I met Do Hong Phan on a crisp autumn morning at an exhibition by Hoa Lo Prison Relics on the 69th anniversary of the Capital Liberation Day (October 10, 1954) about the vibrant patriotic youth movement. The wind blew through the jail's corridor with infinite prison cells. Phan fondled the stone walls of the cell where she had once been locked up as an activist in the patriotic student movement.
Born in 1933, Phan was the former Director of the Department of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Irrigation (now the Department of Irrigation, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), a veteran having served the Vietnamese Communist Party for 70 years.
Recalling her early days in the revolutionary movement, from late 1949 to early 1950, when she was a female student at Chu Van An High School, Phan said: "Those were the most exciting days of my life. At 16-17, we fought in student resistance movements, encouraging each other to overcome difficulties and challenges."
Hanoi was then occupied by the French colonialists. At that time, Chu Van An was an all-girls school, and most were drawn into the movement, each with a specific task. The excitement and enthusiasm of youth swept them all along.
In the course of her activities, Hong Phan gained additional knowledge about the Party and the proletarian movement. In early June 1950, Hong Phan was informed that she was qualified to be a member of the Party.
"The Party initiation ceremony was held at Nguyen Thi Dan's warehouse, which is the base of the resistance women at Dong Xuan market. The warehouse was filled with bales of cloth. We had to squeeze between the bale boxes deep inside to find a small space, enough for a small table, a few chairs, the Party's flag on the wall, and a matchbox-sized photo of President Ho Chi Minh. That day, two people were admitted to the Party: me and my friend Doan Thi Thuc Anh," Phan recalled.
In a sacred moment, Hong Phan shuddered with indescribable honor and pride. Of all the things her superiors told her, the advice she remembered most was: "In wartime, it is very likely that you will be captured and tortured by the enemy, but as a Party member, you must keep your composure and be ready to overcome all tribulations and challenges."
This advice guided Hong Phan's later revolutionary activities.
At the beginning of the 1950-1951 school year, Hong Phan and her friend were captured by the enemy.
They searched her friend's house and found the Communist Party's flag and leaflets promoting the national revolution.
"They slapped me hard and then took us to prison," Phan said.
While in secret police custody, Phan, like many others, was tortured with electric batons. Her whole body trembled from the electric shocks, but she was determined not to say anything. While being fed rice, she broke the rice bowl and cut her wrist with a piece of pottery to commit suicide.
The French took her to the hospital for treatment. Here, Phan was assigned a private room with two guards to watch her day and night. Phan's mother was allowed to visit her, but they weren't able to talk much beyond a few greetings. After her health recovered, she was transferred her to the Hoa Lo Prison.
"I remember walking down the corridor flanked by cells full of inmates. They all had to lie close together to get enough space. At the end of the row was a container of urine for all the convicts that smelled terrible," she recounted.
Here, Phan received heartfelt care from female political prisoners who knew Phan was just a student. Being cared for by all of them made her feel warm, less afraid, and more secure, feelings that have stayed with her ever since.
Then, she was sent to solitary confinement. "In the dungeon, they tortured us by keeping the lights on all day and all night. The light hurt my head and my eyes, and I couldn't sleep. I had to cover my eyes with a pile of clothes, it took me a while to get used to it," she said.
Then, one day, the French prison guard came by the cell and asked her if she spoke French.
She replied: "I know."
He asked again: "Do you want to read the story?"
She replied: "Yes."
So he gave her some newspapers and the novel Gone with the Wind. She devoured the book day and night in that terrible light.
The day the book was returned, the jailer asked Phan: "How is the story?"
"Good," Phan said.
"How good?" he asked again.
"First, the main character in the story is a courageous woman who breaks stereotypes to pursue her dream. Second, slavery in America has collapsed, it cannot be saved, nor can any system of slavery, especially yours, that is imposed on our people," Phan replied.
Even though she was imprisoned, she still found ways to communicate with her mother and hear news from the outside every time she visited.
"At that time, the student resistance movement in the inner city was brutally suppressed, but it never broke up. Many resistance fighters were caught and sent to the secret police detention center and Hoa Lo Prison one after another, but the movement still spread throughout the schools," she said.
After over two months in Hoa Lo Prison, the French colonialists released Phan on January 21, 1951, because she was a minor. Immediately after her release, she tried to contact and return to the Youth Union and fled to the resistance zone.
With the victory of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign, the Geneva Accords on the Armistice in Indochina were signed on July 20, 1954, and the agreements on the handover of Hanoi to the Vietnamese Government were finally signed on September 30 and October 2, 1954. With the victory of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign, the Geneva Accords on the Armistice in Indochina were signed on July 20, 1954, and the agreements on the handover of Hanoi to the Vietnamese Government were finally signed on September 30 and October 2, 1954.
According to the decision of the Government Council on September 17, 1954, the Municipal Military Administration Committee was established with General Vuong Thua Vu as Chairman and Doctor Tran Duy Hung as Vice-Chairman. The committee was tasked with taking over and administering the city.
On October 9, the first groups of resistance soldiers marched into the city from five gates to take over the railway station, the Tonkin Palace, the naval base, the Hoan Kiem Lake area, and the Governor General of Indochina Palace. At 4 p.m. of the same day, the last French soldiers left the city. At 4.30 p.m., the Vietnamese army safely retook Hanoi. Welcome gates were set up with banners on many streets, and the yellow five-pointed star flags flew high everywhere.
Early in the morning of October 10, residents of the capital city, dressed in elegant clothes, carrying flags and portraits of President Ho Chi Minh, stood in lines divided into blocks of office workers, blue-collar workers, school teachers and ordinary residents. They waited for the victorious army in the streets where they heard the soldiers would march through.
At 8 a.m., soldiers of the Capital Regiment marched from the west of Hanoi through Kim Ma Street, Hang Day Street, Cua Nam Street, Hang Bong Street, Hang Dao Street, and Hang Ngang Street to the Hanoi Citadel. From the South, the soldiers entered Hanoi and marched through Bach Mai Street, Hue Street, Trang Tien Street, Naval Station and Dau Xao area to Cua Bac (the North Gate). They were followed by a group of vehicles and artillery led by General Vuong Thua Vu, Commander of the Hanoi Front.
In the afternoon of October 10, almost all city residents gathered at the flag ceremony held by the Military Administration Committee. Afterward, the chairman of the committee, Vuong Thua Vu, read out President Ho Chi Minh's appeal to all residents of the Capital on Liberation Day.
As many as 200,000 Hanoians took to the streets that day to welcome the liberators. The entire city was festooned with national flags, slogans, and banners as the celebration began.
Many years have passed, and this year, Phan turns 90, but her resolute demeanor is still intact. This woman is always proud to have lived and devoted her life to the Fatherland. She hopes that today's youth will always live their lives to the fullest to develop the country and uphold the tradition of patriotism.