Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vietnam: Honoring a man and the trail named after him

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by Aimee Kligman

A woman holds a fan with the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum's painting on, while she and others wait in line to get in the mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, on the occasion of Ho Chi Minh's 119th anniversary of his birthday, Tuesday, May 19, 2009. Ho Chi Minh was born May 19, 1890 and died in 1969. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

He is fondly referred to in Vietnam as 'Uncle Ho'. He is, without a doubt, a national hero, and his photo appears on billboards, in offices and travel agencies. Though he wished to be cremated, his embalmed body lies in a mausoleum in Hanoi modeled after Lenin's Tomb in Moscow.
Former President Ho Chi Minh's real name is Nguyen Tat Thanh (1890-1969), and was the main catalyst against French colonial rule. By the time the American War broke out in Vietnam, Uncle Ho was in poor health and incapable of enacting policy; however, despite his largely ceremonial role in that war, he is considered the 'soul' of the revolution, and a hero of the Vietnamese fight for independence. When the North finally regained the South from US forces, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in his honor.

This week, on May 19th, Vietnam celebrated the birthday of their hero as well as the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Ho Chi Minh trail, a vital supply route which ran from the North to supply the Viet Cong. The Trail represents a subject of immense pride for the Vietnamese people and constitutes a milestone in the history of the country.

Vietnambridge, one of the most comprehensive Vietnamese English websites ran the story, and underscored the importance of the event by the number of dignitaries in attendance. Vietnam's President of the National Assembly, Nguyen Phu Trong, honored the man, the trail and those who died during the monumental task of building this vital artery that enabled the North to win the war. Casualties are estimated at 20,000, many of whom were women.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a network of over 13,000 miles of roads and paths of which about 3,000 miles were used for deceiving the enemy. During the war years, 1.5 million tons of goods, 45 million tons of arms, 5.5 million cubic meters of fuel (a 900 mile pipeline had also been built) and 2 million soldiers passed through this trail, - some sections of which went through Cambodia and Laos.

In trying to sever this vital link, the United States sprayed 5 million tons of bombs and chemical agents over the trail.

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