By Eric San Juan.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Apr 30 (efe-epa).- Forty-five years after the end of Vietnam War (1955-1975), hundreds of Vietnamese veterans from the defeated side who were injured in the conflict are still without any entitlement to disability pensions and are forced to work till the end to survive.
Nguyen Huu, 66, still remembers Apr. 30, 1975 with bitterness as the day the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and North Vietnamese army took Saigon – now known as Ho Chi Minh City – and sealed South Vietnam’s defeat. For him it was the day “we lost our country.”
“This is the day when fathers were separated from their children, wives lost their husbands, some people lost their life, some others went to jail. The grief, the misery will always stay inside me whenever I recall that day,” Nguyen Huu told EFE in a cafeteria in Ho Chi Minh City.
For him, the war and life as he knew it had ended a year earlier, on Feb. 24,1974, in the central province of Phu Yen when he lost both his legs after stepping on a landmine as he left the rebel base that his battalion had captured.
He had enlisted a year earlier at 18 years old, without any political motivation, simply because in his village, the Viet Cong rebels would take food and medicine at night when the soldiers of the South would let their guards down.
Soon after his discharge from hospital after a year of recovery, the communist forces of the North took the central region and he did not dare to return to his village for a year, due to fear of retaliation.
The veteran said that he would carry two small hidden grenades in case anyone attacked him and feared the cruelty of the new regime. He thought it was the end of his life and was willing to do anything.
At 66, Nguyen Huu survives by selling lottery tickets from his wheelchair – something he considers a blessing from Buddha, compared with the hard post-war years when he had to beg on the streets from town to town until he arrived in the city previously known as Saigon.
At the time he could not afford a wheelchair and spent nearly 10 years, until reaching Saigon, moving with the help of wooden slats, many of which broke.
Although his life has improved since then, he continues to earn just enough to survive and rent a shared room with 20 other people. He receives occasional aid from an association based in the United States which supports some 7,500 veterans of the South injured in the war.
During the chaotic days of April 1975 when the end of the war was imminent, many of those who had worked for the Southern regime were able to escape from the country to the US, while others risked their lives fleeing on boats in the following months.
Those who stayed back suffered internment in forced labor camps – so-called re-education camps – with punishments that ranged from a few months to 17 years according to the rank and role played under the southern government.
When they came out, they had lost their property, did not have access to any substantial employment and were forced to beg on the streets or to work in the toughest of jobs.
One of those who could have escaped but did not was Hong Van Chau, a blind veteran who at 75 years is in poor health and continues to get up at 4 am to sell brushes in a market of the old Saigon.
He said that he was working in a hospital and a nurse told him that, being blind, it was not advisable to leave. At the time many people were trying to get on helicopters to get out and he sometimes still thinks he should have done the same.
Chau, who enlisted in South’s military to receive accommodation and food, fought for a year in a province near Saigon, until 1968, when during the Tet offensive, he nearly lost his life after a mine hanging from a tree exploded.
Chau suffered injuries to his arms, legs, stomach and eyes and lost his eyesight. He says he spent two years recovering at a hospital, and pulled up his shirt to show scars on his stomach.
In the following years, the government of the South gave him a home for his services, he got married, had a daughter, and got a job as a technical assistant at a hospital.
That comfortable life, despite his physical limitations, disappeared into thin air in 1975 when first his wife left him, taking their daughter with her, and then the defeat of the South, when the victors confiscated his home and prevented him from working.