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Vietnamese comrades pay tribute to North Korean martyrs

By Vo Hai   February 21, 2019 | 06:00 am PT
Vietnamese comrades pay tribute to North Korean martyrs
Vietnamese veteran Duong Van Dau places flowers on the headstones of North Korean pilots at the memorial site for North Korean pilots who fought and died during Vietnam War, in Bac Giang Province. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Hai
On a hill in northern Vietnam, 14 headstones mark a lifelong friendship between Vietnam and North Korea.

One February morning, veteran Duong Van Dau walked to a memorial on a hill in a forest in Tan Dinh Commune, Lang Giang District of Bac Giang Province, 70 km (43 miles) northeast of Hanoi.

Standing in front of a stele that reads "Where 14 North Korean soldiers were laid to rest," Dau offered incense, folded his hands and bowed his head in prayer.

Behind the steel stands 14 headstones, each one carved with personal information including full name, year of birth and death. The tombs face northeast, towards their homeland.

The headstones today commemorate the 12 North Korean soldiers and two officers who had come to support the North Vietnamese air force during the war against the U.S. more than 50 years ago. The oldest of them was nearly 40 and the youngest was just 19.

In the early 1960s during the American War, the Soviet Union supported the North Vietnam air force with different types of advanced aircraft. This helped the resistance forces shoot down more than a few U.S. aircraft that rained bombs on the country.

As South Korea deployed more than 300,000 troops to South Vietnam from 1964 to 1973, second only to the U.S. military force, North Vietnam was helped by North Korea.

North Korea sent 100 pilots to Vietnam to learn about flying techniques and fighting, said major-general Phan Khac Hy, former political commissar of the North Vietnamese Air Force Command.

"After the course, some suggested the Vietnam's air force let them fight alongside Vietnamese soldiers," and the visiting North Korea pilots mostly fought in the skies over provinces near Hanoi, Dau said.

In September 1965, when fighting against the U.S. at the Kep Air Base, an airfield of the Vietnam People's Air Force near Kep Town in Bac Giang, a 19-year-old pilot was killed.

In 1967, 12 more North Korean soldiers died. The 14th pilot was shot down early in 1968.

Incomplete statistics show that between 1966 and1969, the North Vietnam air force shot down 222 American planes, 26 of them by North Korean pilots.

Given the war situation then, the North Korean army decided to bury its fallen soldiers in Vietnam. It was the North Korean Embassy in Vietnam that chose the hill in Lang Giang District for the cemetery.

Dau has volunteered to take care of the cemetery for almost two decades.

In 2002, North Korea exhumed and took the mortal remains of their martyrs back home. Bac Giang Province then turned the cemetery into a memorial.

Dau said that before the remains were exhumed, delegations from the North Korean Embassy would visit the cemetery and offer incense, but the frequency of such visits have dropped since.

Dau, who lives just 300 meters away, walks from his home to the memorial several times each month. On days when his leg hurts too much because of a war injury, his wife would do the task instead.

That February morning, at the foot of each headstone was a yellow daisy.

Dau said he put the flowers there during Tet, the Lunar New Year holiday.

Apart from Tet, he places flowers at the tombs on December 22, Vietnam People's Army Day, also known as National Defense Day, "because those soldiers fought and died for Vietnam."

"I'm a soldier, I'm a war invalid, so I see them as my comrades."

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