HUE, MASS MURDER, MASS BURIAL
- From: hochimanh@xxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2008 11:53:22 -0800 (PST)
HUE, MASS MURDER, MASS BURIAL
By TITO V. CARBALLO
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
Under a scorching sun, the mortal remains enclosed in simple,
hurriedly made coffins were arranged in neat rows for the mass
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
"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
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
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.
Relatives of victims of red mass murder during 1968 Tet view remains
President Thieu delivers address before rows of coffins at Hue mass
burial held last October,
Residents of Hue watch funeral cortege.
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.
Peasant folk on street weep after sight of bodies found with arms
behind them and chained together. Some were shot, some bludgeoned to
death and some simply buried alive.
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!)
Rows of rough plywood coffins with unidenfified bodies lie in a
school. Grave diggers pulls wire used to tie red victim.
Skeletal remains are unloaded from trucks in bundles. Widow mourns
before husband's numbered grave.
Coffins are readied for mass burial.
In memory of Tet 1968
by Phu Si
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
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
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
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
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.