Mission of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers in Cambodia were not only to fight Pol Pot forces, but also to save locals

PANO � Forty years have passed but the story about the 1979 Lunar New Year festival (Tet) in Takeo province of Cambodia when my comrades and I were serving our international service in there remains fresh in my mind.

At that time, I was responsible for youth work of Regiment 54, Division 320, Army Corps 3. My regiment provided firepower in support of other units of the division crossing the Mekong River to liberate Kampong Cham town in the province of the same name, and to pave the way for the corps' Division 10 to liberate Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979.

On January 23, 1979, Division 320 in coordination with forces of Military Region 9 pursued remnants of the Pol Pot army in Takeo province.

After that, I was reinforced to Anti-aircraft Battalion 16 that was engaged in the Road No.3 campaign. On the afternoon of January 27, 1979 or the 29th day of Lunar December 1978, after Battalion 16 had completed the combat preparations at a new position, I was ordered to be back to the regiment headquarters to prepare Lunar New Year Festival for troops.

There was no Tet atmosphere thought it was the 30th day of December the 1978 lunar year. The meal was not different from the routine with familiar dishes, such as grain, vegetable, and dried fish transported from our home country of Vietnam. Another reason we could not feel the Tet atmosphere was the hot weather in Cambodia, a very different experience from the cool or cold in Northern Vietnam during the Tet time.

What is more, at that time the Cambodian people had been impoverished under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Also, on the afternoon of the last day of the lunar year, while making a report, I was asked to meet the head of the regiment's Department of Politics. Having been reported by scouts that over 20 distressed Cambodians on a stream bank near by the unit's base, he assigned me and another soldier to come to the scene to find out if we could help them.

We rushed to the scene and found a small group, mostly elderly people, women, and children near a makeshift. They all looked so languishing and worn out. They became frightened at first when they saw us from a distance. However, knowing that we were Vietnamese volunteer troops, an old man told us in Khmer that they were so hungry and were willing to exchange their gold rings and earrings in a milk-can for rice.

I immediately helped the old man stand up and babbled few Cambodian words, explaining that Vietnamese volunteer troops were supporting Cambodian revolutionary soldiers and people to fight against the Pol Pot regime.

Understanding my words, the old man recovered his composure. He kept talking but I could only get a few words. Thus, another middle-aged woman, sitting behind the man, interpreted his words into Vietnamese, saying that these people were from S'ang district, Kandal province. They had to run away from Pol Pot troops, who had massacred their villagers and burned down all their homes. They insisted that they had nothing to eat except stream water for three days. In turn, I asked the woman to tell them that Vietnamese volunteer soldiers were there to help Cambodians overthrow the Pol Pot genocidal regime and re-build their country. I told my comrade to stay with them when I returned the base to report the case to my commander.

Although the dinner for the troops had already been cooked, the commander assigned our cooks to prepare more food and drinking water for those poor Cambodians. Less than an hour later, the Cambodians were treated with a meal with rice, braised pork, fried fish, and cabbage soup.

After the meal, I told them to stay there as my regiment's commander decided to offer them some food and necessities. Looking at their thankful smiles, I was so happy even though had an empty stomach when returning to the base. I also became more aware of the noble mission of the Vietnamese volunteer soldiers in this country.

On the morning of the first day of the Lunar New Year 1979, I led several soldiers to carry rice, dried fish, salt, monosodium glutamate, and greens to the Cambodians. They were so happy with the valuable goods gifted by the Vietnamese soldiers, packaged their belongings and continue their trip. Before leaving, on behalf of the group, the old man burst to tears expressing their sincere thanks to us and wishing all Vietnamese volunteer soldiers to be well to soon defeat the genocidal regime and support the Cambodian people to rebuild the country.

Source: People's Army Newspaper