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War hero recalls life as a master spy

Update: September, 13/2011 - 18:20

Making up for lost time: People's Armed Forces Hero Nguyen Van Tau looks bemused by the attention as his wife, Tran Ngoc Anh, adjusts his medals. During their 65 years of marriage, they spent 30 years separated to protect Group H63.
Speaking French gave Nguyen Van Tau an entree into the secret service and finaly to command the intelligence network, H63, which became very effective during the American War. An Vu reports

In September of this year, People's Armed Forces Hero Nguyen Van Tau will celebrate his 83rd birthday. Like an old saying, Nhan sinh that thap co lai hy (those who reach the age of 70 are rare in the world), Tau has lived longer than he expected, witnessing the rise and fall of the whole nation.

This year, he finishes thefifth autobiography of his military career, entitled The Soldier's Heart. The story of his journey home to Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City is indeed an unforgettable memory for those who wish to learn about the history of the nation.

At first sight, this man is gentle and righteous with an honest smile. You wouldn't assume he was the chief of an underground intelligence group, H63, in the American war.

Tau, whose nickname in the war was Tu Cang, was born in Long Phuoc Commune in the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau in 1928. His family was poor and studying as hard as he could was ingrained at a young age. After six years in local high school, he got a scholarship and entered the Sai Gon-based Petrus Ky School, where he learned French.

Eventually Tau's parents could not afford to continue funding his studies and he dropped out. Meanwhile, an anti-French and Japanese struggle was beginning to unfold.

August 23, 1945 is when he first recalls he and other friends using sharp bamboo poles to fight. Not long after that, he was officially assigned to the intelligence mission by the senior headquarters. His life changed from that moment.

"Since I could speak French, I had more advantage to work in military intelligence field. At the age of 26, I was the deputy chief of Ba Ria intelligence team for the resistance armed forces. We drew the map of defence systems and co-operated with the Viet Nam People's Army fighting the French at the Dien Bien Phu battle."

In 1954, when the Geneva Agreement on Peace in Indochina was signed, Tau and other Vietnamese resistance fighters moved to the North.

In 1958, Tau was appointed Senior Lieutenant of Brigade 338 of the Viet Nam People's Army.

Although he was in the North, he always wished to return to the South to fight with his comrades. Since the Sai Gon administration did not accept the Geneva Agreement, and the general election to reunite the nation was not taken placed in 1956.

"I took a new name, Tran Van Quang, and learnt carefully all the necessary skills that an intelligence officer needs."

Eventually, he was known as a skilful gunman, photographer, driver and writer.

During the war against America, Tau returned to Sai Gon and took charge of intelligence group H63. His mission was to collect tactical and strategic information about the operation plans of the US and Sai Gon's armed forces. Under the command of Tau, group H63 built an underground network from inner Sai Gon to the outskirt district of Cu Chi's guerilla base.

"We also had a land transport group which consisted of nearly 50 members. When not urgent, letters and confidential documents would be delivered to the liberation forces' headquarters by these people. Once we were discovered and had a vital fight with the enemy. Twenty-seven died and 13 were injured after the fight. It was a great loss for us and a painful memory that I could never forget," he adds.

Besides receiving news and documents from secret agents, the group, led by Tau and including such legendary strategic agents as Pham Xuan An, created a perfect intelligence network in inner Sai Gon and suburban areas. the capital and outside. Under his command, H63 became a most effective network in the anti-American war. The group was awarded the People's Armed Forces Hero title in 1970.

The most significant characteristic of a spy, he states, is the ability to deal with any dangerous situation. In his shirt he always carried one bullet, which he would have used to end his life in case he fell into the hands of the enemy. He says the sacrifice was necessary if the spy and the network were to be protected. It took more than ten years for the headquarters to train a highly qualified spy.

The love story of Tau and his wife was representative of many couples in times of war. They have been married for 65 years and experienced 30 years of separation. No one knows how much pain and torment they suffered to protect Group H63. Even when they saw each other on the street of Sai Gon, they had to pretend to be strangers. More than anyone, they know how big the price of peace costs. At present, they have shared 35 years together since the national renunification day with their descendants.

"Now I have my wife and children with me, I wish for nothing more. Like other veterans, I feel lucky to live and witness the victory of our country. Now I intend to write the next book on the history of the intelligence branch, hopefully young people will enjoy it," he smiles again, even broader than before. — VNS

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