The Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery Project

Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery: The Last of Its Kind in Vietnam.

How can we allow some to be glorified while others are cast aside and forgotten?  The Vietnamese government shames itself by allowing these offenses to continue, yet the administration even now has a chance to do what is honorable by respecting each of its fallen countrymen. To do so, the government must cooperate with our efforts. 

In Vietnam, there will be a place to remember the past. Left untended, the wounds of the war cannot heal.

Right after the fall of South Vietnam, Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery where laid the rest of over 16,000 ARVN soldiers and Republic of Vietnam personnel and services, became prohibited and under controlled by military zone 7, managed by Military Management Committee.  The Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery was destroyed day by day and sold partial of the land to private investors, the foot print from about 125 acres became 55 acres.  The toilet has built right inside of the heart of Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery.

A toilet has built right at the heart of the Memorial (Nghia Dung Dai), a symbol represent for fallen soldirs

A toilet has built right at the heart of the Memorial (Nghia Dung Dai) where people and relatives can come and pray for fallen soldiers

Thuong Tiec, a memorial statue  to the sacrifice made by former Republic of Vietnam soldiers, located at Bien Hoa before April 1975, then it was destroyed after April 30th, 1975

Today, Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery, this scene of overgrown wild grasses and trees, broken headstones, and mounds of fresh earth was once the site of the national military cemetery of the former Republic of Vietnam. Inaugurated in 1966, it housed the remains of the soldiers of the South Vietnamese military who passed away in the latter half of the war. Now, decades later, this abandoned and vandalized cemetery outside of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) is the last resting place for the former South Vietnamese regime in Vietnam. Since the takeover, their cemeteries have been paved over and replaced with industrial parks,  site of brick manufacture, water company and playgrounds, often without proper reburial of remains.

In 2006, the Vietnamese government opened the cemetery to public use, with a clear purpose: if anyone may bury their dead here, then it is no longer an ARVN military cemetery, and the final neglected monument to the old government will fade from the country’s memory. Now called Binh An Cemetery, a brick kiln and factory has already been established on a portion of the site where the honored graves of the dead once stood. Untended and desecrated, the cemetery throbs with the pain of an open wound, where those who should have been honored and respected were outcast instead.

Bien Hoa Cemetery in 1994 to 2012, compared with a photo taken before 1975

A North Vietnamese military cemetery

A North Vietnamese military cemetery in Vietnam

 

 

A memorial statue in Vietnam honoring the North Vietnamese soldiers

 

 

 

A memorial statue in Vietnam honoring the North Vietnamese soldiers

 

Common Humanity

One need not look far to find historical examples of post-war respect for the dead. Just as history is littered with examples of prejudice, discrimination and vengeful behavior on the part of peoples and governments, it has also witnessed the overcoming of such prejudices in favor of a common future.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) deeply divided North and South in a bloody and brutal conflict that pitted brother against brother. For years after the war ended, the two sides remained hostile and embittered. Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia was founded during the war as a military cemetery by Union General Montgomery C. Meigs on the property of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. After the war, it was considered a Union cemetery, even though hundreds of Confederate soldiers were also buried there. As a result, families of the fallen Confederate soldiers were not allowed to decorate the graves of their relatives and, in some cases, were not even permitted to enter the cemetery.

Finally, in 1900, the US Congress authorized the establishment of a special section for Confederate war dead, as a gesture of national reconciliation. Almost 500 Confederate officers, soldiers, wives, and civilians rest in concentric circles around a towering monument to the Confederate dead. Of the many inscriptions on the base of the monument, this one, attributed to the Reverend Randolph Harrison McKim, captures the spirit of the memorial:

 

Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

 

 

Monument at the center of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery

 

 

 

Not for fame or reward
Not for place or for rank
Not lured by ambition
Or goaded by necessity
But in simple
Obedience to duty
As they understood it
These men suffered all
Sacrificed all
Dared all-and died

La Cambe

 

 

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery Memorial in Columbus, OH

Another example from the American Civil War, Camp Chase, located in Columbus, Ohio, was a Union POW camp for Confederate soldiers. Those who died while in captivity were buried here. After the war ended, the site was allowed to deteriorate until restored at the turn of the century. Now well tended as a historical site, at its center rests a memorial with the word, “Americans,” chiseled in its arch.

In 1954, less than 10 years after WWII, the German War Graves Commission extended its mission to the establishment and upkeep of cemeteries abroad. In Normandy alone, the Service d’Entretien des Sépultures Militaires Allemandes (German Military Burials Maintenance Service or S.E.S.M.A.) maintains six main German cemeteries honoring WWII war dead. In the UK, the Commonwealth Graves Commission oversees the Cannok Chase German War Cemetery of WWI and II dead. The fallen German soldiers, hardened enemies to the British and French in both wars, are treated with respect. Though they were enemy combatants, they share a common humanity, and should be allowed to rest in peace. It is difficult to recognize this in a wartime enemy, but it is necessary to reconcile with the past and move forward.

Moving Forward

These men may have fought on opposing sides, but they were all Vietnamese soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the future of their cherished country. How can we allow some to be glorified while others are cast aside and forgotten? The Vietnamese government shames itself by allowing these offenses to continue, yet the administration even now has a chance to do what is honorable by respecting each of its fallen countrymen. To do so, the government must cooperate with our efforts.

The Vietnamese American Foundation has applied for a permit to restore the Bien Hoa National Military Cemetery. When given permission, we intend to properly bury the unidentifiable remains we discover in reeducation camp graves and a group of unknown soldiers found in a mass grave on the grounds. While those who died in the reeducation camps were civilians imprisoned by the Vietnamese government after the war ended, many were ARVN soldiers and officers, and all were servants of their country who deserve distinction for their sacrifice

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Related Links

Selected articles on Bien Hoa Cemetery compiled by an American Vietnam War Veteran
German War Graves Commission Homepage (In English)
Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
National Park Service Lesson on Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, USA

 

 

 

 

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