Return to Pac Bo
By Dinh Dang Dinh
Translated by Duong Tuong

The following story is one of Mr. Dinh’s favorite memories of his life with Ho. Dinh Dang Dinh was Ho Chi Minh’s official photographer from 1946 until Ho’s death in 1969, and was also one of the eight closest aides of President Ho Chi Minh, who nicknamed his aides after the main slogan of the anti-French resistance: Truong-Ky-Khang-Chien-Nhat-Dinh-Thang-Loi, meaning Our Protracted Resistance Will Certainly Win.

February 19, 1961 was the fifth day of the festival ushering in the Lunar New Year of Tan Sun. At 8:00 AM at the Gia Lam Airport, President Ho Chi Minh and a Party delegation set off in a helicopter on a visit to the ethnic minorities in Cao Bang.

This was the first time Uncle Ho had returned to visit this cradle of the revolution since the end of the anti-French resistance. After a two-hour flight, the helicopter landed, and representatives of the local Party and People’s Committees and crowds of Tay, Nung, Dao, and H’Mong ethnic minorities in their colorful Sunday best exultantly greeted President Ho with beautiful peach flowers.

The following day, February 20, they started off by car in the early morning, driving along the Bang River. Pointing far beyond the farther bank, Uncle Ho said: “Lo, the Lam Son Range! There, before the revolution, a small clandestine print shop nestled near the peak. It was the very first printing shop to put out revolutionary leaflets and The Viet Nam Doc Lap to be distributed across the country. Comrades Pham Van Dong and Vo Nguyen Giap and myself used to come here to write articles for that newspaper.”

After passing Nuoc Hai and Na Giang townships, the motorcade arrived at the Don Chuong crossroad and Hong Hamlet, the entrance to Pac Bo. From then on, the track was no longer negotiable for cars, and Pac Bo was still eight kilometers away. Generals Le Quang Ba and Dam Quang were already there with a horse for Uncle Ho to ride. The later asked with a smile:

“And what about you guys?”
To which they responded: “We will walk, Uncle.”
“Then, I will walk with you. Let the horse carry the baggage.”

As they went past Huong Hamlet, Uncle Ho recounted: “This is the place where the very first cultural movement in favor of the revolution was launched. Where, on my instructions, the Vietnam Liberation Corps of Propagandists was founded, under General Vo Nguyen Giap’s command. The latter captured the posts of Na Ngan and Phay Khat, recording his very first feat-of-arms.”

His remembrances charmed his travelling companions out of the tiredness of the march. Le Quang Ba carried on in the same vein: “In 1942, Uncle Ho had to go from Nuoc Hai to Pac Bo on an urgent mission in the daytime. A man of the Nung ethnic minority by the name of Phu San accompanied him, serving as guide and bodyguard. On the way Ho disguised himself as a witch doctor in order to pull the wool over the enemy’s eyes. At the Don Chuong Post, the guards asked where he was going. He said nothing, pretending to be deaf. The guards searched his bag and found a prayer book in Chinese characters, a gong, and a wooden bell, the implements of a witch doctor. Reassured, they let Uncle go his way.”

Laughing, Uncle Ho told some more funny stories, seemingly to relive the days when he had been fighting the French.

Shortly before arriving in Pac Bo, they halted by the Khui Nam Stream. “After three months in Coc Bo Grotto,” Uncle reminisced, ”I moved to this place and set up my hut by the stream. It was there that the eighth reunion of the Party Central Committee took place and founded the Viet Minh Front.”

In Pac Bo, people from neighboring villages had already gathered at the entrance gate, dressed in their best clothes, carrying golden-star red

flags and jungle flowers to greet President Ho Chi Minh and his group.

Seeing that the President was trudging together with his attendants, everybody was moved. They shouted: “Long live President Ho Chi Minh!” Old women complained loudly: “Uncle Ho is working so hard, even on the occasion of Tet!” And then, young girls, waving bunches of blooc flowers, danced to the tune of khen played by young men, like a colorful picture against the enchanting sky of Pac Bo.

Uncle Ho shook hands with old folks and children who were flocking around him. He was smiling jovially. After a few minutes’ talking, Brother Dai Lam showed the guests into a house on stilts for some rest. The entire family and neighbors were sitting all over the floor to listen to the president:

“Since the restoration of peace, I have been so busy I couldn’t come to visit you folks until today. On the occasion of traditional Tet, I wish all of you good health and prosperity. May all of your children be provided with schooling. I’m coming back home, not just to visit Pac Bo.”

Everyone was moved to tears. Uncle Ho then asked:

“Is little sister Sau, who used to bring lunch to Coc Bo for me, here?”
“Here I am Uncle.”
“How many children have you now?” He wanted to know.
“I have four children now, all of them provided with written words.”

Sister Sau invited Uncle Ho and the delegation to a “union” meal with her family. He good-humoredly accepted.

After the meal, the whole family had a picture taken together with the president, to which he said:

“Our family is now pretty large and so cheerful. I will never forget the good service the people here have rendered to the revolution, without which victory would have been impossible.”

After that, Dai Lam invited Uncle Ho and the Party delegation to revisit the Coc Bo grotto, where Ho had stayed and worked twenty years before.

Sitting by the stream, inspired by faraway recollections, Uncle Ho improvised the following quatrain:

Twenty years ago in this grotto
Our Party mapped out the line of salvation
Leading the entire people to fight the Japanese and French
So that our brocade-like mountains and rivers can be radiant today.

It was time for the president to leave. The people of Pac Bo, deeply moved by his Tet well-wishing visit, were reluctant to part with him.

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