In 1959, I volunteered for a class assignment to go to the city of An Lộc to observe and report on how a rubber plantation worked. The plantation was owned by a now-defunct French company, Société des Plantations des Terres Rouges. I spent several hours with a young Vietnamese forestry engineer touring the plantation and its processing plants, and came back thoroughly impressed by the immense scale of the plantation and its vibrant life.
Thirteen years later, in the spring of 1972, three North Vietnamese divisions, supported by an artillery division and two tank regiments, attacked An Lộc, hoping to capture it within days to use as the capital for a Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government. By then I had gone to college in America, returned to Việt Nam, and, after a brief stint in the military, was working in various capacities in the civilian government. I still remember lying awake at night in Sài Gòn listening to the distant rumble of B-52 bombs dropped on North Vietnamese troops encircling An Lộc to prevent them from overwhelming the city’s defenders.
In the end, the city was completely destroyed and tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed, mostly by Communist artillery. Despite that, An Lộc did not surrender and the Communists had to abandon their siege after three months.
An Lộc during 1972 siege.
Since that time I have wanted to write a book to describe what the people and soldiers of An Lộc had to endure over three months to prevent their city from falling into enemy hands. Over the last ten years, I acquired and read many books and documents in both English and Vietnamese about what happened there. They contain a lot of information, but they were written by authors who were military men, each with his own axe to grind.
American authors were almost always critical of South Vietnamese military leaders. Vietnamese authors, especially former generals and high-ranking officers, tried their best to present the battle from their own viewpoints. There was only one account written by a non-commissioned officer, and none by the soldiers and the civilians who were able to survive their ordeal. As for the North Vietnamese, since An Lộc was their defeat, hardly any published writing on the battle can be found, except for a few Internet wiki articles with only propaganda value.
After my retirement, in early 2018 I began writing The Siege of An Lộc to describe the battle through the eyes of the soldiers and civilians who underwent over three months of fighting and surviving in that wartime inferno. It is of course a fictionalized account, although I tried my best to respect the basic historical facts.
The novel’s two main protagonists are a young and idealistic Lieutenant in the Regional Forces and the daughter of a rubber plantation owner. In contrast to the main characters in my first novel, Village Teacher, this time it is not class difference or parents that come between them. It is the war and the constant threat to their lives during the siege.
Surrounding them is a cast of characters that include a street noodle vendor, an airborne officer, a half-French Communist commander, and two Communist ralliers, including a singer, who defected to the South Vietnamese side.
For people who may have never heard of An Lộc, my novel presents a detailed look not only at how generals and commanders planned and fought the battle, but perhaps more importantly, at how the soldiers and civilians of An Lộc managed to endure and survive their hellish ordeal.
The two little girls in the photo displayed below were discovered in An Lộc by South Vietnamese Rangers after they recaptured an airfield lost to the North Vietnamese at the start of the siege. The older girl said they were children of a Regional Forces soldier fighting somewhere in the city. When the Communists attacked, they tried to run away with their mother who was carrying their baby brother. A North Vietnamese artillery round landed near them, killing their mother and wounding their brother. They carried him and fled into a cave to hide. He died later that night.
The two sisters stayed in the cave for more than two months, subsisting on anything they could find through foraging and scavenging. They ate wild plants, grasshoppers, and once, the raw meat of a chicken killed by artillery.
Two starving orphans, children of a Regional Forces soldier, found by South Vietnamese Rangers in An Lộc toward the end of the siege.
In 2016, I came back to visit An Lộc for a few hours. The city had been completely rebuilt, with houses and stores looking brand new, and none of the people I talked to remembered what happened there 44 years earlier. As usual the Communist regime rewrote history, going as far as having bodies disinterred and cemeteries flattened by bulldozers.
An Lộc in 2016.
A rubber plantation near An Lộc in 2016, as seen from Highway 13.
More rubber plantations near Windy Hill, the scene of intense fighting in 1972.
I have published the novel through Amazon self-publishing services. If you are interested in reading it, here’s its link on Amazon for both the paperback and Kindle versions:
The Siege of An Lộc