Vietnam War Stories from a NVA Soldier

Online interview between Jerry Peterson and Ngoc’s father 

The following is an interview between Jerry Peterson and Ngoc’s father about his time in the NVA army during the Vietnam War. For 10 years, he was away from his family and his home village. He shares with Jerry about those 10 years, of how he traveled through Laos and Cambodia and down the Ho Chi Minh Trails, and of some of the details surrounding the food rations supplied by the Americans. This interview gives readers a glimpse into what life was like for him and the other NVA soldiers during that time.

When did you enter the army?
In February of 1966.

When you went south, did you know how long you would be there?
We didn’t know how long we would need to be there. We only knew that we had to go until the war ended. I was in the army until 1976.

Did you volunteer or were you drafted?
I was drafted and it was the same for my two other brothers who were also NVA soldiers in the Vietnam War and younger than me. I met one of my younger brothers along the way when he returned home in April 1975.

What was your training like before you went south?
My training consisted of a 1-month basic training period in Hoa Binh Province.

Did you travel down the Ho Chi Minh Trails?

What was the trip south like?
From Quang Binh province (DMZ), I traveled through Laos and Cambodia before I stopped in Tay Ninh Province (the last point of the trail in Vietnam).

Many young NVA soldiers died along the way before they ever got into the fight because of sickness (malaria). I survived because I was lucky and because I was not a city boy. Besides weapons, each of us carried an extra 30kg of personal material and food. I also traveled with a long bamboo pole. Together with a hammock, the bamboo pole could be used to carry wounded soldiers until they could be transported to the next hospital along the way.

I have seen photos of NVA soldiers with bicycles carrying supplies – did you do this? What other types of supplies did the soldiers carry with them when going south?
No, those bicyclists were local soldiers who provided food, medicine, bullets, weapon, etc. for NVA who hiked along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. NVA stopped at these stations, or rest stops, to get more rice and food every few days.

How long did it take to get to Nui Ba Den?
I trekked 3 months on foot on the Ho Chi Minh Trails but it took some time before I was stationed on the Black Lady Mountain.

When did you arrive in the south?
In 1967.

Did you get any opportunity to go home for visits while you were stationed in the south?
No, I wasn’t. I returned home after ten years in the army just a few days before April 30, 1975, when the war ended.

I understand that you were in the tunnels at Nui Ba Den?
No, I didn’t. I spent two years on the Black Lady Mountain. The rest of the time I stayed at nearby areas such as Ba Ra Mountain, 30 miles east of Loc Ninh (near where COSVN was situated) and other places in Tay Ninh and Binh Duong Province. They also raised chicken and pigs at their camps.

How extensive were these camps?
I have heard there was a hospital there. I would assume there were also arms caches there. We stayed in the caves on the middle of Black Lady Mountain. I didn’t stay in any cave that you visited in February. It was more off the beaten path, and they were not easy to find. We were split into small groups and stayed in different areas and caves. We had a nurse with us, but there was no hospital.

What did NVA soldiers eat? 
We did get food supplies but it was very limited – usually rice and dried fish or fish paste. We picked wild vegetables on the mountain, and some of my friends were killed on these missions. I was very impressed with the American food boxes (C-rations) because they had chocolate and coffee. Many NVA soldiers were killed because they tried to gather American food boxes that were left on the battlefield.

Who supplied the NVA soldiers with food?
Besides food supplied from the North on a regular basis, much of our food was provided by the local population. We ate rice from the Black Lady Temple’s warehouse. During my time on Black Lady Mountain (2 years), my friends and I didn’t receive frequent supplies. We wore a monk’s costume instead of regular uniforms.

When did you return to North Vietnam for the final time?
I was sent back to North Vietnam on April 14, 1975 to receive further training. Although we traveled by truck and on HW1, it took nearly a month to arrive. As you can imagine, the roads were damaged, and there were also a lot of land mines. At the time (April 14), we didn’t know the war would be over on April 30.

Veterans take battlefield tour with familySince 2011, this NVA soldier from the Vietnam War and his family (wife, children, and grandchildren) have taken 3 tours to the old battlefield at Black Lady Mountain. Each tour has been full of emotion from memories and experiences he will never forget. In honor of that time, his children and grandchildren have started a tradition of touching the ground where the battle was fought so many years ago. They forever cherish these trips with their dad and grandfather.

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