The Mourning Soldier
THE WANDERING STATUE
The legends of the Mourning Soldier were spread a few months after the inauguration. There were several tales about the wandering statue at night. Beside asking for drinking water, it was said that many times he helped young women under the threats of robberies or sexual assaults by scaring away the attackers. Another rural shop owner related that once the Mourning Soldier took the bag of a hundred loaves of French bread delivered every early mornings at the side of the statue before she could pick them up. She found out later that the loaves had been ... laid one at each grave.
The most famous story, however, was about an ARVN batallion
In a night during the 1968 Tet Offensive, a Vietnamese Marine battalion moved from Vung Tau to Saigon to reinforce the capital. The long convoy about 40 trucks was moving slowly when the foremost truck screeched to a sudden stop. The battalion commander on his jeep rushed to the leading truck , thinking that there might have been an accident.
The driver looked frightened and very excited. He told the battalion C.O. that while he was looking attentively at the road under the light beam from his truck, an infantry soldier in field dress with helmet and a rifle suddenly appeared on the highway about 15 to 20 yards right in front of his truck, waving his hands frantically to stop the convoy. The driver had to apply the brakes as hard as he could, trying to avoid running over the foolish soldier. After the trucks stopped, the soldier disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared.
The Marines found out that the Mourning Soldier was not far from their place. The apparition seemed ominous and worried them, so a small unit moved forward on foot for reconnaissance. At about two or three hundred yards ahead, the spearheading unit detected a North Vietnam regular force of battalion size waiting in ambush. The bloody fighting followed and the enemy force suffered heavy losses compared with the Marine battalion before they withdrew into darkness.
Months later, the Marine battalion held a memorial service in front of the statue to show their grateful thanks to the wandering statue.
People living near the old National Military Cemetery or traveling along the portion of highway crossing the area are again telling stories of the Mourning Soldier. Now he does not asked for water, but for news of their wives and children. He often complains that since 1975, the Communist authorities have forbidden people from visiting and taking care of their relatives' grave sites. The worst thing, he said, was that after April 30, 1975, the Communists hung on the gate a board on which people read "Here the False Army soldiers were punished for their crimes."
During the Vietnam War, South Vietnamese military and civilian authorities were burying several ten thousands of Communist dead soldiers in jungle areas, in POW Camps or near populous villages, towns and cities. But none of the mass or individual graves having such humiliating sign.
In an English evening class in Saigon in 1988, a 18-year-old student whose father rested in the cemetery asked her teacher: "Is it true that after the Civil War 1861-1865, in many places of the USA, federal government buried dead soldiers of both sides in the same cemeteries without any mark of difference?"
The teacher, who had graduated in America and well read in American history, could only say : *"Sorry, I don't know."
He did not know whether or not one of his students was an under cover public security agent.
*In 1994 when I taught ESL in Saigon, one of these "public security agents" attended one of my classes. He wasn't a very good actor because it was obvious he hated me.:) At any rate, I purposely decided to teach "Business English" that night which I interlaced with much that I'm sure he didn't appreciate, but he never came back and I never heard anything more. All the other teachers were ex-VNCH officers, many of whom were waiting to go to the US.
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