THE WANDERING STATUE

 

"He" has often appeared in this area at midnight since 1967. Many times he was just wandering about on the village roads for nothing and disappeared at a wink when somebody approached. He sometimes stopped by lonely homes straggling on the flat land beside the Saigon-Bien Hoa Highway. He has never scared people, only asked for water, especially during dry season when the climate usually reached above 90 degrees Fahreinheit and higher."

"He wore field dress with jungle boots, a rifle and bandoleers on his shoulders, a helmet in one hand and an empty canteen in the other. He looks exactly like the statue 'The Mourning Soldier.'"

 

That story has been spread far and wide, and many people who live in and outside the villages surrounding the National Military Cemetary confirmed the appearances of the Mourning Soldier.

 

Such a mystic tale is easily accepted by people in any country, particularly in Vietnam in war. After decades of armed conflict with death by their sides every day, people have to rely on something, however superstitious it might be, to ease themselves from horrors of war.

 

The story is associated with the National Military Cemetary, located at a gently sloping hill of more than 500 acres, midway between Saigon and Bien Hoa and close to the highway. Constructing a national cemetery had been intended under the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem, who died in a coup on November 2, 1963. The idea was translated into reality in 1965 and inaugurated on November 1, 1966 by President Nguyen Van Thieu.

The entire construction of the cemetery looks like a giant bee. Its burying ground - about 3/4 mile wide - was divided into oblique rows of graves, symmetrically on the two sides of the main road in the middle. Seen from the air, the large plot looks like the abdomen of a giant bee, the head of it is the temple with a memorial at the highest point of the area, and the hundred-yard road from the temple to the highway is its sting.

 

The image of the brave soldier bee: "charging at the enemy despite of a sure death" symbolizes the heroic actions of the fallen warriors.

 

On the corner where the road leading into the cemetery links with the highway, was a large statue of a soldier. He sat on a rock, his M-1 rifle laid on his lap, hia helmet pushed a little up above his forehead. His sorrowful countenance expressed his feeling that was described as "mourning his fallen fighting fellows ." It was a famous work of the sculptor Nguyen Thanh Thu, now resettled in South California.

 

In 1965, Mr Thu was given the task of carving a statue memorizing the dead heroes. It took him many weeks before he caught a sight from which he drew an ispiration. In a rural shop near the old military cemetery, he found an airborne corporal who was drinking beer with his invisible fighting fellow to whom he had just said farewell at the funeral.

 

The sorrowful look and posture of the airborne corporal helped Mr Thu's ideas materialize. Upon Thu's request, Corporal Vo Van Hai became the model for Thu's work. It was made of concrete first and unveiled on November 1, 1966, at the same time with the inauguration of the memorial temple in the cemetery. In late 1969, it was moved to Saigon to be cast in bronze and returned to its place in 1971.

 

The statue was named "Thuong Tiec," that could be translated as Lamentation, or Mourning, or Sorrow. (VQ Home Page uses "The Mourning Soldier" ).

Hours after Saigon was taken over on April 30, 1975, the Communists pulled down the art work and destroyed it.

***

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 assauts 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 batallion 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 ther place. The apparition seemed ominous and worried them, so a small unit moved forward on foot for reconaissance. At about two or three hundred yards ahead, the spearheading unit detected a North Vietnam regular force of batallion 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 travelling 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 fobidden 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.


 

Collection by motgoctroi.com:

National Military Cemetary Arial Map