29/04/2015 16:50 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

Nguyen Huu Thai - A Witness of April 30

At noon on April 30, 1975 among some officials and soldiers of the Southern Liberation Army in  Saigon Radio’s studio, there was a special man who witnessed the historical moment when President of the Republic of Vietnam Duong Van Minh and the cabinet of the Saigon administration broadcast the statement of unconditional surrender. He is Nguyen Huu Thai, former President of the Student Association of Saigon.

Nguyen Huu Thai, a witness of April 30, 1975, returned to visit the Independence Palace
(present-day Reunification Palace) in March, 2015. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

 

The Independence Palace bears indelible imprints of Nguyen Huu Thai’s life.  Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
 

Nguyen Huu Thai and the photo depicting him observing Duong Van Minh, President of the Democractic Republic of Vietnam,
read a statement of surrender at Saigon Radio’s studio at noon on April 30, 1975. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

 

Many foreign visitors are surprised to know that Nguyen Huu Thai directly observed
Duong Van Minh, President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, read a statement of surrender at Saigon Radio’s studio
at noon on April 30, 1975. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

 

Nguyen Huu Thai shares stories about the historic day with foreign visitors. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
 

Nguyen Huu Thai’s stories provide foreigners with a new and interesting insight into the event. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP
 

Nguyen Huu Thai suddenly meets with Vu Hong Phieu, a veteran of the reserve unit of E136
that followed the tank convoy taking over Saigon. Photo: Nguyen Luan/VNP

“We are the representatives of the Saigon – Cho Lon – Gia Dinh Revolutionary People’s Committee. We were the first to arrive at the Independence Palace by 12:00, and together with the soldiers of the Liberation Army raised a flag over the palace. We are Professor Huynh Van Tong and Nguyen Huu Thai, former President of the Student Association of Saigon... Life has returned to normal in Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City. The city that Uncle Ho expected to free has been liberated. We would like to introduce the call from Duong Van Minh and Vu Van Mau of the Saigon administration regarding the surrender of this city ...”

That was the beginning of Nguyen Huu Thai’s announcement which was broadcast on Saigon Radio at noon on April 30, 1975 and immediately after that the President of the Republic of Vietnam, Duong Van Minh, read the statement of the unconditional surrender to the South Vietnam Liberation Army, ending the war and reuniting the country. He is a living witness of the historical moment.

Nguyen Huu Thai, born in 1940 in Da Nang, is an architect. He studied architecture and law at the University of Saigon. He was active in the struggle of young people, students and pupils in the South from 1960 to 1975 and was elected the first president of the Student Association of Saigon (1963-1964) shortly after the Ngo Dinh Diem regime collapsed. During that time, he organised and participated in many activities, such as calling the students to take to the streets and protest the US intervention in the internal affairs of Vietnam.

Forty years have passed and the former President of the Student Association of Saigon is now a thin, white-haired old man. Although he is 75 years old, he is still agile and has a sound mind and keen eyes. He and his wife live a happy life and their two children have stable careers.

Receiving us at a hotel owned by his daughter in Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen Huu Thai shook hands with us and spoke in a friendly manner. After talking for a while, he and his wife together with their daughter took us to visit the Independence Palace (present-day Reunification Palace) and the former Saigon Radio (now the Voice of Ho Chi Minh City’s People) which are full of the historical imprints of April 30 as well as of his life.

Going through the gate of the Independence Palace, Nguyen Huu Thai went straight to the place displaying the tank which had crashed the gate of the palace at noon on April 30, 1975. At this place many foreign tourists were taking photographs and they were very interested in an accidental meeting with a special historical witness like him. So, they listened attentively to his stories about the day of April 30, through the interpreting of his daughter Tina Thien Nga.


The tank of the Liberation Army that headed towards Independence Palace at noon on April 30, 1975.
Photo: Tran Mai Huong/VNA

The officials and soldiers of the Liberation Army escorted President Duong Van Minh
from Independence Palace to Saigon Radio to read a statement of surrender on April 30, 1975. Photo: File

 

Nguyen Huu Thai (second from right, wearing a white shirt and holding a file of documents) and
the Liberation Army’s officials and soldiers waited for
Duong Van Minh, President of the Republic of Vietnam (sitting, wearing a black shirt and looking up)
to read a statement of surrender at Saigon Radio’s studio at noon on April 30, 1975. Photo: File

 

Tens of thousands of Saigon people thronged the street to welcome 
soldiers of the Liberation Army on April 30, 1975. Photo: File

 

Saigon people attended the parade to celebrate the victory at Independence Palace on May 7, 1975. Photo: VNP’s File

Nguyen Huu Thai said that on April 30, 1975 he was present in the Independence Palace at about 9 am. While his team was at the palace, an important event took place on Thong Nhat Avenue (now Le Duan Street). The tanks of the Liberation Army drove along the avenue to the palace, then crashed the palace’s gate and headed to its veranda. A tank soldier (later, he was told that the soldier was Bui Quang Than) jumped down, snatched the antenna attached with a half-green, half-red flag of the Liberation Army and ran to the palace’s veranda.

At that moment, he and Professor Huynh Van Tong (teaching journalism) were standing in the lobby of the palace. Seeing Than running in, he went out and offered himself as a guide. At first Than was vigilant, but seeing a red and blue ribbon of the public uprising forces around his arm, Than immediately agreed and followed him to take the auxiliary lift.

As the lift was too small, he had to help Than bend the antenna to bring the flag into the lift. On the roof of the palace, the three-striped flag of the Saigon administration was too big and was tightly tied, so they took a few moments to pull it down and hoist the flag of the Liberation Army to the cheers of the people and  rifle shots into the air.

Also at noon, an unexpected incident happened and later became a special historical imprint of liberation day, April 30. He accompanied the officials and soldiers of the Liberation Army to escort President Duong Van Minh and some cabinet members of the Saigon administration to Saigon Radio to read a statement of surrender.

At the radio station, due to the urgent situation, he was assigned to broadcast the announcement of the surrender statement of President Duong Van Minh. Although undertaking the role of an “unwilling” newsreader, he read the preamble with a fluent southern accent on Saigon Radio. Shortly after his announcement, President Duong Van Minh, the last president of the Republic of Vietnam read the statement of unconditional surrender. It was about 14:20 Saigon time or 13:20 Hanoi time (at that time, Saigon time was one hour ahead of Hanoi time). Tens of thousands of people were joyous on the liberation day. For Nguyen Huu Thai, it was an unforgettable moment in his life.

After 40 years, when Nguyen Huu Thai revisited Saigon Radio and saw the table and the microphone he had used to broadcast a special announcement in the past, his heart was filled with indescribable emotions.

He said: “On the evening of April 30, 1975 the sky over Saigon was quiet with no sound of the planes. On the streets, there were no screaming horns of military vehicles. At night there was no longer the lights of flares, but only gunfire in the distance. It was the first night of the day of peace and reunion of the nation and family.


Story: Nguyen Oanh
Photos: Tran Mai Huong, Nguyen Luan & files of Nguyen Huu Thai & VNP