Tuesday, November 19 2019

VietNamNews

Memories of helping neighbours

Update: January, 19/2019 - 09:00
Welcomed as heroes: Vietnamese war correspondents at the Independence Monument, Phnom Penh in 1979. From right: Phạm Vũ Tâm (Vietnam News Agency), Xuân Trường and Vũ Hưng (People’s Army newspaper) and Trần Mai Hưởng (Vietnam News Agency). VNA/VNS Photo Tiến Lợi
Viet Nam News

Volunteer soldiers from Việt Nam went into neighbouring Cambodia back in 1979.

Their mission was to free the country from its awful government that killed so many people.

A journalist went with one of the groups of soldiers.

He remembers how terrible Cambodia had been and how happy the Cambodians were that their neighbours came to their help.

By Trần Mai Hưởng, former general director of the Vietnam News Agency and editor- in- chief of Việt Nam News

Though 40 years have passed, I cannot forget the first time I accompanied the volunteer soldiers of the Cửu Long Division  Group of the Vietnam People’s Army advancing through provinces of Pray Veng, Svay Rieng and Kandal, into the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979.

In front of us, there were ‘killing fields’ and deserted villages. The atmosphere was thick with the stink of dead corpses. People in black walked along the national highway from the so-called ‘common houses’ of the Pol Pot genocidal regime. They looked as if they were coming from hell...

I cannot forget the scenes in Phnom Penh – a truly dead city.

There were absolutely no people. All houses were shut. The streets looked destroyed. Empty royal palaces. Tung Sleng prison was full of human skeletons. On the streets, one might find rooms with unfinished meals left in 1975 as the owners had been forced from their homes during a meal. The atmosphere was unimaginable!

During the two years fulfilling my international mission (working as a war correspondent for the Vietnam News Agency) in Cambodia, I travelled around almost all of the country. I attended court dealing with the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge. Their inhuman crimes and those of their supporters will be seriously judged and condemned forever by history.

I also witnessed the miraculous revival of Cambodia with the support of volunteer soldiers from Việt Nam.

I can never forget the first morning after liberation. On Monivong Boulevard, a soldier from the Cambodia revolutionary forces played a folk song on a worn-out piano on the pavement. The sound, full of hope, echoed into the blue sky, moving everyone around. His comrades, who had just returned to the city with Vietnamese voluntary troops, their eyes full of tears, sang and danced to his music.

As never before, normal routines became so meaningful in Cambodia during those initial days – a meal with the whole family, a dance under the moonlight, the first rainy day working on the rice fields, the first wedding after returning home...

Because, in order to have those very simple days, thousands of voluntary soldiers from Việt Nam had given their blood and even their lives.

My memories of those days are always full of heroic images of Vietnamese army volunteers.

As an embedded reporter, I went with the Cửu Long Division Group to liberate Phnom Penh and other localities. I was with soldiers from the 3rd Army Corps during those fierce fightings in Kongpong Cham and Siem Reap. I also accompanied army units in the 479th Battle Field to Angkor, the Tonle Sap Lake, Phnom Malai, Poi Pet... I witnessed the volunteer soldiers’ bravery and sacrifices.

I remember General Kim Tuấn, commander-in-chief of the 3rd Army Corps, whom I met with Political Commisar Phạm Sinh, on the advance to Kongpong Cham.

On an urgent flight with him to Phnom Penh, he told the pilots: "Please fly slowly for me so I can watch this city for a while."

But just few days later, the brave commander died on the way to Siem Reap.

I also never forget a brief meeting with Commander Vũ Cao of Division 341 on the night of January 7, 1979. Though the fighting was fierce, he provided the group of VNA journalists the most valuable information and helped us to work most efficiently.

Colonel Ba Cúc, political commander of the Cửu Long Division Group left various unforgettable memories as we travelled with the Group from the beginning of the campaign.

All of them were brave commanders, who had experienced several fierce wars, once again went with their soldiers to fight for Cambodia’s peace, and also for Việt Nam’s sovereignty.

I feel sympathetic to, and very proud of, the Vietnamese voluntary soldiers, experts and officers we met along the hard roads, during fierce fighting at key localities.

They had faced long lasting challenges on every road, in villages and on bridges, where enemies hid in darkness, in shelters and launched sudden attacks.

I met soldiers who were suffering from malaria after fighting in Phnom Malai.

I saw flights carrying seriously wounded soldiers from Siem Reap Airport heading for Việt Nam.

I passed many bridges where Vietnamese soldiers had been stationed day and night, longing for news from home, sharing small pieces of cigarettes, facing danger on each guard duty.

It’s impossible to list sacrifices by Vietnamese soldiers during those fierce days. Our country paid a great price to help Cambodia revive from the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime.

As is the natural way, it’s easy to feel the Cambodian people’s gratitude to the Vietnamese voluntary army or "Buddha’s army" as the survivors called them.

“If Vietnamese soldiers came a little later, my village would have died,” a young woman, named Phonni, told me in tears.

Locals in Chong kho Niek Village in Tonle Sap Lake would never forget three Vietnamese soldiers who led the whole village across the lake in dry season to return to their former settlement.

In the first years after the liberation, I met famous intellectuals including Princess Linda (real name Sisowath Sovethvong), Minister of Heath Dr Myxamodi and Minister of Education Prof Penna Vut, who all expressed their gratitude to Vietnamese people and their army.

In 1983, I had the chance to witness the first withdrawal of Vietnamese voluntary troops. We visited many places and met soldiers from the tank unit that would lead the army contingent in the withdrawal ceremony.

The tank unit’s commander Trần Ngọc Giao was the person who himself directed the first tank into Phnom Penh four years before. A few years before liberation day, the Quảng Ninh-born man sustained several injuries while many of his comrades died. In our talk, he expressed his joy on returning home and sympathy for his dead comrades as well as deep gratitude for the sincere care offered by locals.

Dola, the headmistress of a primary school in the capital Phnom Penh told me "3,000 pupils in her school wrote letters to express their gratitude to Vietnamese soldiers.

In Giao’s pocket, there is a letter from a pupil named Mit Chum, who wrote innocent and moving words.

Many such letters had been sent to Vietnamese soldiers, who were just in the beginning of a years-long process, with lots of challenges ahead until the day the last Vietnamese soldiers returned home in 1989.

On the first withdrawal ceremony, leading tanks passed by Independent Monument in downtown Phnom Penh, then came  military vehicles carrying soldiers.

A solemn ceremony was dedicated to Vietnamese voluntary soldiers with speeches by the top leaders of the Cambodian Party and State.

But locals made the strongest impression. They queued along Monivong Boulevard, roads to the outskirts, along National Highway 1, through Kandal, Pray Veng and Svay Rieng... Thousands of locals with flowers in their hands waving to their rescuers. Smiles, tears and colourful flowers were given to Vietnamese soldiers. VNS


 

 

GLOSSARY

Though 40 years have passed, I cannot forget the first time I accompanied the volunteer soldiers of the Cửu Long Division  Group of the Vietnam People’s Army advancing through provinces of Pray Veng, Svay Rieng and Kandal, into the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979.

To accompany soldiers means to go somewhere with them.

Volunteers are people who do something without expecting to be paid for it.

Advancing means moving forward.

The atmosphere was thick with the stink of dead corpses.

The atmosphere means the mood.

Corpses are dead bodies.

People in black walked along the national highway from the so-called ‘common houses’ of the Pol Pot genocidal regime.

A regime is a government – usually one that has not been elected by the people of a country. A genocidal regime is such a government that is involved in wiping out entire communities.

Tung Sleng prison was full of human skeletons.

Skeletons are the bare bones that remain of a dead person.

The atmosphere was unimaginable!

If something is unimaginable it seems as if it cannot even be dreamt about.

During the two years fulfilling my international mission (working as a war correspondent for the Vietnam News Agency) in Cambodia, I travelled around almost all of the country.

To fulfil a mission means to complete it.

A correspondent is a writer who reports on events, usually for a news service.

I attended court dealing with the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge.

Mass killings are the killings of many, many people at once.

Their inhuman crimes and those of their supporters will be seriously judged and condemned forever by history.

An act that is inhuman is too unadvanced for the advanced types of creatures humans are to do. It would be more likely for animals to act that way.

Condemned means looked down upon, with horror.

I also witnessed the miraculous revival of Cambodia with the support of volunteer soldiers from Việt Nam.

A revival means a “coming back to life”. A miraculous revival is one that seems to have needed the help of bigger forces than human actions.

The sound, full of hope, echoed into the blue sky, moving everyone around.

To echo means to make sounds that return to you through sound waves bouncing back.

Moving, in this case, means “made to feel very emotional”.

As never before, normal routines became so meaningful in Cambodia during those initial days – a meal with the whole family, a dance under the moonlight, the first rainy day working on the rice fields, the first wedding after returning home...

Routines are day-to-day activities that are often done at much the same time every day, week or month.

Initial means first.

As an embedded reporter, I went with the Cửu Long Division Group to liberate Phnom Penh and other localities.

An embedded reporter means a reporter who is made part of a group of soldiers on a mission during a war.

I witnessed the volunteer soldiers’ bravery and sacrifices.

Sacrifices are things people give up.

I also never forget a brief meeting with Commander Vũ Cao of Division 341 on the night of January 7, 1979.

Brief means short, or quick.

Though the fighting was fierce, he provided the group of VNA journalists the most valuable information and helped us to work most efficiently.

If work is done efficiently, it is done smartly and ends up being well done and in time.

All of them were brave commanders, who had experienced several fierce wars, once again went with their soldiers to fight for Cambodia’s peace, and also for Việt Nam’s sovereignty.

Việt Nam’s sovereignty is its right to be a country that rules itself rather than being ruled by an outside power.

I feel sympathetic to, and very proud of, the Vietnamese voluntary soldiers, experts and officers we met along the hard roads, during fierce fighting at key localities.

To feel sympathetic means to feel sorry for someone.

I met soldiers who were suffering from malaria after fighting in Phnom Malai.

Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitoes.

As is the natural way, it’s easy to feel the Cambodian people’s gratitude to the Vietnamese voluntary army or "Buddha’s army" as the survivors called them.

Gratitude means thankfulness.

Locals in Chong kho Niek Village in Tonle Sap Lake would never forget three Vietnamese soldiers who led the whole village across the lake in dry season to return to their former settlement.

A village’s former settlement is the settlement where they once lived but no longer live.

In the first years after the liberation, I met famous intellectuals including Princess Linda (real name Sisowath Sovethvong), Minister of Heath Dr Myxamodi and Minister of Education Prof Penna Vut, who all expressed their gratitude to Vietnamese people and their army.

Intellectuals are clever people who think about things at a higher level than most people.

In Giao’s pocket, there is a letter from a pupil named Mit Chum, who wrote innocent and moving words.

Innocent means not guilty of having done anything wrong.

A solemn ceremony was dedicated to Vietnamese voluntary soldiers with speeches by the top leaders of the Cambodian Party and State.

Solemn means serious and formal.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

  1. Parts of plants used to wave during celebrations.
  2. A tough piece of military weaponry that moves around as a vehicle.
  3. People who fight with you in a struggle.
  4. The opposite of heaven.
  5. The study of things that happened in the past.

 

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ANSWERS: 1. Flowers; 2. Tank; 3. Comrades; 4. Hell; 5. History.

 

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