Vietnam pays last respects to 'Red Napoleon', Vo Nguyen Giap

HANOI Sun Oct 13, 2013 10:32am EDT

Soldiers hold up the portrait of the late General Vo Nguyen Giap as his coffin is carried during his funeral at the National Funeral House in Hanoi October 13, 2013. REUTERS/Kham

Soldiers hold up the portrait of the late General Vo Nguyen Giap as his coffin is carried during his funeral at the National Funeral House in Hanoi October 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kham

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnamese poured into the capital on Sunday to bid farewell to Vo Nguyen Giap, the general who masterminded historic defeats of France and the United States to become one of the 20th century's most important military commanders.

Crowds lined the streets of Hanoi cheering, crying and holding aloft pictures of "Red Napoleon", a national legend with a domestic standing second only to the leader of Vietnam's struggle against colonialism, Ho Chi Minh.

Giap died on October 4, age 102, after four years in a Hanoi military hospital.

Short, slightly built and a man of no formal military training, Giap was ranked by historians among giants such as Montgomery, Rommel and MacArthur for victories over vastly better equipped armies that ushered in the end of foreign intervention and cemented communist rule in Vietnam.

"He was the general of the people, always in the people's hearts and in history," said Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the ruling party that Giap's forces brought to power in 1975 after driving the United States out of what was then a democratic South Vietnam.

"This is a big loss," Trong said in a speech at his state funeral, broadcast live on national television.

Hundreds of thousands thronged to catch a glimpse of Giap's coffin as it was driven on a military vehicle past an unbroken line of mourners to an airport 30 km (18 miles) away. Giap's body will be flown to his home province of Quang Binh for burial.

The funeral has brought a show of unity that Vietnam's current generation of leaders have struggled to foster in a country where three quarters of the 90 million population were born long after Giap's battlefield victories.


Though the Vietnam that Giap helped to liberate from Western control has seen unprecedented development and stability, discontent simmers over land ownership laws, entrenched graft and an economy growing at its slowest pace in 13 years.

"I never heard guns or bombs but I know our history," said Dao Huy Hoang a 21-year-old Hanoi student.

"After Uncle Ho and General Giap, it would be hard to find anyone like them, who dedicate their lives to the country without thinking of their personal interest."

Television and radio played somber music during the two-day funeral as people queued for hours to view the flag-draped coffin of the man they call the "big brother" of the nation.

Giap's critics spoke of his ruthless tactics and willingness to sustain heavy losses in pursuit of victory, his most notable, the humiliation of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which heralded the end of colonialism worldwide.

His textbooks on guerrilla warfare inspired revolutionaries and insurgents the world over. He once said any army fighting for freedom "had the creative energy to achieve things its adversary can never expect or imagine".

In the decade leading to his death, Giap started to mellow. His post-war political role was short-lived and he was dropped by the all-powerful politburo in 1982 before taking roles as head of committees overseeing science and family planning.

In a 2004 interview with Reuters, Giap recalled signing a book while on a trip to the United Nations in Geneva with the words "Vo Nguyen Giap, General of Peace".

In a speech, Giap's eldest son, Vo Dien Bien said the motivation of his father and the troops who served under him was to build a peaceful, unified Vietnam.

"In his death, his spirit will combine with the spirit of tens of millions of Vietnamese to become one harmonized power for a strong and wealthy Vietnam," Bien said.

Those who travelled to see Giap's coffin expressed their thanks to him for winning independence. Among them was To Xuan Thanh, a 60-year-old dressed in his old army uniform, who rode a motorcycle for 200 km (125 miles) to Hanoi.

"The general's words and actions remain bright for all the veterans, not only in the war but in peace time," he said.

(Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel)

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Comments (7)
Dolmance wrote:
Westmoreland owed his position as top general in Vietnam, to his great skills playing football at West Point. Apparently, he really impressed his superiors, because he was so clean cut and a real team player.

Giap ate him for breakfast, every day for years, until the day the last US forces ran up onto the roof at the US embassy, climbed a rope ladder into a helicopter and escaped by the skin of their teeth.

Anyway, that’s the memory that Giap’s death have brought back for me — the last great nail in the concept of “The White Man’s Burden.”

Oct 13, 2013 5:24am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Neurochuck wrote:
” …
When Lyndon Johnson told the nation
Have no fear of escalation
I am trying everyone to please
Though it isn’t really war
We’re sending fifty thousand more
To help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese

We go round in helicopters
Like a bunch of big grasshoppers
Searching for the Viet Cong in vain
They left a note that they had gone
They had to get down to Saigon
Their government positions to maintain
- Tom Paxton

Oct 13, 2013 6:35am EDT  --  Report as abuse
rustic36 wrote:
Once again it proves that the USA does not have the stomach for long protracted wars / or the will to ”WIN’ ‘and the only reason we are ”still” in Afghanistan is the lack of public service- – ie- – a draft which would have forced the children of the ”elite class” to participate in our foreign ”blunders”! That is why we ”lost” to Giap in NAM- – their staying power vs ”OUR’s”. Our college campuses were alight with protests- – -theirs – - not so much! It was never firepower or the bravery of our troops– -but rather lack of resolve and a ”press corps” which turned against the troops after TET in 68- – -a battle which brought GIAP to his knees. Then we ran away- – – like little girls and once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! And I predict that the very same thing will happen in Afghanistan and would have already- – -were it not for the PRESS and its constant protection of POTUS- – -after all we can’t let him be seen as anything but a genius! Where are the protests – - where is the outrage from the press- – - in the TANK – - as usual! !

Oct 13, 2013 6:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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