the poignant testimony of one of the last survivors of Diên Bien Phu

the poignant testimony of one of the last survivors of Diên Bien Phu

A smell of death

In the morning, we crossed the basin under artillery fire to reach our post. In front of the surgical antenna, we see pieces of meat on the left, on the right. I positioned myself in my blockhouse, with a second machine gunner and three anti-communist Vietnamese volunteers. The smell of death hits me, it's crawling with maggots. 40 meters away, we hear the “Viets” digging trenches.

On May 4 and 5, mortar and sniper fire harassed us. There are only three of us left in the blockhouse. The corpse of a Vietnamese comrade serves as a cushion for me. Stress and hunger grip us, strangely, not fear. Around 5 p.m., a deluge of shells fell on our positions. The enemy attacks, overwhelms us, infiltrates our defenses. I spend an hour at my machine gun, cycling through the boxes of ammunition. After an hour, an explosion destroyed my weapon. I then grabbed a rifle and quickly left the shelter. The Viet Minh men are hot on our heels, I see them arriving, there are only six or seven of us left behind a last position. We are preparing to receive them one last time. This is where the captain orders us to go: “We have to stop the costs, don’t be stupid. ”

We surrendered our weapons, convinced that they were going to shoot us. We cross the basin in the waterlogged trenches. Corpses piled up everywhere. A political commissar of the Viet Minh told us that thanks to the clemency of President Ho Chi Minh, our lives were saved. We walk for forty days in the rain which prevents us from sleeping, with almost no stopping. The majority of prisoners die during this period. Upon arrival in the camps, the chores begin. The guards never hit us but rather beat us to death, in exchange for rice balls sometimes garnished with pork fat. Every day, we are entitled to a self-denunciation session: we have to invent something stupid so that the political commissioners will give us something to eat.

A return under the spit

It was hard. One day, I burst into tears, running out of courage. A friend saves my life by forcing me to eat. Fortunately he was there. When they decided to free us, around August 25, after the agreements signed with France, the Vietnamese provided us with clothes, which we threw in the river once we were free. Out of bravado, which makes them furious.

In Haiphong, at the French hospital, after having been disinfected, we passed before military security for interrogation. Then we embark for twenty-five days at sea towards France. On arrival in Marseille, the CGT dockers greet us amid spitting and jeering. I can still see my father waiting for me, with tears in his eyes. I then returned to Ajaccio where I spent three months in the hospital. It wouldn't be long before we were leaving for Algeria. »


ON MAY 7, 1954, after fifty-six days of violent fighting, the French army suffered a resounding defeat. Surrounded in the fortified camp of Diên Bien Phu, in northern Vietnam, the expeditionary force must surrender to the fighters of the communist Viet Minh.

Then begins, according to the expression of Pierre Servent ( Dien Bien Phu, lessons from defeat , Ed. Perrin), “a long way of the cross” for the captives. Of the 10,998 prisoners, 7,708 died from mistreatment or summary executions within a few weeks. Around these survivors, a myth will be born. Our 20-year-old journalist collected the testimony of Raymond, a veteran, who was the same age when he parachuted into the pit of hell.

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