|The Greek Hero of the Vietnam People's Armed Forces Kostas Sarantidis Nguyễn Văn Lập when he was young (left) and retired (right). Photo idcommunism|
HÀ NỘI — In the memories of many people, the Greek Hero of the Viet Nam People's Armed Forces Kostas Sarantidis, also known as Nguyễn Văn Lập, always respectfully bowed to greet the statue of President Hồ Chí Minh whenever he reached the stage to address a meeting.
He named one of his grandsons Hồ Minh because the boy was also born on May 19, Hồ Chí Minh’s birthday.
Sarantidis said he did not give the boy the late President's full name because to him, Hồ Chí Minh was like a god.
Sarantidis said that he was called many names but prefered his Vietnamese name as it wrapped up his memories of Việt Nam and Uncle Hồ.
“Vietnamese people helped me truly understand what independence and freedom are,” he said.
Sarantidis, a Greek national, was the most famous foreigner to serve in the People's Army of Việt Nam and is the sole foreigner to have bestowed with the title of Hero of the People's Armed Forces of Việt Nam. He passed away on June 25 (Việt Nam time) at age of 94 in Athens.
Kostas Sarantidis was born in 1927 in Athens, Greece. Sarantidis was 16 when he was sent to a Nazi forced labour camp in 1943.
After World War II, he could not return home due to a lack of identity documents and later joined the French Foreign Legion and was sent to Indochina.
Sarantidis first arrived in Sài Gòn (now HCM City) in February 1946. Four months later, he decided to join the Việt Minh resistance due to the barbaric way he saw the foreign invaders treat the locals.
In a later interview with VTV, Sarantidis said that in his early days in Việt Nam, he met a woman named Ly Ly who was the wife of a Vietnamese officer working for the French army. She was secretly a spy and told him about Vietnamese patriotism and their fight against the French to liberate their homeland.
During a patrol in Phan Thiết of the central province of Bình Thuận, he passed by a house where he saw a baby crying loudly and some French soldiers raping Vietnamese women.
“It was the time I decided to follow freedom and justice. If necessary, I would rather die than continue going on the path of crimes,” he said.
In the early morning of June 4, 1946, Sarantidis ran away from the French Foreign Legion, joined Việt Minh with a rifle and a machine gun. Since then, he went by the name Nguyễn Văn Lập.
In nine years of Việt Nam’s resistance against the French, Lập was part of the regular army units of Inter-region 5 and fought in many fierce battles in the central region.
During the Quảng Nam – Đà Nẵng battlefields, he made radio programmes calling on French soldiers to surrender. At that time, forty soldiers left the French army and as many as 120 Vietnamese captives were rescued from French troops.
On April 13, 1948, Lập and his team defeated 200 French soldiers, stopping a raid in Quảng Nam Province.
In November 1948, Lập was part of a team that shot down a French aeroplane near Phú Cang Station in Quảng Nam Province, capturing three French pilots.
When working as a supervisor at prisoner camp No 3 in Quảng Ngãi Province, Lập helped the prisoners understand more about the justification of the Vietnamese fight against the French invaders.
After 1954, Lập moved to the north of Việt Nam. He worked at Gia Lập airport and then drove trucks at Na Dương coal mining areas, Cao Bằng tin mining areas. He also worked as an interpreter for German experts in Tiến Bộ Printing Plant.
In 1958, Lập married Hanoian woman Đỗ Thị Chung. They had a son and three daughters who all received Vietnamese names. His family left Việt Nam in 1965 to reunite with his mother in Greece.
In his home country, he continued to promote Việt Nam-Greece relations.
He did a lot to support Việt Nam over the years, which he considered his second homeland. He joined the Communist Party of Greece, linking the two parties and tightening relations between the two countries.
He also formed the Vietnamese Association in Greece and raised funds for Agent Orange victims and the poor.
He returned to Việt Nam many times to visit his old battlefields and comrades and even accompanied then-Greek President Karolos Papoulias on a trip to Việt Nam in 2008.
In 2011, he was honoured with the Friendship Order and received Vietnamese citizenship.
|Then-President Nguyễn Minh Triết gives Kostas Sarantidis Nguyễn Văn Lập the Friendship Order and Vietnamese citizenship on January 7, 2011. VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Khang|
In 2013, he was awarded the title of Hero of the People's Armed Forces of Việt Nam.
During a visit to Việt Nam in 2011, the 84-year-old said for as long as he lived, he would try to contribute to Việt Nam.
His family shared that before visits to Việt Nam, Lập would tell his wife that if he died in Việt Nam, she should bury him in Việt Nam.
To him, Việt Nam and Greece were the same, both his beloved homelands. VNS