Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Numerous tales of President Fidel Castro's benevolent actions continue to resonate deeply within the residents of Quang Tri. For those fortunate enough to have encountered him and received his help, the memory of Cuban President Fidel Castro shines brightly over time, transforming into enduring narratives that remain etched in their hearts.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Unforgettable memory

Locating the individual mentioned in the article “A Westerner on Our Side” proved to be a time-consuming endeavor.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Mr. Le Hong Dang was the character in the article.

The reason is that the author of the article, narrates an encounter between Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1973 and a student wounded by a US B52 bomb in Dong Ha Town (the piece won first prize in an international literary contest commemorating Fidel Castro on his 70th birthday), has since passed away, leaving the character in the article without any identifiable information apart from their name.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

The article “A Westerner on Our Side” won first prize in an international literary contest commemorating Fidel Castro on his 70th birthday.

Mr. Le Hong Dang, born in 1960 and residing in Dong Ha City, was taken aback when someone sought him out. In his own words: "Previously, my life revolved around the fields, making me quite challenging to locate." Mr. Dang’s livelihood revolves around raising ducks in the fields, with his days and nights spent alongside hundreds of these birds. The demanding nature of his work has deprived him of many things, but the memory of meeting “our Westerner” President Fidel Castro remains deeply etched in his mind.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Dang was honored to meet Fidel Castro 50 years ago at the Headquarter of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam.

When Mr. Dang was just a little over 10 years old, during a period marked by the widespread use of B52 bombing by the US, he sought refuge in a secure shelter. However, a sudden recollection that his younger brother was playing above ground prompted him to ascend to retrieve him. Tragically, as Mr. Dang reached out to carry his younger brother down to the basement, a fragment from a B52 bomb tore through his reach, resulting in the loss of his arms and a portion of his right leg.

In 1972, Dong Ha Town was liberated, and during that time, Mr. Dang was a primary school student in Trieu Luong Commune, Trieu Phong District. He received numerous invitations to meet foreign delegations and the press when they visited the newly liberated Quang Tri Region.

Consequently, when he was invited to meet President Fidel Castro, he initially assumed it would be a similar experience. However, a specific detail mentioned by the officer who came to collect him, referring to the meeting with “our Westerner,” piqued his interest in the individual he was about to encounter.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

The place where Mr. Dang met Fidel Castro.

Mr. Dang recollected: "It was a day in mid-September 1973, Autumn had arrived, but the weather in Dong Ha remained hot. I was chauffeured to the Headquarters of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, where a crowd had gathered. During the meeting, I shared the story of my injury with everyone and meticulously transcribed it on paper using my impaired hands. At the time, my understanding of the term “A Westerner on our side“was somewhat hazy, as there were numerous”Western men' present in my surroundings."

Upon his return to Dong Ha Town, Mr. Dang had the fortunate opportunity to encounter “our Westerner” up close. Memories transported him back to that day, when, beneath the Laos winds at the tail end of the dusty season, a tall Western man stood before him, seemingly awaiting his arrival.

"I still recall the spot near the blockhouse in the town center. When the car came to a halt, “A Westerner” rushed me into the house. His firm grip held me in his embrace, one hand supporting me and the other affectionately stroking my head as if I were his own kin. When his hands came into contact with my amputated arms at the elbow, it was as though he held me even tighter. He shed tears. Touched, I nestled my head onto his shoulder and wept, although I remained unaware of the unique identity of this 'A Westerner on our side.' I only felt one thing: his arms, his comforting head caressing a child like me, a war victim, radiated warmth. His gaze was equally benevolent and shared. This marked the second time I had shed tears. The first time was when I reunited with my mother after receiving treatment for my injuries at the Liberation Army’s medical station. This time, I wept because I witnessed “A Westerner” shed tears. I began to understand what the officer had conveyed the day he fetched me. It turns out that “A Westerner on our side” was here, and only “our side” could empathize with the suffering of a child wounded by war like me," Mr. Dang shared.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Mr. Dang’s livelihood revolves around raising ducks in the fields, with his days and nights spent alongside hundreds of these birds.

It was only later that Mr. Dang learned that the ““Westerner on our side”” he had the privilege of meeting was the beloved leader of the Cuban People, President Fidel Castro. Consequently, that fleeting moment, which had traversed the mind of a young child that day, remained eternally etched in his memory.

Mr. Dang, now over 63 years old, no longer tends to ducks in the fields as he did in the past, but the challenges of making a livelihood have not diminished. They say, "rich in sight, poor in hands." Due to the condition of his hands, which are not as robust as those of many others, he must exert extra effort to support his wife and two children. "For over half my life, I’ve been dedicated to the fields, raising ducks and cultivating shrimp and crabs for market sale. I often liken myself to a towering tree in the midst of a field, unwavering even in the face of storms, standing firm to provide for my family. During those trying times, there were moments when I temporarily forgot the beautiful tale of the past. However, when I recollect it, my heart is filled with profound warmth. Because I know, not everyone has the privilege of experiencing such a moment," Mr. Dang shared.

Promised to live well

"Havana, September 15, 2018. Dear Ms. Nguyen Thi Huong! I first met you on September 15, 1973, 45 years ago..."

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Ms. Huong continues to keep stories and memories of Fidel Castro close to her heart.

On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s visit to the liberated area in Quang Tri, Ms. Huong received a letter from distant Cuba. The contents left her utterly speechless and profoundly moved, for the author was none other than Cuban doctor Ariel Sole Munhot, who had been assigned by President Fidel Castro to remain behind when he learned that Ms. Huong had been injured by bomb shrapnel while working in the fields alongside youth union members from Vinh Thanh Commune (now Hien Thanh Commune), Vinh Linh District.

"While I was conducting a medical examination to assess your condition, President Fidel Castro arrived and said to me, 'Please stay here to assist them. I will send someone to collect you later.' He left the ambulance car for emergency medical attention to the Cuban leadership team and continued on his way..." Once more, a heartwarming tale from the past resurfaced in Ms. Huong’s recollections.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Ms. Huong paid tribute to Fidel Castro at the Cuban Embassay in Hanoi in 2016.

Although she was undergoing treatment at the hospital, she knew that the person who had ordered her rescue was none other than President Fidel Castro. Yet, the details recounted by Dr. Ariel Sole Munhot left Ms. Huong even more in awe of his noble gesture.

The journey to visit the newly liberated Quang Tri Region at that time was undeniably perilous, yet President Fidel Castro had entrusted an ambulance and a doctor from his delegation to aid an ordinary person like her. Thanks to the timely assistance of the medical team and the dispatch of 10 bags of dried blood from Dong Hoi, despite her grave injuries (including severed arteries and eight sections of her intestine), Ms. Huong’s life was spared.

Vietnam-Cuba Relations: Rekindling beautiful stories

Friends from Cuba visits Ms. Huong.

Upon the passing of President Fidel Castro, both Mrs. Huong and her husband paid their respects by visiting the Cuban Embassy in Hanoi, where they laid a wreath in his memory. It was during this visit that Ms. Huong was presented with a valuable document by the embassy staff—an article published in Latin that recounted President Fidel Castro’s visit to the liberated region of South Vietnam. The article detailed his explicit orders to ensure her rescue by all means. The piece featured a photo of a young union member injured by a bomb, receiving initial medical attention, with a caption that read: "Cuban doctors, under the guidance of President Fidel Castro, cared for the girl who fell victim to a bomb attack in Quang Tri." This article resonated deeply with millions of Cubans, who were profoundly moved by their beloved leader’s noble gesture.

During this visit, Ms. Huong also learned additional details about the incident. According to regulations, the convoy was not supposed to stop for security reasons. However, upon seeing a young girl, covered in blood by the roadside, President Fidel Castro couldn’t continue without inquiring about the situation. He ordered the convoy to halt and personally ensured she was transported to the hospital.

What touched Mrs. Huong even more was President Fidel Castro’s ongoing concern for her. After returning to Cuba, despite his numerous responsibilities, he remained interested in the girl he had met and saved halfway across the world. One month after Ms. Huong was discharged from the hospital, President Fidel Castro sent her medication and supplements. Notably, he included a precious business card made of exquisite paper, adorned with an embossed seal. It bore the inscription in vertical letters: CMDTE. FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, and below it: First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. Such a business card was a rare and treasured possession in Cuba.

Shortly after her recovery, President Fidel Castro’s secretary visited Vinh Linh to see her. During this visit, Mrs. Huong was invited to the Vinh Linh Diplomatic House, where they shared a meal and engaged in a heartfelt conversation. Through the secretary’s accounts, she learned that President Fidel Castro remained deeply concerned about her health and her life in Vietnam. He had personally requested his secretary to travel to Vinh Linh to visit her. From that point on, every year when a Cuban delegation visited Vietnam, President Fidel Castro sent her gifts. In 1985, Ms. Huong received an invitation from President Fidel Castro to visit Cuba for a health check and recuperation. However, at the time, she had just given birth to her youngest daughter, and she regretfully had to decline the opportunity to meet and express her heartfelt gratitude to President Fidel Castro. She still holds a deep sense of regret for missing that chance.

"The most significant gift President Fidel Castro bestowed upon me, aside from saving my life, was connecting me with many Cuban leaders and people. My story became known to numerous Cubans, so when they visit Vietnam, they make their way to the little house on Dang Tat Street in Dong Ha City to hear the old tales. What started as an encounter with strangers has transformed into deep and intimate connections through this tale of kindness," Ms. Huong shared. This connection eventually led her to reconnect with the Cuban doctor who had treated her injuries in the past.

On June 30, 2018, an interview with Mrs. Huong, conducted by Cuban journalist Jose Liamos at her home, was published in a newspaper in Havana, Cuba. The article served as a bridge for Dr. Arien Sole Munhot to get in touch with Ms. Huong and address the question that had been on his mind for 45 years: "Throughout these past 45 years, I have always wondered about you. I’ve pondered how your injuries have healed and whether you are still alive."



0:24:09:2023:10:37 GMT+7

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