Talk:Nguyễn Lạc Hoá

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BIOGRAPHY of Augustine Nguyen Lac Hoa[edit]

In his mature years to become a priest militant in defense of freedom, AUGUSTINE NGUYEN LAC HOA was born in the village of Chuc San, Fang Cheng Hsien, near the Gulf of Tongking and the Vietnam border in Kwangtung Province, China on August 28, 1908. The eldest son of a Cantonese fisherman, he was named YUN LOC-FA, or in Mandarin YUAN LO-HUA. Under his father's tutelage he acquired his first skill of handling small boats. Graduating from middle school at the age of 15, he returned to help his father in fishing but, after twice losing his way at sea, decided to become a priest. That fall he entered Saint Therese Seminary for diocesan priests at Pakhoi, where he studied for four years. In 1927 he was sent to the Pontifical College in Penang, Malaya, to complete his formal training for the priesthood. In the winter of 1933 he returned to Pakhoi to teach at Saint Therese Seminary and serve as helper to the parish priest. Ordained on July 17, 1935 in Hong Kong, he returned again to Pakhoi to teach at the Seminary until January 1937 when he was sent to Suikai Hsien on the Luichow Peninsula as assistant to the parish priest.

There Father YUN found himself serving as curate in a district controlled by Wong Lo-dai, a former schoolmate who had become a notorious South China river pirate. Soon after his arrival, when one of the pirate's men took a fancy to his bicycle and confiscated it, the priest protested and told the thief to take him to the presence of Wong Lo-dai. Recalling their school days Wong Lo-dai feted Father YUN and asked him to stay a week. The priest demurred to avoid anxiety on the part of the parish and the authorities but left the following day with Wong Lo-dai's assurance of personal safety for himself and his parishioners. Later Father YUN admitted three of the pirate chieftain's sons into his Holy Trinity School, keeping their identities secret at their father's request.

In the spring of 1939, when China was at the lowest ebb in her struggle against the Japanese, the National Government conscripted the eldest sons of every family into the army to fight the invaders. Being an eldest son Father YUN was one of the draftees and, there being no chaplain system in the Chinese army, his religious career was involuntarily suspended when he was inducted as a private in the regular combat ranks. A week later when interviewing officers found him educated, he was sent to Toc San in the nearby mountains for special guerrilla training which would qualify him as an officer.

Assigned in 1940 to the Luichow area as a First Lieutenant to command guerrillas, he held the rank of Major when the Japanese surrendered in 1945. His plan to return to a religious life was postponed by the Government's order to continue fighting against a new enemy, the Chinese Communists. During the next three and one-half years units under his command fought numerous bitter battles against Communist forces and he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, which rank he never wore. Finally, as the Government's inability to cope with this internal threat became increasingly apparent, he resigned from military service to resume religious duties. Returning to his diocesan headquarters at Pakhoi in June 1949 he again donned cassock and was placed in charge of a hospital and orphanage.

A few days after the Communists occupied Pakhoi on December 5, 1949 Father YUN managed to leave the city by showing to the new authorities the bishop's written permission to take up duties as parish priest in his home village of Chuc San. By agreement with his superior, this was a pretense which allowed him to visit his family before escaping to Indochina. He had been in Haiphong in northern Indochina only briefly when a message came from his bishop asking him to return to Pakhoi. Father YUN dared to ask why. The bishop replied, "For dying." He returned at once to Pakhoi by boat and was arrested by the Communists upon arrival.

Shortly after takeover the Communists had begun their attack on "counter-revolutionary elements," including the "foreign-dominated, imperialist Roman Catholic Church." Later instituting a "Three Self Movement," the new rulers encouraged Catholics to disavow Rome and form themselves into a "national church" that would be self-propagated, self-supported and self-governed. After a year the Communists released Father YUN from the prison where he had expected to die and put him under house arrest for the purpose of utilizing him in this new campaign. Bargaining with his guards for permission to go out and get food, he managed secretly to see members of his parish who gave him money to buy a small boat. Early in the afternoon of December 16, 1950, with the aid of two parishioners, he set out upon the risky voyage from Pakhoi to Hai Ninh, north Vietnam, in a rough sea.

During the hectic journey they were searched several times by the Communists but managed to hide their identities. After 26 hours they arrived at their destination. There taking the Vietnamese translation of his name, Father NGUYEN LAC HOA engaged actively in aiding other parishioners escape to then French colonial north Vietnam. First to join him in the village of Traco, Hai Ninh Province, were 34 young men whom he used to help others. In six months, as Communist persecution of Roman Catholics mounted on the China mainland, he helped a total of 450 families—2,174 men, women and children—escape.

The homeless band was not to find haven in northern Indochina where the French held the delta area hut Ho Chi Minh's forces already controlled much of the countryside beyond. After 75 days of watching his people subsist on contributions and what work they could find in the coal mines near Haiphong, and on small farms where they were constantly troubled by guerrillas, Father HOA set out in search of a more secure place to settle. With the help of the French he flew to Saigon, then traveled by car extensively in south Vietnam, but what he saw was not promising. In 1951 in south Vietnam not only were communist subverters active throughout the countryside but also religious sects with their private armies were ruthlessly vying for power. Continuing his search in Laos and Thailand, he finally found in Cambodia the most tolerable conditions among the choices available.

A few families decided to remain behind in north Vietnam and several went to Phu Quoc Island off the southern coast between Cambodia and Vietnam. The French authority which then controlled both Vietnam and Cambodia provided Father HOA with facilities to airlift the remaining 2,100 refugees to Cambodia. Near the settlement of Snoul, in Kratie Province some 40 miles from the Cambodian-Vietnamese border, they managed a precarious living for seven difficult years, most of them working on French-owned rubber plantations.

Aware from the outset that Cambodia was no permanent solution, and increasingly uneasy for their welfare as guerrilla activity increased in the border area, Father HOA did all within his power to find a better location for his flock. As chaplain and also as a "chief of compound," he saved each piastre that could be spared from his meager salary and by 1956 was able to buy a round-the-world air ticket. Starting on August 24, he flew westward through India, Pakistan, the Middle East and Europe, from there to the United States and Canada and then to South America. Returning via the Pacific he arrived in Saigon on December 23 and reached Cambodia in time to celebrate Christmas midnight Mass for his people. In those four months he had visited 25 countries and everywhere found no lack of sympathy for the plight of his people but also no answer for the whole group.

Apprehension mounted shortly after his return when Cambodia edged further toward neutralism, encouraging the communist guerrillas to greater boldness. South Vietnam now seemed a more hopeful alternative and Father HOA helped many of his refugees set out, a few families at a time, for the neighboring new Republic.

After the Geneva Convention of July 1954, stipulating the Ben Hai River near the 17th parallel north of Hue as the demarcation line between the two zones of Vietnam, the south at first seemed weak and prospects of its survival were doubtful. Challenging the authority of Ngo Dinh Diem, who had become prime minister in July 1954 and president of the newly proclaimed Republic in October 1955, were the entrenched Cao-Daist, Hoa-Hao, and Bin-Xuyen sects and generals of the army. By 1956, however, the fledgling, avowedly anti-communist government had begun to restore central authority.

Those of the stateless band who had not left Cambodia were placed in new jeopardy in 1958 when the Cambodian Government recognized Communist China. Realizing what this new arrangement implied for Nationalist refugees, they unanimously agreed to pull up their roots once again. A few who could afford to make the long voyage left for Taiwan.

For those remaining, Father HOA sought sanctuary in South Vietnam. He had met President Diem in 1957 and in Saigon had received food and clothing for his people from the National Catholic Welfare Conference, known locally as Catholic Relief Services. In July 1958 a Chinese friend, Bernard Yoh, arranged for him to see the president. Though the Vietnamese have traditionally regarded the Chinese with ambivalence—as neighbors with much in common and as ancient enemies—President Diem responded to the predicament of Father HOA’s people and welcomed them to his new Republic. With assurance from Father HOA that they were prepared to clear land of mangroves and reed grasses, he generously offered facilities for migration, food and temporary lodging, and full citizenship which would entitle them to benefit under the land reform program.

Father HOA was given the choice of three locations and chose the one with ample land for cultivation though it was the most dangerous. After the Geneva Accord of 1954 the Viet Minh forces in the south had chosen the Camau region as a regroupment and departure area, reportedly, leaving behind large arms caches and the Viet Cong, a forceful guerrilla organization.

The swampy area he selected was selected 445 kilometers from Saigon at the southern tip of the Camau Peninsula in An Xuyen Province. Part of the great Mekong River delta, it was laced by a complex of rivers, streams and canals. The land was from knee-to-shoulder deep in water during the monsoons, and a desert of parched, cracked clay during the dry season, making it one of the least habitable sections of Vietnam. But rice would grow profusely—the fertility of the soil being annually renewed by the silt-laden flood waters—and the waterways teemed with fish.

Taking their few household possessions 450 refugees, comprising 100 families, were transported by car and truck to Saigon, then Camau and from there by sampan to the area allotted them. On March 17, 1959 when the homesteaders arrived the land lay under a foot of brackish water, black clouds of mosquitoes swarming over its fetid surface. Beyond were tangled forests of mangrove, a few farm huts protruded from the swampland, and in the distance a small village was visible. Some of the disheartened wanderers wept; it seemed more like a visit to the moon than an earthly dwelling place.

Strengthening their resolve, Father HOA admonished his weary flock they must not let circumstances defeat them but they must change the circumstances. Two large and five small huts had been prepared for their arrival by the Land Development Administration. Some rough tools and rice seed also were provided. Here was a beginning.

The next morning Father HOA sent the young men to Tan Hung Tay, the village they had dimly seen more than five kilometers distant, to learn how houses could be built in this trackless wasteland. It was twilight when they returned. To raise a house, they had been told, a block of clay beneath the water must be cut out, lifted up and set in place where the worker had stood to dig. Then a second block is cut and piled on the first, and so on.

Father HOA chose for their village the name Binh Hung, meaning to flatten or clear obstacles, and the homesteaders set to work. The Viet Cong, who would later intimidate, threaten and try to annihilate the settlers, at first left them in peace. In three months of seemingly unending, back-breaking labor, with every man, woman and child working in water from sunrise to sunset, a village was raised above the inundated land.

The villagers had wanted to build their houses in a long line along a canal, but warfare-wise Father HOA planned a compact, defensible settlement about one-quarter of a mile square. Two hundred neat huts of clay, bamboo and nipa palm were constructed on barge-shaped platforms in four parallel rows with a canal, spanned by a wooden bridge, bisecting the village and serving as a central thoroughfare. The extra huts were prepared for others of their group who had left Cambodia earlier and were dispersed in Saigon, Cholon, Camau and elsewhere waiting to join the settlement.

With a small allowance from the Land Development Administration, the villagers bought a few pigs, chickens and ducks at Tan Hung Tay. Each family was given three hectares outside the village to farm and the first rice crop was planted and harvested. Keenly aware of the possibility of Viet Cong attack from the surrounding mangrove forests, Father HOA also began quietly organizing the villagers for defense. Some of the men had experience in combat against the Japanese; many of the younger ones were former Boy Scouts. All were assigned to five-man teams, each commanded by an older man, to comprise an informal village self-defense corps. Good relations were cultivated with outlying farm families and the villagers in Tan Hung Tay, not only in the interest of neighborliness but also to encourage exchange of information in the event of guerrilla attack. One festive evening when the last hut was finished, a gold banner with three horizontal red stripes across the center—the flag of South Vietnam—was flown from the bridge to signal the birth of the new village and the end of the journey.

Shortly thereafter the Viet Cong began to make their presence known. While intensifying their propaganda, small groups began to harass the village but were always repulsed with casualties on both sides. Initially with no weapons except fish knives and wooden staves, the villagers fought back, closing quickly with the enemy to make their knives effective. These small successes strengthened the psychological training Father HOA had emphasized to dispel fear of the Viet Cong. The first regular weapons were six hand grenades and 12 old rifles given to the defenders by Capt. Nguyen Khue, the District Chief. In August 1959, on orders from President Diem to organize Father HOA’s men, Col. Nguyen Khanh, commander of the 5th Corps, gave the villagers 50 rifles, two light machine guns and seven submachine guns.

On a rainy August 26, 1959 balloting was held for the national elections in Tan Hung Tay. To show their gratitude and new allegiance the proud people of Binh Hung intended to vote for the Diem Government.

Leaving the older children to tend the younger ones, every adult, with Father HOA in the lead, set out for the polls. A few hours later as they were gathered at Tan Hung Tay, a lad came running and shouting that the communists had murdered a child in Binh Hung. The villagers turned to leave in panic but Father HOA commanded them to stay. The evil was done, he said, and now they should not do the communists' bidding but each one should return only after casting his vote: "It is the fear of death in our hearts that gives the enemy his strength."

So the people voted and returned with heavy hearts to their village.

In front of his home the body of Ah Fong, an 11-year-old-boy, hung from a crude scaffold. On a placard was scrawled: "This can happen to all your children."

Defense preparations, made secretly before, were, now openly the village's concern. Moats were dug around each house platform and foxholes for families under the huts and for guards at entrances to the village. Daily drills were held, including intensive training in unarmed combat. The women also were organized into paramilitary groups to man lookout posts while the men were on patrol.

Not losing sight of the government's main objective to win the people in the area over to resistance against the Viet Cong, Father HOA in early December borrowed a generator from the Land Development office in Camau to signify progress by electrifying the village. A second one was later bought in Cholon and attached to a motorboat engine captured from the Viet Cong.

On Christmas Eve in 1959 the intelligence unit reported a Viet Cong attack was planned to take the villagers by surprise during midnight Mass. To lure the attackers, the self-defense corps set up these generators and extra lights to illuminate the small church while scouts took up positions along the village approaches to watch for the enemy. Midway in the Mass scouts scurried in to warn of approaching Viet Cong. The priest paused to give the firing order, told the people to lie down on the floor and went on with the service. Seeing him still standing, the villagers stiffened their backs and remained seated. Outside mortars opened up on target. The guerrillas fled with their wounded and from a prisoner the villagers learned the Viet Cong credited their accurate midnight mortar fire to sorcery.

Throughout 1960 Binh Hung was several times under sedge and sniping attacks were frequent. Using captured Viet Cong prisoners to help, a chest-high wall of dried mud topped with barbed wire was built around the village and dotted with little palm-thatched watchtowers manned day and night by village guards. Occasionally the Viet Cong breached this barricade but were never able to overrun the village. In the late spring Father HOA received an assortment of 50 obsolete French Lebel rifles (Mauser 36) and 120 Springfields, some predating World War I, which were left over from stockpiles taken when the Government disarmed the Binh-Xuyen private army of racketeers and adventurers in 1955.

The scant supply of ammunition given them with the outdated weapons was quickly exhausted. In the fall of 1960 Father HOA got word to Bernard Yoh in

Saigon by radio-a Heath Kit he had the previous December—that the defenders could not hold out long with their small arsenal that was no match for Viet Cong firepower. The result of Yoh's appeal to President Diem was an air drop from two Dakotas, mostly ammunition for existing weapons. Unable to find more ammunition, Yoh then collected brass cartridges and at home in Saigon reloaded the cartridges on an old bullet press he had used as a sports rifleman. This old bullet press was later brought to Binh Hung.

Patient waiting for attack was not typical of Binh Hung. Daily patrols moved out in. search of guerrillas. The self-defense corps followed to strike whenever Viet Cong concentrations were discovered. During the rainy season the soldiers moved out into the mud with a shuffling gait, making sliding motions forward as they felt with their toes for the simple but effective weapon which had been the cause of most self-defense corps casualties—six-inch, barbed nails clustered in flat boards and buried point up in the mud. A modern version of the sharpened bamboo spikes used for centuries in Asia to trap an unwary enemy, the Viet Cong commonly planted these nail fields around their positions and, when attacked, tried to direct fire so as to force the attackers into this snare. To make attackers think they had found a safe path, the guerrillas sometimes implanted on the buried nail fields footprints molded in clay. The Binh Hung defenders were later able to retaliate with their own nail fields after a captured Viet Cong village in a mangrove forest some four miles south yielded a cache of kegs containing some 30,000 nails.

On January 3, 1961 a 400-man Viet Cong force ambushed a 90-man Binh Hung force on patrol 10 miles from Binh Hung, touching off a series of ambushes and counter-ambushes over three days and costing the Viet Cong 172 dead. In the midst of the fighting, on January 5, Brigadier General Edward G. Lansdale, USAF, was the first American officer to visit Binh Hung. His report, and accounts of others who had seen or heard of the valiant defense, prompted President Diem to approve unofficially U.S. military aid for the Binh Hung defenders. The village's defense position thereafter improved steadily as helicopters began arriving frequently to bring weapons, food and medical supplies and evacuate the wounded. This new status became official in June 1961 when Father HOA’s vigilante force was recognized as Self-Defense Corps (SDC) 1001, thereby becoming a regular unit of the armed forces of the Republic. Refusing both regular army pay and designation, Father HOA was appointed military commander without rank. The President obligingly agreed when Father HOA suggested for his force a name instead of a number, and the priest chose Hai Yen, or Sea Swallow, because of his own black cassock with white collar and the help these birds give to farmers in the delta by eating insect pests.

Before assuming command responsibility for military protection of his village, Father HOA consulted his religious superior. The bishop did not give permission but tolerated the priest's soldier role, recognizing the villagers' dependence upon his leadership and military experience.

In 1959 President Diem provided from his discretionary funds an allowance for nominal pay for the original 180 fighting men. In June 1961 pay was given officially for a 300-man corps, though the amount—the equivalent of US$12 per man per month—was not equal to the pay of SDC in other areas. Since the Self-Defense Corps already numbered 340 regulars and 80 recruits were in training, Father HOA continued paying the extra 40 regulars from his own pocket and the 80 recruits received nothing but food from the villagers. For support given to soldiers and for purchases of needed supplies to keep the villagers alive and reasonably well-clothed, Father HOA and Bernard Yoh ran up personal debts which totalled over US$100,000 by mid-1961.

When more financial help came Father HOA toured South Vietnam searching for soldiers. Promising a life of hardship with frequent combat, little pay and probable death, he recruited 242 Montagnards—mountain tribesmen who had grown up wandering the jungle-covered highlands of central South Vietnam with spears and crossbows for personal protection and hunting food. One company of 132 Nungs, or Kwang Si, were also recruited.

Part time a helmeted military commander in fatigue uniform, and part time a priest in a dusty, black cassock, Father HOA built his motley fighting crew into an effective anti-guerrilla force. Officers and men received the same pay. A tenet of the priest's command was that the battle would not be won by standing still. Drilled constantly in the necessity of keeping the initiative, the Sea Swallows made forays night and day, in any weather, searching for, waylaying and counter-ambushing the Viet Cong raiders in the fields and mangrove forests. The newcomers, like the original defenders, studied the flat countryside and its intricate network of canals, learned every path and possible point of ambush, the places where logs served as bridges and where there were dangerous soft bogs. A volunteer apparatus of friendly Vietnamese farmers in outlying areas and a few full-time agents comprised the intelligence network.

After two good harvests, the villagers faced a serious food shortage in 1961 and 1962 when the Viet Cong destroyed their crops by shoving bamboo tubes through the dikes. Hidden below the water level of canals on the one side and near the base of the plants on the other, these tubes carried salt water into the paddies which within a week turned the green fields yellow as rice stems rotted.

In Saigon Bernard Yoh, who had made Binh Hung's physical salvation his personal crusade, kept track of urgent military, medical and other needs and tapped every available source for whatever could be supplied. Through the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Msgr. Joseph J. Harnett and Father Paul J. Duchesne, M.M., provided a steady supply of flour, cooking oil and powdered milk. The Cooperative for American Remittances Everywhere (CARE) provided first aid supplies, rice, clothing and Settler's Kits. Grateful for all supplies the village received, Father HOA still had for the CARE representative whenever he arrived a plea: "Send more."

Within two years after Binh Hung was built, the settlement had quadrupled in size as dispersed refugees rejoined the group and Vietnamese families from outlying farms moved in to seek protection and other advantages of living under Father HOA’s wing. Settling in hamlets strung along the canal a few hundred yards from Binh Hung, they soon had their own thriving market place, their children attended school in Binh Hung and the sick received free medical care at the primitive Binh Hung, hospital-clinic.

With the Viet Cong conducting frequent hit-and-run raids and setting ambushes on canals and pathways to intercept convoys bringing supplies from Camau, extending the secure area was an uphill fight for the defenders. But it was not one-sided. Wiser in some ways of guerrilla warfare than his adversaries, Father HOA continued, often personally, to move his small, battle-tested force into the swamps nightly to strike the enemy on its own ground, finally forcing the Viet Cong main force to move eastward along the coast where resistance was weaker.

To a newsman visiting Binh Hung for the first time in January 1962 the neat village and satellite hamlets from the air looked wretchedly exposed. The huts seemed as vulnerable as in dozens of other villages in the Vietnam countryside which the Viet Cong were overrunning daily and sometimes occupying. But the indomitable soldier-priest, the cheerful fatalism of the soldiers and the apparent contentment of the villagers set Binh Hung apart.

The moment the helicopter door opened on the dried-mud landing pad at the edge of the village and the tall, broad-shouldered Father HOA came forward, smiling and waving enthusiastically, a feeling of confidence was instilled. Booming a few words of greeting—in French, Vietnamese, Cantonese or heavily accented English, depending upon who was aboard—he delightedly embraced, pounded the shoulder or wrung the hand of each visitor in warm welcome. The monthly visit of the helicopter was an event—the only other way to reach Binh Hung still was to fight through communist ambushes—and, unless an attack was expected, the village celebrated.

An honor guard of 56 was drawn up in military formation, giving the three-fingered Boy Scout salute in gay spirit, despite the certain knowledge that before another year was out they would all see much action with the enemy, many would be injured, some would die. Lined up with the men were a few uniformed women, battle-seasoned nurses who shared their patrols. Clustered around the priest was a group of black-clad commandos. Bristling with arms and wearing U.S. helmet liners, they also gayly threw the three-fingered Boy Scout salute for which Binh Hung fighters were well known. Two carried plastic-stocked Colt Armalite automatic rifles which Bernard Yoh had brought back from the United States in 1961; the Binh Hung commandos needed "something light that shoots fast" and they liked these weapons, so new they were still being tested by the U.S. Army.

Along the way to the village the visitor passed not the ill-armed stragglers from the hard-hit 340 who composed the self-defense corps the year before, but some 500 neat, disciplined soldiers, dressed smartly in khaki, each carrying an M-1 rifle or an American carbine and with their ammunition belts full. All exuded toughness, resolution, high spirits, and a sense of close camaraderie. When asked by the newcomer why his self-defense soldiers volunteered for so bleak and dangerous a life, Father HOA replied with a warm smile, "Man was born to do something."

At Binh Hung's meeting house Father HOA kept a multi-colored homemade battle map for briefing his men and visitors. Since the village intelligence network the day before had reported Viet Cong concentrations forming a few miles southwest of Binh Hung, two platoons of commandos were quickly ordered out. The best time to strike the guerrillas, he emphasized, was when they were forming concentrations and thus disorganized and vulnerable.

Father HOA explained that the Viet Cong menace in the immediate vicinity of Binh Hung had been nearly eliminated by his soldiers. His small army had grown to 1,000 men; of these, 600 were former Nationalist Chinese soldiers. The rest, with less battle experience, spent many hours training on a barbed-wire obstacle course. In the past two years the tough Binh Hung defense corps has lost only 27 men while they have counted the bodies of some 500 Viet Cong. Most Sea Swallow losses were caused by trip mines—hand grenades wired into empty cans or pieces of hollow bamboo.

Father HOA took satisfaction from reports that the communist leadership was angry with local commanders in the Hai Yen area and had tried to recoup by sending in guerrillas from other districts. The priest, however, had given them no opportunity—the previous day's engagement had been against one of these outside groups. They would probably stay around to fight again, but Father HOA was confident his men eventually would capture or kill them.

Captured Viet Cong were housed in a narrow, windowless mud hut about 40 feet long. Behind latticed bamboo bars in one cell were 40 "maximum security" prisoners—"hard-core communists" and ruthless fighters—and another 108 were crowded into the building during the night. Most worked under guard in the village rice fields for five hours each day and spent two hours in "study," when they heard lectures on the "true nature of communism" and on freedom and democracy. Except for the dedicated Marxists, most of the prisoners were deluded peasants. When Father HOA decided the lessons had soaked in he released them to return to their villages and farms. Some asked to join the Binh Hung corps and he permitted a few to settle in the village.

Near the crowded prison, made fast to the dike of the central canal, was a small covered barge which served as a "water ambulance" to reach nearby villages and as an annex when there were more wounded than the small one-room mud and thatch hospital could accommodate.

Radio equipment was housed in a mud hut roofed with corrugated sheet metal. Father HOA hoped to replace all thatched roofs in the village with metal to keep the communists from burning them out with fire arrows, which, like nails, were a simple but effective weapon in the deadly guerrilla war. In the radio shack was further evidence of Bernard Yoh's expert scrounging on the village's behalf. Enabling the isolated village to maintain direct contact with the outside world was a US$65 Heath Kit and a ham transmitter he had put together and arranged to have monitored 24 hours a day in Saigon. This equipment was also used in communication with radio outposts set up in the surrounding area.

As the village and adjoining hamlets grew, and the defense force steadily increased the area under its protection, both were cited as models for other villages to follow and the priest became a prominent man in the district. Having proven they could be trusted to fight and keep their arms, in February 1962 the Sea Swallows were raised to the status of Civil Guard for Hai Yen Special Sector. A region of some 400 square kilometers, Hai Yen district included 21 other villages and hamlets with a total population of 25,000 people. For his Self-Defense Corps to undertake the task of defending this whole area seemed to Father HOA impossible.

The soldier-priest had begun with a homogenous group. From the outset, the Viet Cong did not try to infiltrate since they would readily be recognized, and his command was composed only of people known to each other and personally loyal to him. Reportedly, there had been some feeling on the part of other village chiefs whose villagers also fought bravely, that Father HOA had received preferential treatment from President Diem, the Americans and Catholic elements in Saigon. He maintained the assistance given was entirely a matter of the use his people made of what they received. Now his mettle would be tested in a larger arena where the majority of the population were neither familiar to him nor of his religious faith.

The Sea Swallow Corps was increased to 1,094 men under arms. Approximately 1,000 were assigned to the Civil Guard and the remainder were retained in the village SDC. New recruits were given eight weeks of intensive training before being sent on their first operation. Some were initiated on night-time scouting missions, some on around-the-clock ambushes to cut off Viet Cong "tax collectors" coming to loot a coastal hamlet. Often there were casualties, but usually more of the enemy were killed, wounded or taken prisoner than Sea Swallows.

At the time Binh Hung was settled in 1959, Father HOA estimated that 90 per cent of the population in Hai Yen area were either procommunist or so thoroughly intimidated by the Viet Cong that they supported them. When he took over the area command four years later, this picture had changed substantially as, with each sortie, his SDC had pressed deeper and deeper into the countryside making the "safe" area a little bigger than it was the day before.

By late 1963 the enlarged corps of Sea Swallows had secured some 200 square kilometers representing 50 per cent of the land in Hai Yen District and containing nearly 60 per cent of the population. The two main Viet Cong bases, still controlling an estimated 40 per cent of the population and land area of the district, were well organized politically and militarily. Defended by approximately 400 guerrillas, they provided supplies, manpower and safe havens to the main force units.

Among the some 18,000 inhabitants in the area protected by the Sea Swallows no differentation was made of the 3,700 or so who were of Father HOA’s religious faith: "In this operation we cannot distinguish between Buddhists or Catholics. If we fight for freedom, we believe all people must be free." During the religious disturbances in 1963 friendly relations were maintained in Hai Yen and no incidents occurred. Seeking to share his strong belief that the future held a promise worth fighting for, the priest worked with Buddhist and Cao-Daist leaders—whose adherents were most numerous in the area—to stimulate security measures and promote community interest in villages. Vietnamese and American agencies cooperated in education and socio-economic development.

In mid-1963 the Rural Affairs Bureau sent one thousand tons of supplies, primarily construction materials, to Hai Yen—730 tons by sea and 270 tons by canal. A five-classroom school was built in Binh Hung and a small fishing cooperative in the coastal hamlet serving as the district supply port, and motors were purchased for transport boats. Help was given to some 400 families who voluntarily moved into the base area from contested or communist-dominated zones and 250 hamlet militia were trained. In addition there were a number of small projects intended to strengthen counter insurgency. A District Maternity Dispensary was built in Binh Hung with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under the government of Vietnam Public Health Program. Pig-raising and offshore fishing projects were also launched with help from USAID.

Hamlets and huts of Vietnamese farm families now extend from Binh Hung five kilometers to Tan Hung Tay along the sides of the connecting canal, making it a busy thoroughfare. Uninhabited when Father HOA and his settlers arrived, the land that could be taken as one liked today must be bought. To add a needed facility and give the civilian population an active role in the community's development and defense, Father HOA asked for volunteers to build an airstrip. The work began in 1961. After three years of constant spare time labor by civilians a strip 700 meters long and 30 meters wide stands one meter above high water level so that planes can land at Binh Hung during the rainy season.

By early 1964, Hai Yen was the strongest government position, militarily and politically, in the communist-dominated Camau Peninsula. Not of critical importance with respect to size of population, economic wealth or dominance of communications routes, the sector's primary strategic value was psychological in weakening the communist political base in the Peninsula.

For several years there had been at least one Vietnamese officer with the Sea Swallow Corps, though Father HOA was acknowledged leader of the villagers and the defending force. In May 1964 two Vietnamese majors were assigned to take over all military powers as sector and battalion commanders, respectively, and Father HOA was asked to accept the function of adviser-chaplain to the Sea Swallows. Both Nung, neither of these officers had been stationed in Binh Hung before but were friends of Father HOA.

Remaining a symbol of resolute resistance in the area and serving as liaison between the military and the people when necessary, Father HOA welcomed the change: "I wanted to be freed from the complex responsibilities I have had I do want to see our self-defense force preserved but the military side is not for a priest." The activities in connection with defense of the village and district were "exceptional" and imposed upon him because the area was remote, and during the first four critical years of Binh Hung's existence no regular forces were there to take military responsibility. At the age of 56, bespectacled, with grey, close-cropped hair and a mild, unassuming manner which betrayed little of his steely resolve or the dangers he and his people have withstood for many years, he felt his parish and schools called for all the time he could give them.

While Father HOA was among the first in the south, the occurrence of priests taking up arms to protect their flocks has not been unusual in Vietnam where villagers turned to the most educated to lead them. In predominantly Roman Catholic villages the priest was usually this man. Three other villages in the Camau area looked to their priests as heads and guides.

Tolerance of race and creed is today evidenced in Binh Hung and the hamlets in its environs. It is the way of life Father HOA and his people have fought for. In the field Hai Yen's Civil Guard of now 1,125 men and the village SDC are legacies from the refugee priest whose "crusade for freedom" they joined at a time when the province was having great difficulty in recruiting forces. To them and to Father HOA, whose loyalty to principles has been their inspiration, the words he chose to inscribe on the monument in Binh Hung honoring the casualties of the first big battle in January 1961 are a hallowed credo. Taken from the ode to integrity written before his execution by Wen T'ien-hsiung, an ancient Chinese scholar and patriot, the inscription reads: "Since man has lived, who has escaped death? It is better to die for a worthy cause which will set an example in history."

August 1964 Manila


Catholic Church in China (Background). Hong Kong: American Consulate General. P. a-d.

Chapelle , Dickey. "The Fighting Priest of South Vietnam, Reader's Digest. Hong Kong. Vol. 1, no. 5. August 1963, p. 102-108.

Clubb, O. Edmund. Twentieth Century China. New York: Columbia University Press. 1964, p. 227.

Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1960 Edition, Vol. 12, p. 261-2; Vol. 24, Plate 28.

Life Magazine. New York. Vol. 32, no. 7, April 9, 1962, p. 16-17.

Martin, Robert P. "Reports," U.S. News and World Report. Washington, D.C. March 1962 and June 1964.

O'Connor, Patrick, S.S.C Article in The New World. Chicago, Illinois. May 8, 1964.

______. Article in The Voice. Miami, Florida, October 4, 1963.

"Report the President Wanted Published," (Author: An American Officer), Saturday Evening Post. May 20, 1961, p. 31, 69.

Schanche, Don. "Father Hoa's Little War," Ibid. February 17, 1962, p. 74-79.

Correspondence and interviews with persons acquainted with Father Hoa and his work. Bold text


Name needs diacritics. Badagnani (talk) 04:27, 21 February 2008 (UTC)

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