Women Veterans of Vietnam

‘When war comes to the gate, even the women must fight’ is a saying as old as the hills in Vietnam. Since 40AD when the Trung sisters raised a revolt against the Chinese and repelled the invaders for three years, women have taken up arms to fight for independence. When the French came and colonised they joined the resistance movement, and when the Americans arrived thousands took up arms to defend and save their homes and their soil.

President Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader of North Vietnam, let it be known that women were half the people and if women were not free then all the people were not free.

During the Vietnam War which lasted from 1954 to 1975, women in the North mobilised in every discipline of the Vietnam People’s Army, including frontline nursing, combat roles and manning anti-aircraft guns which brought down enemy planes. Armed with scissors and thread, women in the Association of Mothers went onto the battlefields to mend the soldier’s ripped clothing. In the occupied South the women of the Viet Cong worked underground in tunnels, and on sabotage missions.

After 1968 when the US focused on destroying the 1,700 square mile network of roads and routes known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail more women, barely teenagers, joined Brigade 559, a transportation and logistics unit tasked with keeping the trail open. The trail which meandered across the border with Laos was essential for moving troops, weapons and supplies from the North to the Viet Cong paramilitaries in the south. Like their male counterparts, female soldiers succumbed to disease, capture, imprisonment and death. Some were exposed to the chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange with disastrous consequences for their futures. Many spent so long in inhospitable jungles they returned with health so broken they saw little hope of starting the family they perhaps once hoped for.

Nguyen Thi Tien and Ha Thi Mac, veteran soldiers of Vietnam People’s Army during the Vietnam War
© Lee Karen Stow

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