A group of reporters from Vietnam News Agency report news of the Hồ Chí Minh Campaign in April1975. — VNA/VNS Photo
HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Tuấn Hải, 70, a former photojournalist with Thông Tấn Xã Giải Phóng (Liberation Press Agency) – the southern counterpart of Vietnam News Agency during the war, will never forget the time he spent working as a war correspondent in Tây Ninh Province from 1973-76.
Hải keeps all his memorabilia in a small room at home, including medals, photo albums and documentaries he made during his days on the battlefield.
He also has some of the equipment he used from 1973-76, when he was a photojournalist for the Liberation News Agency, such as a hammock, clock, a set of cutlery made of stainless steel and a razor.
“This memorabilia is priceless and I have cherished and preserved it for the past 40 years,” he said.
Opening a photo album and pointing at a photo, Hải said he took the photo in the jungles of Tân Biên District, Tây Ninh Province. The photo shows journalists from the Liberation Press Agency’s Photo Department planting vegetables and raising pigs so they had something good to eat when they finished work.
Pointing to another photo, he said it was taken when his colleagues were exercising at the end of a long day. At that time, they were living deep in the forest without many daily necessities, but all the reporters and photojournalists exercised regularly to stay in good shape for their work on the battlefield, he said.
Another precious photo shows his colleagues at the grave of a compatriot who died on the way to the battlefield.
“We buried him very quickly and then headed straight back to the battlefield,” he said.
"Everyone in my team was shocked because his death was very sudden".
His photo albums also showed the memories when he and his colleagues started their journey from Hà Nội to Vinh City, climbed over Trường Sơn Mountain and went to Tây Ninh Province.
The Liberation Press Agency sent its first piece of news to Hà Nội on October 12, 1960 from Chàng Riệc Forest at the Tây Ninh military base set up by The National Front for the Liberation of South Việt Nam.
It helped turn public opinion and garner international support for the Vietnamese people in their military and diplomatic battles, helping to bring victory in the war against America in April 1975.
The Liberation Press Agency lost 240 reporters, editors and technicians during their missions, which was almost 50 per cent of the agency’s staff at the end of 1974.
In 1976, the Vietnam News Agency and the Liberation Press Agency merged under the common name Vietnam News Agency.
Turning point of life
Nguyễn Tuấn Hải at work for the Liberation Press Agency in Tây Ninh Province. — Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Tuấn Hải
Hải graduated from the Faculty of Biology at the Việt Nam National University - Hà Nội University of Science in 1972, and was waiting to be assigned a specific job related to his scientific research.
At the same time, Vietnam News Agency representatives were visiting universities to recruit reporters, photojournalists and technicians for the Liberation Press Agency to work on the battlefield when the fighting was at its fiercest, preparing for the final battle to liberate the South.
Hải quickly signed up.
Then Hải and 150 others were selected, and they were sent on a professional training course held by the Vietnam News Agency.
His life took a new direction from that point on. Hải became a photojournalist and went to the front line in March 1973 with his colleagues.
It took them nearly three months to get there from Hà Nội. Sometimes they were force to travel on foot, while the rest of time they took a coach or train.
When they arrived in Tây Ninh Province, Đức Hoàng, a reporter for the Liberation Press Agency, was waiting for them in the Lộc Ninh rubber forest.
At that time, US planes dropping bombs were flying overhead. Hoàng guided the team to the tunnels to shelter from the bombs. The team had made it underground but Hoàng was too late and was killed in an explosion.
“All of us were in shock,” Hải said.
During their first days living in the forest, Hải and his colleagues encountered snakes, centipedes and scorpions. Sometimes snakes crawled into their shack and slithered into their beds, so they were too scared to sleep, he said.
They ended up carrying sticks to poke the blankets and curtains every time they wanted to go to bed, or when they were picking up their backpacks, to ward off the snakes and scorpions, he said.
Hải said each reporter and photojournalist was assigned to a group of local guerrillas and soldiers to report from the battlefield every day. Hải said it was an interesting but dangerous job.
He remembers well the day he accompanied some soldiers on a boat through Tây Ninh Province. They were spotted by US soldiers who opened fire on them with a barrage of bullets. Fortunately, the soldiers successfully manouvered the boat to shore and they were able to escape.
“It’s an unforgettable memory,” he said.
Despite the bullets and bombs, the things that scared Hải and his colleagues the most while they were living in the forest were malaria and hunger.
Due to the war, transporting food to the forest was difficult, and they often faced shortages. That's why we had to grow vegetables and raise pigs to give us proper nutrition, he said.
“The distance between life and death is very fragile on the battlefield,” he added.
Through all these hardships, they managed to remain calm and focused, and helped each other complete their tasks, he said.
“That is the thing I treasure the most,” he said.
Hải said he felt touched and proud when he heard the news that the Liberation Press Agency had been honoured with the title Hero of the Armed Forces for their outstanding achievements during the anti-American resistance war on September 1, 2020. — VNS