Re: Vietnamese women research sources?

Thu, 20 Nov 1997 13:50:22 -0500

>Randy, can you tell me what sort of things Khue did? The job of sappers
>was to clear obstacles and lead attacks on fortified enemy positions;
>they'd sneak into a base and blow it up. Doesn't seem there would be
>much call for this sort of thing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (assuming
>you mean the trail in Laos and Cambodia).
>Peter Brush

My impression is that she repaired the roads. You won't be surprised to
know that there's a hell of a lot about the military I don't know, so
I've heard her talk about repairing the roads and I've seen her described
as a sapper and I didn't question it as you have. I certainly am aware
of the definition you offer; I guess I assumed there were other MOs for
sappers too. She also worked as a writer later during the war.

In fact I just checked the blurb on her latest book. It reads in part:
"A veteran of the American/Vietnam War, she served as a member of the
Youth Volunteers Brigade (Sappers) and as a war correspondent."

And here's from Wayne Karlin's preface to _The Stars, The Earth, The
River_ (thank god for scanners!):

Born in 1949 in Thanh Hoa province, south of Hanoi, Le Minh Khue lost her
parents when she was very young to the upheavals of the Land Reforms of
the early fifties, a period of forced collectivization and class warfare
which, as we see in her story "A Small Tragedy," left scars across many
lives. Khue was raised by an aunt and uncle who were passionate about
both Vietnam's struggle for independence from foreign rule and about
literature, both legacies which they passed on for her. She grew up as
part of a generation of young people to whom the justice of their cause
was as clear as the fact of the American bombs falling on their cities;
they were fervent not only with a belief in liberation from foreign
domination and national unification, but also in the faith that a
socially just and humane society would grow from the roots of victory.

It was that faith which led Le Minh Khue, then sixteen, to lie about her
age and enlist in the People's Army in 1965, after the American bombing
campaign began. She was assigned to the Youth Volunteer brigades and
sent south to the highland jungles, where she received on-the-job
training as a sapper. Her duty, along with the rest of the kids in her
unit and the thousands like them, was to see that the Ho Chi Minh
Trail--really a network of roads built under the jungle canopy in order
to keep fighters and supplies flowing south to the war--was kept open.
For the next four years, Khue lived in the jungle, often thirsty,
starving, filthy, plagued by jungle sores, fevers and scabies, under
frequent bombardment, napalm and chemical attack and strafing by the
American and South Vietnamese aircraft whose job was to shut down the
Trail. The bombs were dropped while the girls huddled in caves or
bunkers, where their bodies were sometimes ripped by shrapnel--Khue
remembers one girl who died next to her in the middle of a sentence, a
scene she describes in "A Day on the Road." When the bombing stopped, the
girls would fill in the craters with dirt, defuse the unexploded bombs,
or explode them after packing dynamite around them.

Khue's aunt and uncle had taught her to love reading, and during all her
time in the war, she carried books by Chekov, London and Hemingway in her
knapsack. She was a reader and then she was a writer: all around her,
she saw the drama of her times being played out by her generation and she
felt the need to add her stories to the stories that had sustained her
not only because they were about tough people surviving tough times, but
also because they reassured her that the complications of the human heart
still existed beyond the terrible simplicity of the war. She began to be
published in the army newspapers--her first story, "The Distant Stars"
was written when she was nineteen and immediately received wide attention.

In 1969, Khue's enlistment was over, but when she returned to Hanoi, like
many soldiers, she found that she no longer felt comfortable amid the
maneuverings and self-concern of civilian, rear area society. She'd lost
any romantic notions she'd had about war, but she'd left her heart at the
front, with the thousands of soldiers she'd seen day by day going down
the Trail, with the remnants she saw returning. She applied for and
received a position as a correspondent for Tien Phong (Vanguard) magazine
and went back to the war, traveling with combat units, witnessing,
writing about and broadcasting stories until North Vietnam's final
victory in 1975. She was with a unit in the jungles near Danang during
the last days of the war: they entered the city and later swept further
south (where they occupied the old American helicopter base camp at
Marble Mountain where I'd once been stationed). Demobilized, she
continued her career as journalist and fiction writer. She married, had
a daughter, became an editor at the Writers' Association Publishing
House, and continued to write novels and stories--seven books since
1978-that followed her generation's path back from the jungles to the
more complex struggles--physical, moral, emotional and spiritual--of
postwar life.

Randy Fertel
Tulane University
6120 Perrier St.
New Orleans LA 70118
504-891-1759 (phone/fax)