|Living with the past: Duong Ba Quy and Nguyen Thi Thuy look at the many medals and awards they have received for their heroic efforts during the American War. — File Photo
|Sisters in arms: A young Thuy takes aim. Like virtually every young person of her generation, she joined the national defence and protection service as a teenager. She has been awarded the title "Valiant soldier in defeating the US" seven times. — File Photo
Duong Ba Quy and his wife Thuy braved death on a daily basis helping the North Vietnamese troops pass through the Demilitarised Zone. Despite the physical and emotional pain they still have to live with, they feel blessed to be alive, and to be together. Phan Bui Bao Thy
It is hard to believe when you see Duong Ba Quy, 69, and his wife Nguyen Thi Thuy, 62, farming in the fields of My An Village in Gio My Commune, that they risked their lives for their country on almost a daily basis for 20 years during the Anti-American War.
The young couple were assigned the task of helping the North Vietnamese troops pass through the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) on the 17th parallel that temporarily marked the border between the North and South. And despite its demilitarised status, from 1954, Quang Tri Province's Gio Linh District was the site of some of the bloodiest action in the war.
In the late 1960s, American forces constructed an electronic infiltration barrier nicknamed McNamara's Fence (after the United State's Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara) to curb the transport of North Vietnamese troops and supplies across the line.
The 76-kilometre barrier ran from the coast to the border with Laos, just south of the Demilitarised Zone. It had an electronic fence - a computer-driven surveillance system that would blow up anyone who set foot on the area. Along its length there were mines and barbed-wire entanglements.
Despite these precautions, the McNamara Fence failed to stop northern troops pass through the DMZ, due in large part to the covert efforts of Quy and Thuy.
Besides tens of medals, awards and certificates they have received for their contribution to the liberation war, the couple were granted the title "Valiant Soldier in Defeating Americans" a total of 22 times.
During the 20 years Quy served in the military, he reportedly destroyed 2 TRC 10 radio communication sets, 18 tanks, four GMC trucks, two jeeps and two helicopters.
"This feat of arms was not made by me alone. We – my fellows and I – made it," Quy said.
"Many lost their lives or part of their flesh on the battle ground. I'm happier as I survived and returned to my family, with my wife and children," he said.
Quy said he started serving the army as a guerrilla at the age of 13.
At that time, anti-communist forces of the president of the Sai Gon regime, Ngo Dinh Diem, belligerently raised the motto: "Burn all, destroy all and kill all".
Villagers were put under curfew during the night, while the village itself was surrounded by fences.
However, at midnight, when still a child, Quy would sneak out to deliver letters and make reports on the enemy's position.
Until 1966, after his activities became known to the enemy, Quy would hide in an underground hideout during the day, only emerging at night, when together with his young comrades, Quy would guide soldiers from the north past guard stations and through the electronic fence.
A year later, he was assigned to work as a scout for Group 1A – Cua Viet Port's Navy Commando and the vice leader of Gio My Commune's guerrilla force.
He remembered the fight on the last day of March 1968 in which he was the leader of his group. He said at least 21 tanks were set on fire and hundreds of the enemy were put out of action in just one day. Quy was awarded the Victory Order first class for his gallant efforts.
Then, in May, four more tanks and one helicopter were destroyed in the commune.
Many fought and died for national independence, but what set Quy apart in the eyes of the local people in Gio Linh District was his actions in June 1968, when he single handedly carried 31 of his dead comrades across the Canh Vom River and buried them in a sand dune in a single night.
Nguyen Thi Nguyet, from Binh Dinh Province's Tay Son District, working as a militiawoman, also helped bury the dead. She said a sudden attack by the US killed a lot of North Vietnamese soldiers, and continual fighting during the day made it near impossible to gather up the bodies.
She watched as Quy buried his 31 comrades.
"I saw him exhausted. He nearly fainted by a nearly completed grave," she said, adding that his hair was matted with blood.
Quy said he worked tirelessly to bury the dead by morning to make it impossible for the enemy to use propaganda pictures of his fallen comrades or burn their bodies.
"I would not let them do that," Quy said, suddenly stern.
Thuy said she was awed by Quy's bravery, and fell in love.
In 1971 they were married in an underground hideout. The ceremony was witnessed by their colleagues.
Thuy said that when she was ten, she was assigned to deliver letters and transmit information among revolutionaries based in the commune.
As a game during her childhood, she said she and her other friends of the same age would put sand or soil in the rifle barrels of suspected enemy sympathisers.
When she was older, she took over different tasks including helping soldiers lay anti-tank mines.
She received the title "Valiant Soldier in Defeating Americans" seven times.
The war ended decades ago, but the injuries they received still cause them pain, particulary when the weather changes.
And instead of the enemy, the couple now fight poverty.
They and their six children left their hometown to move to the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak for a better life in 1996. They stayed for seven years.
When they returned to their central province, they were granted 900sq.m of land to farm. In addition, they rented more than 2,000sq.m more and bought cows with loans from the local war veteran's association.
Despite the hard life he now leads, Quy said he felt like the luckiest man alive because he survived the war and married Thuy. Meanwhile, Thuy said her dying wish was for her husband to be granted the title "Hero" for his valiant efforts during the war. — VNS