The Eleventh Orchid

Prolog

Serene Lăng Cô, Vietnam Coastline

Serene Lăng Cô, Vietnam Coastline

The following memoirs about the Le Tien family was recalled by Le Tien’s eleventh child from her memory and stories told by her mother, relatives and friends. This book of memoirs was written to retain memories and profiles as proofs for the family’s tradition of culture and kindness. Reading the book will allow all the family’s descendants to access and learn more about their tradition and origin, resulting in helpful lessons which can be applied to everyday life.

It is the same for all times, building a family always needs: heart, self-reliance, knowledge, talent and dignity.

Memoirs of LE TIEN by Le Thi Kim Thoa, the Eleventh Orchid and Author

October 2012, Hanoi

Mr. Le Tien was born in 1895 in Thai Phu, Vu Tien, Thai Binh and died on the eleventh day

Le Thi Kim Thoa, the 11th child

Le Thi Kim Thoa, the 11th child

of the third month of 1948 (based on the lunar calendar) at Con market, Hai Hau, Nam Dinh

His father was Le Van Thuy – a merchant who traded fabrics and his mother was Le Thi Dang – a farmer who worked dedicatedly on sericulture and weaving fabrics

Le Tien was the first child of the family and he had two younger brothers named Le Van Khue and Le Van Bich who lived and worked in Saigon port.

Memoirs of Le Tien’s life and career

As a smart and resourceful person, Le Tien had come to Hanoi with his father for studying and vocational training since he was 13, or 14 years old. With his smartness and independence, he was able to entered the first course of the Indochina University opened by the French. He had studied well so the French awarded him a special technical book at his graduation and entrusted him to build an ice company on Tran Nhat Duat Street of Hanoi. He worked as

Mr. Le Tien

Mr. Le Tien

the head of department and was granted a house located in front of Ton Dan Street. Here the family gave births to these following children Mr./Ms.: Tan, Tuyet, Thanh, Thai, Tiep, Thu, Thi, Thoa.

Later he opened a store on Quan Thanh street, selling for foreign wines and beverages. His aunt – Mrs. Sau and his older children were the managers of this store.

In 1939, with the desire to develop his knowledge and personal career, Le Tien resigned from the ice company and moved to 13 Son Tay Street, Ba Dinh District to exclusively sell manufactured welding electrodes and plastic electric tapes to The Railway Department of Hanoi.

He also invested in French techniques to produce carbonated soft drink which was rapidly consumed by provincial companies so his production could not meet demand. Then the

Le Tien's General Store and Family. ca 1936

Le Tien’s General Store and Family. ca 1936

family gave births to Thu, Thuy and Than.

In 1944, the General Governor of Indochina was aware of his open mind and came to his home to encourage him to open a brewery company, as there was only one brewery company in Hanoi at that time. However, this plan was halted by the revolution.

In this period of chaos, his family had to evacuate to his hometown of Thai Phu and then relocated to the Con market in Hai Hau. After the unsuccessful return, along with a sorrow caused by the loss of wealth and his previous achievements as well as a burden of many children and more than 20 workers, Mr. Le Tien passed away at the age of 53.

Le Tien Family 1939

Le Tien Family 1939

When he was alive, he had a farm of 7,200 square meters which was the biggest one in his hometown and was solely used for family vacations. The family of his uncle Mr. Huu took care of this farm. After the death of Huu, nobody was there to manage the farm so it was taken over by the government. In addition, he had more houses at 13, 15, 43 Son Tay and a manufacturing factory that ran from the beginning of Pham Tuan (Ong Ich Khiem) Street to the car factory near Ngoc Ha market in an area of over 1,000 square meters. Later when the revolution began, with the enlightenment, his son – Mr. Thai did let the government manage the factory. As the result, the factory was occupied.

Rendering of Le Tien vacation villa, Thai Phu

Rendering of Le Tien vacation villa, Thai Phu

Mr. Le Tien was a pioneer in his day. He achieved so many things in Vietnam at that time. He held French Indochina driving license number 002 and was the first Vietnamese to ride a motorbike and buy a car in 1934.

Mr. Le Tien was also a nature and travelling lover, he liked to learn about the outside world.

Mr. Le was the first Vietnanese to buy a car in 1934

Mr. Le was the first Vietnanese to buy a car in 1934

Every year he took his wife and children to different touristic sites in the country.

He was rich in kindness. The famine in 1945 killed many people from his company. He offered free porridges every day to wandering people, especially who came from his and his wife hometown. Many of the survivors later gratefully welcomed his family each time they saw his car heading to Co Le village.

During the occupation by the Chinese army (1945), there was an officer who was jealous with a Vietnamese that kept exchanging money with girls on the neighborhood so that officer hung that man and beat him with rifle butt to near death. To save him, Le Tien asked for intervention from the government to free this Vietnamese and then he succeeded and was forever appreciated.

In brief, Le Tien was a talented person with strong will. He had great a self-built career and nice traditional Eastern Asian family that were built on the basis of absorbing the Western lifestyle. He hated drinking alcohol and playing cards, it was unacceptable for his children and employees to play cards after the third day of each new lunar year.

He had wide relationships with many social classes such as Son Phung Giay Cuong label in Hang Da market, famous Dong Luong sweet soup, Han Bich family on 11 Hang Ma, Tan An pastries on Gia Long Street (Tran Hung Dao) which was also his wife’s family.

It was a pity for a person like that to die so soon with many uncompleted intentions and a lack of time to train successors. None of his sons continued the handed down family career because of their excitements for the revolution.  (“People’s Revolution” ~ 1945 – 1954) Mr. Tuoc was the only son who was similar to him in terms of business potential however he was incompatible with his father.

In 1950, the family returned to Hanoi. The Railway Department came back to order manufactured welding electrodes as well as plastic electric tapes but nobody could take over the handed down career. This technique was lost after unsuccessful tries of Tuyet and her husband.

This valuable French book of technique had lost its value.

Memoirs of LUONG THI THE

Mrs. Luong Thi The was born in 1903 and died on the sixteenth day of the fourth month ofLuong Thi 1985 (based on the lunar calendar) at number 16 of Son Tay Street. She was born in Ngoc Lang Village, My Hao District, Hung Yen Province. She was the oldest daughter of Mr. Luong Van Cap and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Bien.

Luong Van Cap was a soldier who helped the military to build villages in the North. Therefore, all people there were named after his family name to show their gratefulness. Nguyen Thi Bien was a trader who lived in Hang Dong, Hang Sat, Hang Long near Hang Co station (near Southern Street) where many of their relatives also settled. They had nine children: Luong Thi The, Luong Van Tang, Luong Bao Loc, Luong Van Tuy, Luong Van In, Luong Thi Sau, Luong Van Bay, Luong Van Tinh (Tam), Luong Thi Phuong.

Cu Luong van CapAccording to oral history about Cu Luong van Cap:

“For his actions it is said that he received honors from the Emperor. The formal attire he is wearing in photograph is Hanfu and worn at court. The Chinese characters on his left may be a certification bestowed by the Emperor.”

Memoirs of Luong Thi The’s life

She was a beautiful girl in the village. And, her parents were smart enough so at the age of 19 she could marry Le Tien who was a middle age widower and three innocent children: Le Thi Ty, Le Van Tuoc, Le Thi Tuat. She was scared of possible responsibility but her parents encouraged and wanted her to marry him. Continue reading

Vietnam 1955 – ‘Operation Passage to Freedom’

Author: Ken Ball 

The Navy took me to Vietnam in 1955, long before the United States committed thousands of

Ken Ball, taken during his service on the USS Horace A. Bass APD 124

Ken Ball, taken during his service on the U.S.Horace A. Bass APD 124

servicemen to fight in that country.

It turned out to be a trip I am sure I’ll never forget. This was a time shortly after the Vietnamese, under Ho Chi Minh, had defeated the French forces in a key extended battle and siege of Dien Bein Phu.  As a result of this defeat the French realized that they could no longer hold Vietnam.  The Vietnamese, believing that the United States had an interest in intervening agreed to some compromises at Geneva in early summer of 1954.  Among the agreements reached was a plan to allow people above and below the 17th parallel to migrate to where they felt safest.  The people were allowed 300 days to do this.

March 30-May 1 - The siege at Dien Bien Phu occurs as nearly 10,000 French soldiers are trapped by 45,000 Viet Minh. French troops soon run out of fresh water and medical supplies. The French urgently appeal to Washington for help. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff now consider three possible military options: sending American combat troops to the rescue; a massive conventional air strike by B-29 bombers; the use of tactical atomic weapons. The History of the Cold war: A Comparative Perspective; http://phobos.ramapo.edu/~theed/Cold_War/d_Brezhnev_Era/a_LBJ/a_Nam/aa_PreGulofTonkin.html

March 30-May 1 – The siege at Dien Bien Phu occurs as nearly 10,000 French soldiers are trapped by 45,000 Viet Minh. French troops soon run out of fresh water and medical supplies. The French urgently appeal to Washington for help. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff now consider three possible military options: sending American combat troops to the rescue; a massive conventional air strike by B-29 bombers; the use of tactical atomic weapons. The History of the Cold war: A Comparative Perspective; http://phobos.ramapo.edu/~theed/Cold_War/d_Brezhnev_Era/a_LBJ/a_Nam/aa_PreGulofTonkin.html

This is where my ship, U.S.Horace A. Bass APD 124, played a small role.  We sailed up the Red River to Haiphong where we relieved the U.S.S. Cook as a communication ship.  Our job was to keep Saigon informed as

Map of the Red River

Map of the Red River

to how many transport ships would be needed and when they would be needed to carry the thousands of endangered Vietnamese from the North to the South.  Some have estimated that over two million people went from the North to the South.  Very few went the other way.  The North wanted their people to stay in the South.

It was during this time that I met Dr. Thomas Dooley,[1] a young Navy doctor who was in charge of setting up the refugee camps that contained the people awaiting transportation.  He was quite a character and talker.  Dr. Dooley would come out to our ship for a shower and a good meal from time to time.  He was tired of the instant powdered coffee he and his two enlisted assistants had to drink. On one occasion we had some Vietnamese orphans out to the ship to give them a little ice cream and cake.  They really enjoyed that.

I was with Dr. Dooley one day in Haiphong searching for some lime to line a softball field.  We were to have a game with the officers and Chiefs playing against the enlisted crewmen. While walking along Dooley asked me, “Have you ever seen a leper”?  I said, “No”.  He pointed out that one was crossing the street to come our way to beg for money. Incidentally, the soft ball game drew a crowd of over 500 people.  The Japanese had introduced baseball during WW II to the Vietnamese.  We played volleyball and basketball with the French who were still there.  We used the same ball for both games.

Dr. Dooley told us story after story of atrocities by the Vietnamese Communists against other Vietnamese, particularly the Roman Catholic ones. (The French missionaries had done their work well) It was these stories that convinced me at this time we had a “protector” role to play in that country.  I really was not very astute in regard to international politics at that time, or even now for that matter.

I’ll retell a story that I am sure Dooley told hundreds of times:

Thomas A. Dooley, M.D. (Wikipedia)

Thomas A. Dooley, M.D. (Wikipedia)

He said that one day a young Communist guard brought a ten year-old boy to him with his hands bound behind his back.  Dooley asked, “Why do you have this young boy tied up this way?”  The guard replied, “He is tied because he is a traitor to the People’s Republic of Vietnam.” “How can a boy so young possibly be a traitor,” Dooley asked.  “I’ll show you why he is a traitor,” the guard replied.  Then he ordered the boy to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

The boy began with, “Our Father who art in Heaven”.  The guard stopped him and said, “You see, that is treason.”  “The People’s Republic knows there is no God in heaven”  Dooley reported that the guard stopped him several times during the recitation of the prayer, each time pointing out that such belief were untrue and detrimental to the People’s Republic.  The boy got to the part where he said, “Give us this day our daily bread”, and the guard stopped him for the last time to remind him that his daily bread was supplied not by God, but by the People’s Republic.  Then the terribly shocking thing happened.  Dooley said, “Quick as a wink the guard whipped out two chop sticks and thrust them into the boys ears, piercing his ear drums to deafen him.  Then he said, “Never again will this boy have to hear such lies created by evil western capitalistic warmongers.”

That story, at that time, convinced me that we should be involved in stopping such atrocities.  So when the U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated in the 1960’s, I thought weQuotation-Carl-Schurz-country-right-Meetville-Quotes-165819 were doing the right thing.  I had been conditioned to be the kind of patriot that would say, “My country: Right or Wrong.”  And I believed, at that point, that my country never did anything wrong.  Since then I have learned this is a very naïve notion.  Any, and all countries, look out for their own interests, and they do not always do the right things.

Both sides conducted brutal propaganda campaigns to win the allegiance of the Vietnamese people.  One of the leaflets distributed by the Communist to dissuade the people from going South on the U.S. Navy transports showed two white-hatted sailors squatting on the deck with a Vietnamese baby being

A North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team called Doi Tuyen truyen Vo trang, in the Field Photo courtesy of Mailfromthetrail@yahoo.com (General Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who would later become the hero of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 served as a Team Leader at one point in his career.)

A North Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Team called Doi Tuyen truyen Vo trang, in the Field Photo courtesy of Mailfromthetrail@yahoo.com (General Vo Nguyen Giap, the man who would later become the hero of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 served as a Team Leader at one point in his career.)

roasted on a spit over a brazier.  It was effective too.  Many balked at the gangway when they saw the sailors standing on deck.

It takes a lot of research to get to the bottom of historical events, and during the time they are happening very few people have a clue as to why things are happening.  Years later “evidence” is uncovered, such as the pentagon papers, and statements admitting mistakes in policy making.  It is terrible that we lost over 53,000 service people in a war that was never crystal clear in its purposes.  At that time we were in the midst of the “cold war” and the perceived threat of godless Communism spreading over the globe was unthinkable.  It had to be stopped.  The Domino theory held sway.  It postulated that if one country would fall to communism its neighbor would soon follow until all the world was in jeopardy.  Perhaps this was true, and all our resistance and spending finally broke the back of that movement.  We outspent and out lasted them; that part is good, but what a price for both sides to pay.

The trip up the Red River to Haiphong was exciting, perhaps educational, and will always be one of my highlighted memories.

Red River: The reddish-brown heavily silt-laden water gives the river its name. View from bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

Red River: The reddish-brown heavily silt-laden water gives the river its name. View from bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

[Editor’s Note:  I am grateful to Ken Bell for writing this post.  It is an honor to read first person accounts from the front lines of history.  John Malch, a truth-seeker and contributor to the Cold War Warrior, sent me this story through Bill Cotman. John writes:

Vietnam refugees. USS Montague lowers a ladder over the side to French LSM to take refugees aboard. Haiphong, August 1954. PH1 H.S. Hemphill. (Navy)

Vietnam refugees. U.S.Montague lowers a ladder over the side to French LSM to take refugees aboard. Haiphong, August 1954. PH1 H.S. Hemphill. (Navy)

My wife, Kim, evacuated North Vietnam, November 1954 during ‘Operation Passage to Freedom’ aboard U.S.Montague.  She thought it strange that an American ship had a name of French origin.  She remembered how kind and helpful the American sailors were, especially to young children. 

She thanks you (Bill Cotman) for sending Ken’s story and said it brought back many bittersweet memories from nearly sixty years ago.

Finally, in order to understand what happened in Vietnam it is important to follow the timeline of the battle at Dien Bien Phu.[2] ]



[1] John Malch adds: A little insight on Thomas Anthony Dooley III: I am sure you read about Thomas Anthony Dooley III.  In 1954 while serving on the U.S.Montague, he assisted with the evacuation of North Vietnamese refugees to the south. Dooley became involved with Lt Colonel Lansdale (CIA station manager, Saigon) and was thoroughly exploited for his experiences with Vietnamese-American relationships.  For many years Dooley was labeled a spy for the CIA.  Although, he never admitted to be a missionary, he was called one because of his affiliation with the Catholic church.  Dooley’s life has been under a microscope-analysis for many years.  His recent consideration for canonization in becoming a Saint; his background revealed  (500 CIA files) he had given the CIA information from hamlets and villages of Viet Minh troop movements near his hospitals in Laos and Vietnam.  So, he has been reclassified as a CIA informant and not a spy.
[2] The History of the Cold war: A Comparative Perspective; Pre Tonkin Gulf Incident; http://phobos.ramapo.edu/~theed/Cold_War/d_Brezhnev_Era/a_LBJ/a_Nam/aa_PreGulofTonkin.html