Vũ Thu Hà
*Additional reporting by Minh Phương
HÀ NỘI — “I have carried your love with me throughout the long years we were apart. Four years is the measure of my faithful love for you. We love each other very much, but how sad it is we can't meet to say gentle words to each other, but have to express through letters.”
These are the words veteran Trần Công Thắng wrote to his then girlfriend Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt Ánh in 1972 while they were separated by war.
Both were soldiers of the Việt Nam People’s Army in the resistance war against the US, but Thắng was stationed in the south of Laos, while Ánh was serving on the Trường Sơn Trail to the east of the Trường Sơn Mountain Range.
|Young Trần Công Thắng (left) and his wife Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt Ánh. Photo courtesy of Trần Công Thắng|
Although not too far away in distance, war meant they were oceans apart.
For six years they never met and heard from each other, not even knowing if the other was alive. But it did not stop their love from blossoming.
For Thắng, what kept his hope for love alive under the rains of bombardment and various near-death encounters were the letters he wrote to Ánh, the first love of his life.
|Some of the letters Trần Công Thắng wrote to his then girlfriend Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt Ánh in his notebook. It was displayed in an exhibition called "Love in the time of war" in July 2022 at the Vietnamese Women's Museum. Photo mortgage by Vũ Thu Hà|
“For 100 letters being sent, maybe none can arrive,” Thắng recalled.
“But I just put all my hope on those letters. It is the letters and love that always kept hope alive in my heart, making me unwavering.”
Thắng was then serving in a military engineer unit operating on a fierce battlefield in the south of Laos.
“For us soldiers, death was a daily life experience. One may be alive today and gone for good tomorrow,” he said.
“Besides the call of duty out of the love for our homeland and family, a romantic love is a source of encouragement urging us to fight, win, and look forward to the day we can return to see our lovers again."
The happiest moment for him during those tough days was when there was no sound of bombings and enemy planes. He would sit down, recall all the sweet memories he had shared with Ánh, and pen his love letters to her. It was a habit he had kept since the day they first met and fell for each other in 1966.
After giving the letters to the postmen, he often rewrote the letters in his small notebooks that he always kept by his side.
One day, when Thắng went on a mission to level a bomb crater, another bomb hit their shelters. All of his belongings were destroyed, including all the keepsakes related to Ánh and a portrait of her. But fortunately his notebook with all his sweet words for Ánh that he had carried along with him was safe.
But his real letters were not that lucky.
All were lost on the way and none could make it into Ánh’s hands due to the tough conditions back then.
The couple bid goodbye in early 1968 when Thắng entered the battlefield. Just a few months later, Ánh volunteered to join the army in the hope of one day being reunited with her boyfriend. She served as a truck driver transporting goods to support soldier on the battlefield.
Since then until the end of 1973 when they reunited, Ánh never heard a word from her boyfriend, not knowing the existence of the many love letters he had written from the bottom of his heart.
“Back then, in every trip, I always thought I would meet my lover this time but in the end it was just a hope that never came true,” Ánh, now 74, said.
“I told myself that I had to be determined to complete the mission of transporting goods to soldiers on the battlefield. The thought that he was there was a motivation for me. I felt more excited, enthusiastic and motivated to accomplish all missions.”
|Ánh (left) and Thắng when they were serving under the Việt Nam People's Army during the war. Photo courtesy of Trần Công Thắng|
Despite the distance and a bleak future, Ánh never spent a single day wavering about her love for Thắng.
“I trusted him. Before we were separated, we had promised each other that if we could come back alive, and the country were reunified, we would get married.
“Sometimes, people would tell me that you shouldn’t wait anymore because there was nothing to ensure he would be alive. But as I had had his promise, I believed in him and chose to never give up on him.”
Just like Ánh, the flame of love never died in Thắng.
“In my mind, there was always one and only image of my girlfriend, so I never thought of anyone else,” he said.
“Soldiers’ love is very strong and unwavering. If we decide to wait, that means we will wait ‘til the end, unless one of us died.”
Luckier than many other soldier couples, they were finally reunited in the end of 1973 when Thắng had a chance to come back to the north.
He said: “When I arrived in Hà Nội, I heard that Ánh was joining in a drill at Bạch Mai airport. I rushed to go there, planning so many things in my mind, that I would hug her and kiss her the first moment we met.
“But when we finally met, I was so nervous that the only thing coming out of my mouth was: Do you still love me?”
“It was actually a silly question,” Ánh interrupted, sitting next to him in their house in Long Biên District, Hà Nội.
“Had it not been for love, how could I wait for you that long?” she told her husband.
|Thắng and Ánh are now happily married for 49 years. Photo courtesy of Trần Công Thắng|
The couple have been happily married for 49 years with two children and four grandchildren.
They said the burning love in the very first days of their relationship has now transformed into another kind of feeling that involves both love and responsibility.
“It is not that we always live in harmony, that we never argue with each other,” Thắng said.
“Every couple is the same, the older we get, the more difficult we become. So my secret is that husband and wife must know to back down and respect each other. If they do not respect each other, they will just quarrel all day. If you respect and yield to each other, life will be happy.”
For them, Valentine’s Day just passes by like any normal day, without gifts or flowers.
But for others, they are the definition of a true Valentine’s love story. VNS