Lam Van Bang, honoured as one of 10 outstanding citizens of Ha Noi this year for founding the Museum of Revolutionary Fighters Imprisoned by Their Enemies , tells Thu Trang that each of its exhibits has its own ‘unforgettable story' that will help younger generations understand better the Vietnamese revolutionary tradition.
Inner Sanctum: When and why did you found the museum?
I joined the army in 1965 and served in the Binh Gia Regiment. In the General Offensive and Uprising of Spring 1968, I was wounded, captured and imprisoned by the enemy in Phu Quoc Prison.
Imprisonment was the most horrible experience for all former Phu Quoc prisoners of war. To get information from prisoners, the enemy resorted to barbarous torture by pouring boiling water into their mouths, putting them in tiger cages, breaking their teeth or killing them by hammering nails into their heads, to name just a few. Even such barbarous torture failed to subdue the revolutionaries but only made them more determined to fight for national liberation.
With the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, my comrades and I were released, and we returned home and worked for the transport sector.
In 1985, my construction team of Management Unit of Highway 1A, found a huge bomb dropped by American aircraft during the war of destruction in northern Viet Nam. Having defused the bomb, I asked my chief to display it in my office to remind me of that fierce but glorious period in the nation's history. This event also encouraged me to collect memorabilia from the ex-Phu Quoc prisoners to educate young generations about the revolutionary tradition of former generations, as well as to commemorate and pay gratitude to our soldiers detained in Phu Quoc Prison. My idea was supported by my older brother, Lam Van Quan, a former prisoner of the French colonialists.
In 1995, as head of the liaison committee, Quan organised a get-together of veterans and former prisoners of war from different periods in Phu Xuyen District to share the idea, and asked them to collect more objects for the museum.
I donated more than 2,000 square metres of my family's land with a two-storey house in Nam Quat Village, Nam Trieu Commune in Ha Noi's Phu Xuyen District to establish the museum. It features 3,000 exhibits recalling various stories of the fierce, unyielding fights of former Phu Quoc prisoners of war, bearing the simple name "Revolutionary Fighters Imprisoned by Their Enemies".
Inner Sanctum: Can you reveal something about exhibits that leave you with a strong impression?
Each exhibit has its own unforgettable story from the life and history of each former prisoner of war.
There is a tiger cage, 80cm wide, 1m long and 70cm tall, with a twisted statue inside. Each prisoner was put into a cage that did not allow him to make any movement.
Worse still, during daytime, warders put the cages on a sandbank under scorching sunshine and the prisoners' skins were seriously burned. During the night, as cold wind blew in from the sea to the island, warders poured cold water on the cages, and as a result, many prisoners suffered a cold and died.
The exhibits include nails which warders used to hammer into the prisoners' heads till they were dead. The nails are seen as invaluable exhibits to commemorate their martyrdom, as well as evidence of the crimes of the Sai Gon administration.
Another special exhibit is a flag embroidered by a Phu Quoc prisoner of war and kept by soldier Nguyen Van Du from Hong Duong Commune in Ha Noi's Thanh Oai District. The flag had given the prisoners more strength and determination to fight the enemy and was evidence of the loyalty of the fighters to the cause of national liberation.
Recently, a foreigner visited the museum and expressed hopes of buying the flag. We did not agree and told the foreigner the flag was made from the blood of Phu Quoc prisoners of war and is the soul of the nation and a treasure of those previously jailed in Phu Quoc Prison.
Inner Sanctum: How has the museum operated? How is it supported by organisations? What is your future plan for it?
Since its establishment, the museum received tens of thousands of visitors and became a venue for former prisoners of war to recall that hard time, as well as an interesting destination for Vietnamese and foreigners, especially young people, to learn more about our nation's history.
Through exhibits and stories told by former Phu Quoc prisoners, visitors, especially students, can understand more about the Vietnamese revolutionary tradition. Most visitors also expressed admiration for the brave deeds of revolutionary fighters against foreign invaders.
President Truong Tan Sang, also a former Phu Quoc prisoner, had visited the museum and highly appreciated the value of exhibits and praised the meaningful deeds of former Phu Quoc prisoners of war.
But despite the former prisoners of war's efforts, many of the exhibits, especially the huge ones, are now in poor condition.
We need support to further promote the museum and better preserve these exhibits for future generations. The museum should be upgraded with good materials.
Understanding the difficulties facing us, from 2010 to 2012, the Ha Noi People's Committee offered nearly VND200 million (US$9,500) to the museum for restoration and improvement.
Pham Quang Nghi, Politburo member and Ha Noi Party Committee secretary, also instructed the Ha Noi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism and concerned agencies to help us preserve and further promote the museum.
Phu Xuyen District also granted VND200 million ($9,500) to repair the showroom, and children from local schools took turns to care for and clean the museum. — VNS