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Old Saigon Echo website
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Director: Bai An Tran, Ph.D.


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Hue, Mass Murder, Mass Burial


(The following article is taken by Mr. Tran Thong from Viet-Nam Bulletin, "In memory of Hue, Tet 1968", April 1970. Viet-Nam Bulletin, which was a publication from the Embassy of the Republic of Viet Nam, Washington DC, USA.)

HUE - The heady scent of incense filled the air. A group of Buddhist monks began to chant an elegy to the slow and muted beat of a drum. Beside them, a Roman Catholic priest almost inaudibly said a prayer for the dead.

The religious rites by representatives of two faiths last October 14 at the foot of a barren hill was held so that the souls of unknown victims of the Communist Tet offensive in 1968 could know peace snd tranquility.

Under a scorching sun, the mortal remains enclosed in simple, hurriedly made coffins were arranged in neat rows for the mass burial.

Beside each coffin, two black clad members of the Popular Force of Thua Thien province where this northernmost city of South Viet Nam is located, stood at attention, awaiting for the funeral to start.

Grief was common

Some 15,000 mourners in white nourning clothes milled around the sun- drenched area. Some wept in silence, others hysterically - occasionally looking at each other as if in search of assurance that this was not stark reality but merely a bad dream.

Over 2,000 victims of the red massacre have been found, many of them unidentified. It is estimated that more than 3,000 residents of Hue perished at the hands of the Communists during their occupation of this former imperial city.

Suddenly a hush descended over the area and all eyes turned to a spot where government officials had gathered to pay homage to the dead. President Nguyen Van Thieu stood behind a lectern to deliver a eulogy for the departed. The President, who had flown 1,079 kilometers from Saigon to attend the mass burial for 400 victims, stood silent for a moment.

"Look at these sad faces, then look at these coffins," he said. "Is this the final freedom offered by the Communists - to lie in a coffin in the ground?"

The President spoke of grief, suffering, sorrow. And he pledged renewed determination never to allow the perpetrators of the brutal murders to again beguile his people with false promises that usually culminate in death for those who oppose them.

This oft repeated and sad scene began in the latter part of last year with discoveries of mass graves where victims were hastily buried before the Communists retreated in the face of a determined onslaught by allied troops to oust them from this city.

Last April 25, 342 bodies, 142 of which were identified and claimed by relatives, were found in a shallow, sandy grave in Vinh Luu hamlet, about 10 kilometers from this city. The 142 unidentified remains were buried some five kilometers from Hue in Nam Giao hamlet, where this latest burial was held. Province and city officials say this cemetery of the unknown dead will become a national shrine.

The 400 recently buried victims were discovered last Sept. 29 in a heavily forested area in Nam Hoa hamlet, about 15 kilometers from Hue. Woodcutters stumbled across the grisly discovery after a heavy rain exposed bodies in a common and shallow grave along a creek. The woodcutters hastily reported to their hamlet chief who in turn informed Thua Thien province officials.

Volunteers from the Popular Force were dispatched to the area to exhume the bodies. More than two dozen mass graves have been found in the vicinity where the Communists fought their last big unit battle with the allies (April 30 to May 2, 1968). The more than 2,000 bodies exhumed in and near this city usually were in areas where some of the heaviest fighting during the abortive Communist attempt to take over Hue in February 1968 occurred.

City and province officials said that before the Communists pulled out or were killed, they indiscriminately picked their victims for the massacre.

They said that documents and prisoner interrogation show that the enemy, beside singling out policemen and military men for killing, also murdered farmers, aged women, young girls, and children.

Medical examination of the remains revealed that the majority had their heads bashed in with rifle butts, many had been shot after they were trussed up with wire, their hands behind their backs, and some buried alive hurriedly in shallow graves.

Hoi Chanh (returnees) who rallied to the government side under the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) program pointed out many of the mass graves. These returnees told of a "death march" of innocent civilians. They related seeing on February 5, 1968 more than 300 persons, young and old, led away by their Communist captors from the Catholic diocese of Phu Cam village where they had sought shelter.

Later in the day, those rounded up had their hands tied behind their backs, were chained together, and forced to march to a site near a tributary of the Perfume River to face a kangaroo court. Some 30 were found "guilty" and were killed on the spot. This was borne out by the discovery of their remains in early August last year.

Those spared were given a long lecture by the Communists and warned that the reds were giving up the city after 25 daye of occupation only "temporarily." Tbey said they would be back and expected the people to stay "loyal to Communism." Failure to do this, they warned, would mean "liquidation" upon their return.

Editor's Note: A total of 230 more bodies, among them those of 15 school children, have been recovered since November 12 in Phu Thu district, 14 kilometers southeast of Hue. The children, all about 15 years old, were kidnaped by the Communists from various schools in Hue during the battle for the city during Tet 1968.

Farmers of Duong Mong village vividly remember one night 20 months ago. "They marched the children to the bank of a stream," one elderly farmer related. "We could hear their cries and screams. Then they killed them."

On November 14, these newly-found victims of the Communists mere buried along with 170 others exhumed recently in Phu Thu district. Some 50,000 lined the roads to the former imperial city. And again, Hue wept openly and unashamed.

Figure Captions

Relatives of victims of red mass murder during 1968 Tet view remains recently unearthed.

Madame Pham Thi Cuc, 32, weeps at the coffin of her husband, Pham Duc Do. he was taken prisoner by the Viet Cong and executed with others defending Hue during Communist Tet offensive in 1968.

Two young sisters tearfully watch ceremonies of their father, who served with the French military.
(TT Comments: the reference to military service for the French is meant to indicate his age, and that he is not a military man in 1968!)

Skeletal remains are unloaded from trucks in bundles. Widow mourns before husband's numbered grave.

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