Under the nose of the
The soldiers of the National Liberation Front for
The offensive was a military disaster for the Communists who were outnumbered and outgunned by the American and Southern soldiers. But it was a public relations coup, better than President Ho Chi Minh might have hoped for. The bloodshed horrified global audiences where the long war trickled nightly into their living rooms on the news. Anti-war demonstrations picked up in speed and size and helped turn American public sentiment against a war their leaders had promised would be an easy victory.
Pho Binh sits in leafy District 3. You’d miss it, if not for the large red and gold sign attesting to Pho Binh’s revolutionary credentials that proudly hangs over the door. Its name means “Peace Soup,” what Mr Ngo Toai renamed his little restaurant after the 1975 Liberation of Saigon. He survived war, jail, torture and even an aborted execution attempt as a soldier in Uncle Ho’s army. He passed away in 2003, a loyal comrade to the end. So stooped Mr Nguyen Minh, an old family friend, offers to show us the secret war headquarters. Up the three flights of stairs we go, with Minh pausing every few steps or so. His knees bother him now.
Upstairs, the room is intact, frozen in time. Heavy wood furniture surrounds a scratched, dark table with an old rotary phone on it. While Minh says nothing has been changed since 1975, someone obviously dusts it and carefully placed a vase of yellow chrysanthemums beside the telephone. On the walls hang some forty-odd pictures, fading black-and-white headshots of young, unsmiling men and women. “They’re all dead now,” Minh says, waving a hand over the walls. “All dead.”
I think of the women downstairs, who, in the words of a journalist who visited a few years ago, “served noodles with a smile” to unsuspecting US soldiers and diplomats, while over their heads the phone with a direct connection to Hanoi rang constantly.