rented house in Hamlet Cau Cong of Khanh Hoi (if it was in a hotel or a building the communist would focus on those localities, giving problems to future training classes). Just disclose the logical classes, their duration and sketchy training method so that the enemy would wrongly valuate the ability of our intelligence. Tell them only of a sole trainer which I had to memorize exactly. In all cases, do not mention about Americans because at the time there were not many Americans in Saigon. The training was especially on military matters. I must monitor the movement of Division 308 of Hanoi under General Vuong Thua Vu, research names and ages of the commanding officers down to company level. I have to know the weapons in use, locations of artillery and tanks, transportation equipment, garrisons’ installation with the surrounding terrain and access, activities of training and indoctrination of the soldiers and officers. Their fighting capabilities and morale are also my interest. To get the information I have to make friends with soldiers in the streets of Hanoi. To sum it up I can tell them everything except the real mission.
A visit to the Ben Hai River
For the COLUMBUS operation, I am required to learn and practice the proper ways to deal with the priests. In the communist ruthless regime, the population is under very tight control. However, the priests were anti communist. They have been through bloody experiences and become very cautious to avoid engaging hastily into dangerous situations. Therefore, as an intelligence agent of Saigon I am required to be composed and impassible, having all abilities to change with the situation as needed. As the priests have social standing and are well educated it is important that I possess good knowledge of several social facets and display a dignified conduct. As I feel lacking the necessary qualities, I am worrisome. I practiced dealing with a few persons acting like the northern priests. Phan, An and those actors finally said,” Binh, you are ready to do it.”
I requested to meet somebody who just returned from the North but the directorate did not satisfy my desire. The directorate arranged for me to see the four latest turncoats now in the Gia Dinh Center for Reception of the Ben Hai crossers. I was with An and we pretended to be from the press office of the presidency and gave to the Major in charge an introductory letter. I was there twice, each time I met two persons, each one at a different time. The first day I saw a military man and a Thang Long School senior high teacher. On the second day, it was an interview with a bus driver and a junior high teacher of Thanh Hoa. No one, even the camp commander was aware of our purpose. To distract, we asked simple vague questions and inserted the necessary fitting ones. It gave me good useful understanding for my trip up North.
On a big military map of assembled thick and shiny 40X60 pieces covering the whole wall under the direction of Dale and Brown, I studied for days National Highway I from Vinh Linh to Hanoi, the DMZ and Hanoi city with all minute details, DMZ North and the district of Vinh Linh. As a precaution, if in case of mishap, they cannot retrieve me, and I must go back on foot, I went to the Ben Hai south bank to watch closely the focal points at the other side with my pair of binoculars. One thing I could not forget is, one time when An and I landed at Phu Bai the person who met us was Huong. We looked at each other astounded. An also wondered why I knew Huong. Since they discharged me from the class, I heard from Ly that Huong lost his director position due to some financial mistakes. When he shook hand with me he only said,” You still look like before, just gaining weight, but still as handsome.” He never reminisced on the old stories at #2 J. J. Rousseau. He took us to a Hue Hotel. During our stay here, I was under guard day and night. From then on to almost the end of my life, I always have guards, and it is funny!
Huong drove us to the DMZ. Among the trees in the south side, I saw a few guards dressed in brown garbs displaying a two fingers wide piece of red cloth on the chest at their sentry post. They might have guns under their shirt. From their look and attitude, I understood that Huong is responsible for the body of guards this side of demarcation. I watched the river that is the testimony of our painful history. The water flows leisurely towards Hien Luong Bridge with here and there some bamboo fishing boats working at both side of the river. They could not be laypeople because according to the Geneva accord, the border between the two sides is the middle of the river and the Hien Luong Bridge. For willful reasons or not if they stray to the other side, the guards will arrest them. I walked along the South bank and saw that at some place the river is about 20-30 meters wide. I witnessed busy girls in brown shirts and black pants watering the patches of vegetables and when they saw me, they waived at me smiling from ear to ear. I directed my eyes to the far away North, my heart racing with emotion. Huong told me that the communist forced every one living in the DMZ area to move out and they brought in secret security agents to live and farm like the natives. If you use your binoculars to watch, you will see moving things under the forest and sentinels on top of trees. Moving my slanting view, I saw farther the all mossy Hai Cu Church totally covered by vegetations. I realized the dark life of the Christians wilting in that atheistic society. Huong told me that further in, during dry seasons at some places one could roll up his pants and cross the river. How could such a narrow and shallow waterway separate a nation for so long while our traditional way calls for goodwill and love?
Back to Saigon, I was very close to my departure and I had several urgent things to do. I had to learn the use of a number of travesty products, the infrared light, etc…When in enemy territory I’d come across with thousands of things I had never known before. One day, about in a couple of months, Phan gave me a silver ring engraved with the traditional “tho” character. The difference is that inside there was the number 48 stamped bas-relief. Phan urged me to be used to it and to get it inscribed in my head. He also gave me a 6X9 photo of the one-column-temple in Hanoi having on the back the number 1618 penciled at its corner. I remembered the number 1618 as the days I shall deliver document M. One week later Phan took them back and asked whether I had remembered all the features. He said that in the future, at any place and time if somebody shows me that photo, that one would carry the instructions from Saigon to me. One day Dale and Brown came and trained me on the use of the secret pencil, which was the latest intelligence tool unknown to the enemy. It is about 2/3 the size of the graphite of the normal pencil, 6-7 cm long, dark grey and having neither odor nor taste. One end has slanted point looking like a nylon thread and it is very useful for spies going into enemy territory. According to Brown and Dale, the communist would pay a million for it. I practiced its use for many days so that its writing would not leave any faint mark on the paper that would then look as smooth and fine as originally. When I was up North, I knew that the thing was still unknown to them. I had hidden it and only destroyed it when the South capitulated in 1975. This is the most convenient and simple to use tool.