Administrator’s note: A Vietnam’s Gulag Story.

The Vietnam War, like all wars, was more than a shooting war between soldiers of two opposing sides on the battlefields. Aside from big battles that made headline news, there were battles fought covertly deep behind enemy line by valiant Vietnamese and American warriors. The wars in the shadow were incredibly daring and brutal but were never brought to light. A few years after the end of the war, some books covering covert activities during the Vietnam War began to appear on bookstore shelves. Recently, Dang Chi Binh, a South Vietnamese special force officer who survived 18 years in North Vietnam Gulag came back to reveal his years in hell in a memoir titled Thep Den. At the author’s request, Mr. Robert C. Trando has translated Thep Den into English for future publication. Below is comment of the translator of Thep Den.

Hoi B. Tran

Robert C. Trando on Thep Den.

     The book written in Vietnamese by Dang Chi Binh is titled Thep Den meaning Black Steel. It has four volumes with a total of 1,800 pages. I have agreed to translate it into English. The monumental work requires reading, rereading and condensing into readable material for the American readership. The first two volumes recount the author’s spy actions in Hanoi, ending with six years of incarceration in Hoa Lo Jail nicknamed Hanoi Hilton, under the cruelest conditions of solitary cells with locks and chains, tiny stone dungeon, unending mind twisting interrogations, attempts of evasion and suicide. I digested the content and condensed it in a 250 page volume using the initial title Black Steel showing the unbending and daring attitude of that 22 years old young man facing all unimaginable corporal and mind tortures.

      The two last volumes are what occurred to the author after his judgment by the Hanoi Court of a total of 18 years in prison plus five years loss of citizen rights. After six years in Hoa Lo Jail he was transferred to several reeducation camps in the next twelve years. I also condensed the content into a 250 page volume titled Vietnam Gulag. Of course, neither Dang Chi Binh is Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn and nor the Hoang Lien Son Gulag is any close to the Siberian Gulag Archipelago. Nevertheless, he had the circumstantial advantage to be pre trained for six years in the wickedest environment of Hoa Lo. He learned all the tricks of the trades, the nuts and bolts of the system to sail through the gulag with a certain ease and the ability to play the game by the rules. He is like a tall bamboo in the forest which bends under the force of typhoon and retakes an erect stance as soon as the storm rage subsides. After serving his twelve years in various reeducation camps, he was released back to Saigon to find a blind mother and a demented father amid all kinds of oppressive and humiliating red tapes from local authority. There were two happy endings. He was married to a girl twenty years his junior who took care of his frail parents and he succeeded to evade out of Saigon and settle in Boston.

      I cannot forget the more than two hundred thousands military and civil servants of the Saigon Government who honestly reported for reeducation like first enrolling in an institution of higher learning. They naively trusted the three weeks curriculum to end up eight, nine or ten and even thirteen years of cruelty and mischief of the Vietnam Gulags. According to the Vietnam Holocaust Foundation, to date a total of 788 were killed by the communist jailors in those gulags. The Vietnam Air Force had three typical losses. Major Dang Van Tiep, member of Congress, failed in his attempt to evade and was dragged by his ankles without pity through the jungle trail until his skull cracked. Colonel Nguyen Khoa Danh still wearing with defiance his VNAF cap, died with exhaustion pulling his oxcart on the forest rocky road. His last wish was to suck a piece of candy. Colonel Le Minh Luan, died of starvation and hard labor under gun butts of the jailors and whose final wish was for a simple cup of coffee. Gulag or not Gulag, it is unforgivable crime against humanity which the communist government must be accounted for.

Robert C. Trando

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