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Director: Bai An Tran, Ph.D.

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In memory of Tet 1968

(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.)

In 1968, as the traditional Tet celebrations began in South Vietnam, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched an all-out offensive, on the very day that a mutually agreed upon cease-fire went into effect. In the annals of history that Tet offensive will go down as one of the most treacherous and deceitful acts in modern times, surpassing the "Day of Infamy" at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.

All of South Vietnam suffered during the Tet offensive, but hardest hit was the city of Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam, located on the South China Sea.

A mere recounting of statistics would add little to what has not already been said and written about Tet 1968. But now that two years have gone by and the nation wonders what this year of the Dog will bring, a brief account of what this tragedy meant to one family will place the memory of the Tet of7ensive into a more personal perspective.

Mr. Tran Xuan Duc, an elderly widower retired in Hue, where he lived with his two teenage sons. To a large extent he depended upon the support of his eldest son, Tran Xuan An, who was a village schoolteacher, married and father of three young children. The day before Tet, An and his family came to his father's home to celebrate the Lunar New Year. As usua1, at twelve midnight, the noise of firecrackers welcomed the event, but was then followed by the intermittent crackle of rifle fire. At first the family thought that soldiers were firing their guns to welcome the New Year. But when the shooting grew heavier and was joined by thundering blasts of heavy howitzers, they realized this was no Tet celebration.

At dawn, the shooting died down. Through the cracks of his door, Mr. Duc saw six Viet Cong soldiers guarding a streetcrossing near his home. For the next few days the enemy did little to disturb the people. Viet Cong cadres went about ordering families to raise the Buddhist flag. They distributed National Liberation Front Flags to every third house and ordered the homeowners to display it alongside the Buddhist one. On the fourth day, the enemy ordered all civil servants and military personnel to surrender to them.

Mr. Duc advised his son An not to surrender immediately. but to wait and see. Some others on the street did go and returned shortly and reported that nothing much had happened. The enemy soldiers took their identification cards, registered names, organizations, positions and addresses and then issued a certificate of surrender. Somewhat reassured, An turned himself in, mainly in fear of being punished if the enemy caught him hiding. Like the others, he returned home unharmed.

For the following eight days, the enemy did not visit the Duc home. Heavy battles were fought in the city. particularly in the imperial palace grounds, and no one ventured out of the house. Then one morning, two Viet Cong soldiers appeared and told An to pack enough food for five days of indoctrination training. They ordered him to leave immediately. So Mr. Duc took a bag, poured in 15 litres of rice, some dry food, a few garments, a blanket and a mosquito net along with 800 piasters (US$ 6.75). The family bade An good luck and a speedy return.

That was the last anyone saw of him. For a vear and a half the family waited for word and searched for some clue to his whereabouts. Mr. Duc, An's wife and the children clung to the hope and belief that he was alive. They were convinced that no one would kill a man for no reason whatever. An was a teacher. He was not a member of the armed forces nor did he work for a political party. He taught young children and earned a modest living.

Then the city of Hue was rocked by the discovery of the first mass grave and reports that thousands of civilians had been murdered after being forced to carry weapons, ammunition and food supplies for the enemy on their withdrawal from Hue. When yet another mass grave was discovered Mr. Duc, despite his conviction, went, as did thousands of others, to check for some possible trace of his son. About half a dozen times he elbowed his way through the crowds whenever another mass grave was found. He found nothing and his hope were strenghtened that maybe, after all. An was still alive, still in enemy hands but sooner or later would be released.

Mr. Duc's search ended at the mass grave of Da Mai Brook, some ten kilometers from Hue. There he found the ragged remains of a shirt An wore when he left the house with the two Viet Cong soldiers. Mr. Duc remembered the shirt well for it was one of three sportshirts An's wife had given him for his 28th birthday. He also discovered An's string of beads with a small medallion of the Buddha.

This year's Tet was no joyous occasion for the family. Nor was it for the families of more than three thousand other victims in Hue who met An's fate.

Mr. Duc has grown older. wearier and sadder. To him Tet is a memorial to his beloved son and recalls the heart-rending sight of his young daughter-in-law lying prostrate before the family altar and her barely audible moan of "Why, oh why, did they have to kill him?"

Figure captions: Tet hold sad memories for Mrs An and her three young sons. Memorial service for Tran Xuan An, who was murdered during the enemy's Tet offensive on Hue in 1968.

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