Viet Nam News interviewed Architect Nguyen Huu Thai, who witnessed the historic, unconditional surrender of the Duong Van Minh cabinet to the Liberation Forces in Sai Gon this day 40 years ago. Thai represented the third force, that is, Sai Gon intellectuals and students, who opposed the then pro-US regime, and fought tirelessly for peace and unity in Viet Nam.
|Nguyen Huu Thai. Photo AP
Now 75 years old, Nguyen Huu Thai has taught Vietnamese studies and used to be visiting scholar at Montreal and Windsor Universities in Canada, Politecnico di Torino in Italy and a research fellow at Temple University and University of Massachusets in the United States.
Could you describe your day on April 30, 1975?
As soon as the last helicopter left the American Embassy, I went to An Quang Pagoda to meet with Most Venerable Thich Tri Quang, the Buddhist monk who had strong influence on General Duong Van Minh, the new President, to urge for an early surrender.
Then I encouraged students based at the Van Hanh Buddhist University to capture the Radio and Television station of Sai Gon to broadcast the voice of the revolutionary forces as early as possible.
I went with professor Huynh van Tong and journalist Nguyen Van Hong to the Independence Palace to convince those we know in the Duong Van Minh Cabinet to surrender. There we helped soldier Bui Quang Than place the new flag on top of the Palace, accompanied Commisar Bui Van Tung and President Duong Van Minh and Prime Minister Vu Van Mau to the radio station to broadcast the Surrender Appeal of General Minh.
I took charge of running that particular broadcast session, which tried to calm the residents and invited representatives of the people to come to the station to welcome the revolutionary forces. We stayed there until evening, before passing it over to those in charge of the liberation forces.
How did you feel when you saw the new flag on top of Independence Palace?
The fact that the old flag of South Viet Nam was replaced by the new liberation flag meant that from that time the Government belonged to the revolution. It was sheer coincidence that there were three young men present there - Bui Quang Than from the North, Nguyen Huu Thai from the Centre and Huynh Van Tong from the South. For me, since that moment, Viet Nam became an independent country, putting an end to 117 years of western colonial and imperialist domination. We could not hold back our happy and proud tears of joy.
Is it true that people were sceptical and they only went out after the surrender appeal had been broadcast?
The people of Sai Gon were brainwashed that if the liberation forces come in, there would be bloodshed, so at first, people were very scared. They stayed home. But after hearing our voices and the surrender appeal of General Minh, they calmed down. After hearing the voice of composer Trinh Cong Son singing Noi vong tay lon (Hold Your Hand: Make a larger circle), people became more enthusiastic and poured into the streets.
As you can see in many western photos and footage, Sai Gon was in chaos because of those who wanted to leave and soldiers who had deserted. But there were people who felt it was like a family reunion. What was the truth?
There were many western journalists who stayed on in Sai Gon that day and they captured the full picture. Before April 30, the city was in total chaos. People who used to work for the United States tried to leave. There was looting. But from noon that day, it was obvious that a new order had set in.
You could see young liberation soldiers immersed with the people of Sai Gon. Even Western journalists could not believe their eyes when they saw the ending of a 30-year long war, that looked to them, like a giant family reunion with tears and joy at the same time.
|From left: Nguyen Huu Thien Nga (daughter), Nguyen Huu Thai, Tran Tuyet Hoa (wife) and Nguyen Huu Thai Hoa (son) stand in front of the Independent Palace.
Could you tell us about your family members who were on both sides?
The biggest re-union anyone could see on April 30, 1975, was the one right there on the street between the people of Sai Gon and the young liberation soldiers. It was too early for most families to re-unite. It took a few more days, when people came out from resistance bases in the jungle and people were freed from prisons.
At first there was hesitation and scepticism. Real family reunification did take quite a while.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of a re-unified country in the past 40 years?
The biggest achievements are peace, independence and re-unification. We Vietnamese are the real masters of our country. We make our own decisions and rebuild our own country. No outside forces can interfere. This true independent spirit is very important, because when you want to develop the economy, not only finance is needed and technical know-how, but the resilience and belief in the fruits of the revolution we acquired on April 30.
What do you think is the best way to continue peacefully?
We Vietnamese here and abroad need to be united. We need to leave aside indiscrepancies and collaborate to build a rich and strong country. The previous generations and my generation worked hard towards that goal and I believe that the generations born after 1975 shall pick up from where we left.
On a personal note, who are your idols?
Before 1975 in Sai Gon, I didn't really admire one particular politician or military leader. I somehow respect General Duong Van Minh for his righteousness and the smart mind of Most Venerable Thich Tri Quang, who stood up against American advisers and the Sai Gon generals.
In my heart, I only cherish Uncle Ho and General Vo Nguyen Giap.
In today's world, instability arises anywhere. Where do you think Viet Nam needs to find its source of strength?
We find it in our own selves. Viet Nam as a nation needs to act together. Vietnamese in the country and all over the world need to be in solidarity. If we are one big strong nation, no other forces can harm us.
Self-righteousness and self-resilience are our common goals. But we cannot live without friends and allies. Who are the friends of Viet Nam now?
The Government of Viet Nam's policy is to be friends even with our former foes: the French, the American and even the Chinese, on condition that they don't threaten to use force against us.
During the war against the US-involvement in Viet Nam, the progressive humans of the world saw us as the conscience of the human race. I see no reason why now we cannot become the friends of people all over the world.
If you can once again lived your youth? Would you still do the same things as you did?
I'm positive that I would not live my life otherwise, if I still am Vietnamese. — VNS