Wednesday, May 27, 2015

VNAF Training in the United States

VNAF trainee at a US airbase, posing beside a handmade sign inviting all base personnel to attend the graduation ceremony for class 7106 of VNAF trainees, 1971, RVNHS Archive.

              Throughout the history of the Republic of Vietnam, select military personnel were sent to the United States for supplemental training. The location of training depended upon the soldier's specialized skill. For instance, regular infantry members may be sent to the Infantry School at Fort Benning or transportation specialists could be sent to Fort Eustis. The numbers of Vietnamese personnel trained in the United States through 1975 range in the tens of thousands. However, the military branch that had the highest percentage of personnel who received some form of training in the United States was the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF).

VNAF trainees at a US airbase, 1971, RVNHS Archive.

              For these airmen, the several week to several month period of time spent in the United States saw them receive intense training, but also provided a bit of respite from the constant tension of war. On bases in the mainland United States, aircraft were not constantly thrown into battle, and trainees were not suddenly called upon to repel an attack on the bases with small arms. The Vietnamese trainees were focused on their studies, but these bases and their surrounding towns allowed the Vietnamese airmen to relax a bit, and enjoy a peace-time atmosphere, which was something most of them were experiencing for the first time in their lives.
Original flight suit worn by a VNAF trainee in the United States, 1968, RVNHS Archive.

                  In this post, RVNHS would like to focus on the history and the experience of members of the Vietnamese Air Force who received training on bases across the United States. The bonds formed during this training remain powerful among many of these airmen to this day.

Sightseeing in Texas: A VNAF trainee poses in front of the Texas School Book Depository
(site of JFK assassination), 1968, RVNHS Archive.
Graduation day 1975 for class 75-05 at Webb Air Force Base, 1975.
VNAF Trainee in flight gear during training in the US, 1971, RVNHS Archive.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hắc Báo - 1st Division Strike Company

1st Division Strike Company "Hắc Báo" sign at camp entrance, 1960s.
            Many Republic of Vietnam military units employed a Hắc Báo (black panther - black tiger) in their insignia and unit mottos, but perhaps no group is more commonly referred to in the vernacular as simply "The Hắc Báo" than the 1st Infantry Division's Strike Company. The 1st Division was located in the First Military Region, and the Hắc Báo were the division's quick-action force. Composed of highly trained men drawn from different units in the division and throughout the military of the Republic of Vietnam, the Hắc Báo was a force to be reckoned with, and they received a well deserved reputation as an effective fighting force among both the units they fought along side as well as their adversaries. Among their notable commanders was Trần Ngọc Huế.
Officers and men of the Hắc Báo on parade in Huế (then Captain Trần Ngọc Huế can be seen third from right in center), 1966.
         In this posting, we would like to highlight the history of the Hắc Báo by posting some images of the unit's insignia from the RVNHS Archive. The unit's insignia came in several variations, and was worn on the right chest pocket. A 1st Division insignia was also sometimes worn on the left shoulder.
Officers and men of the Hắc Báo on parade in Huế
(note the unit insignia on the right pocket), 1966.
1st Division Strike Company - Hắc Báo - insignia, horizontal-triangle variant,
printed, RVNHS Archive.
1st Division Strike Company - Hắc Báo - insignia, triangular-curve variant,
machine made, RVNHS Archive.
1st Division Strike Company - Hắc Báo - insignia, triangular-curve variant,
printed, RVNHS Archive.
1st Division Strike Company - Hắc Báo - insignia, circular variant,
printed, RVNHS Archive.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Thuong Tiec Photograph

Photograph of Thuong Tiec, 1960s, RVNHS Archive.
      From the RVNHS Archive, a rare original photograph of the Thuong Tiec (Mourning Soldier) statue, which stood at the entrance to the Republic of Vietnam National Military Cemetery in Bien Hoa. The statue was destroyed in 1975 by the Communist Vietnamese army, but has remained a potent symbol for the sacrifice of those who struggled for the cause of the Republic of Vietnam. A silhouette of Thuong Tiec is also the symbol used by RVNHS.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Battle of An Lộc Poster

Republic of Vietnam Military Poster, Battle of An Lộc, July 7, 1972, RVNHS Archive.
            The Battle of An Lộc lasted for sixty-six days, and saw the Republic of Vietnam gain a great victory over the Communist forces. Before the battle ended, the republic was already promoting the gains of the military against the Communists in newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and other information outlets. This original poster acquired by RVNHS was produced on July 7, 1972, as the battle was still ongoing. It was designed to inform the populace about the battle, and encourage support to continue the struggle towards final victory. The poster highlights the battle with images of fighting, destroyed enemy tanks, and one of the key military figures at the battle, General Lê Văn Hưng. Today, General Hưng is often remembered as one of the fallen of Black April in 1975, when he and other leading Republic of Vietnam officers committed suicide rather than surrender to the invading Communists.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Vietnamese Scout Association Photos - Hội Hướng Đạo Việt Nam

Vietnamese Scout leaders and army officers, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.

            RVNHS regularly acquires photographs of Republic of Vietnam military personnel, but often among these are many photographs of Vietnamese Boy and Girl Scout members and events. In this posting, we would like to highlight the Vietnamese Scout Association in Vietnam 1930-1975 by showing some photos from the RVNHS Archive.

A rare early photo of Vietnamese Boy Scouts, 1936, RVNHS Archive.
             Scouting in Vietnam was officially established in 1930. Over the years, it steadily grew. During the Republic of Vietnam, there were thousands of members across the country with local chapters in most areas. National jamborees drew many, and representative groups of Vietnamese Scouts also participated in events abroad.

A Cub Scout meeting in Vietnam (note the painting of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement, flanked by Vietnamese Scout Association and Republic of Vietnam flags), 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.

            Activities at Vietnamese Scouting events were not unlike those of contemporary scouts throughout the world. Camping, sports, nature activities, and other educational programs were frequently held. However, the wartime condition in Vietnam was something Scouting was not immune too. Safety was routinely a concern at scouting events, and members of the military often participated in scouting events. Many Scoutmasters served in the armed forces with many scouts entering military service when they came of age.

Scout jamboree in Vietnam (note the military officers to the left), 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
         Scouting in Vietnam officially ended with the Communist takeover in 1975. However, Vietnamese Scouting activities and groups continue to be vibrant in the Vietnamese diaspora, with local chapters throughout Vietnamese communities overseas worldwide.

Vietnamese Scouts with crafts (note the Bell UH-1 "Huey" helicopter models), 1960s-70s,
RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese Scouts, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese Scout jamboree group photo, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese Scouts, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese Scouts posing under airplane wing, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese Scouts, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
Group of younger Vietnamese Scouts with hiking sticks, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese Scouts on bicycles, 1960s-70s, RVNHS Archive.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Recent Los Angeles Times Article

On anniversary, Vietnamese Americans reflect on their journeys

          We wanted to share this link to a recent Los Angeles Times article on uncovering the family histories and the lives of those who were affected by Black April in 1975. Among those interviewed is Philip Tran who has been undertaking great research to trace the history of his father's life, Colonel Tran Van Hai. The Republic of Vietnam Historical Society has been in contact with Philip, and is mentioned in the article.
          Preserving the memory of the struggles of the Black April generation through research and documenting memories is truly of great importance for future generations.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Battle of Saigon: Sixty Years Ago This Week

Vietnamese National Army Airborne Troops during the Battle of Saigon, 1955.
The fortieth anniversary of Black April has deservedly brought much focus and reflection on the events of 1975. However, in this post we would like to draw attention to another important anniversary of a pivotal event sixty years ago this week in the early history of the Republic of Vietnam. The 1955 Battle of Saigon in late April through early May was in many ways the first major challenge faced by the newly forming nation as it became independent and attempted to stand on its own. Taken together with Black April in 1975, the two events can be viewed as watershed bookends for a republic that faced a multitude of challenges both at its birth and at its end.
Months before the battle, Ngô Đình Diệm and Lê Văn Viễn (Bình Xuyên leader)
at a meeting in 1954.

The battle took place in the waning days of the State of Vietnam. It was mostly fought in the Cholon area of Saigon, and consisted of the Vietnamese National Army (soon to be the Army of the Republic of Vietnam) pitted against the Bình Xuyên, a fraternal organization that many historians describe as an organized crime syndicate. The Bình Xuyên along with the religious sects of the Hòa Hảo and Cao Đài (and others) operated large private armies, which with the encouragement of the French during the First Indochina War, had become loosely affiliated with the Vietnamese National Army.
Bình Xuyên troops sleeping on a Saigon bridge during the hostilities,
Battle of Saigon, 1955.
However, as the situation in Vietnam was changing, and it became clear a new republic would arise to replace the State of Vietnam, differences between the armed groups reached a boiling point. The emerging republic needed to take control of the situation, and a battle with the Bình Xuyên was all but inevitable. The battle was a first test of the forces that would later form the foundation of the Republic of Vietnam. Within a week, the Bình Xuyên were virtually defeated. Fighting against the group would continue sporadically in the coming weeks, but the group essentially ceased to be a major threat to the government. In this first test, the soon to be Republic of Vietnam stood its ground.
Airborne troops advancing in Saigon beside the famed Alhambra Theater,
Battle of Saigon, 1955.
Airborne troops under fire as they advance towards the Petrus Ky School,
which had been turned into a stronghold by the Bình Xuyên forces,
Battle of Saigon, 1955.
Local government forces taking up positions during the push against
a Bình Xuyên position, Battle of Saigon, 1955.
Airborne troops and civilians, Battle of Saigon, 1955.
Victory parade by the national army in Saigon after the battle, 1955.