Northern border defense fight: Lang Son in days of fire, sword

The northern border defense struggle violently took place in six northern border provinces on early February 17, 1979 when Chinese troops used firepower, infantry and tanks to quickly transgress the border area of Vietnam.

Mr. Nguyen Van Binh at Den Mau cave in Dong Dang, Lang Son province. The cave was the shelter of over 500 residents in 1979 when Chinese troops invaded Vietnam  (Photo: SGGP)

Mr. Nguyen Van Binh at Den Mau cave in Dong Dang, Lang Son province. The cave was the shelter of over 500 residents in 1979 when Chinese troops invaded Vietnam (Photo: SGGP)

The fiercest battle happened in Dong Dang town in Lang Son province because Dong Dang was considered as the way to move further into Vietnam’s territory. Remaining evidences and witnesses have proved the heroic fight to protect the country’s border by Vietnamese military and people.
The history writes that in 1979, the situation in the border line with China developed more and more complicatedly. On February 15, 1979, the Chinese side mobilized two companies to invade some spots in Dong Dang town and Bao Lam commune.
Early February 17, the town was encroached. To protect Dong Dang, soldiers of Border Post 193 worked with mobile police force, a sapper company, Regiment 12 and residents in Bao Lam commune to withstand fiercely. Aids to defense force in Dong Dang did not come in a timely manner but the force still stood firm in the battlefield until February 22.
The last day in Dong Dang stronghold, where the defense system was the most solid one, Chinese troops used explosive to collapse the main entrance gate, fired flamethrowers and dropped grenades into air holes killing lot of wounded soldiers and civilians.
Notably the stand by soldiers and residents at Den Mau cave in Dong Dang town lasted for three days.
During a heavy rain on days near Tet holidays, Mr. Nguyen Van Binh, former scout and leader of a squad in the event on February 17, was found assisting his wife to clean up their breakfast shop in the foot of Den Mau cave.
Recalling the glorious time in the fight 40 years back, he told when people were still in a good sleep by the dawn that day, they suddenly heard the sound of gunfire from the other side of the border line towards Dong Dang town, blind smoke scared many. At that time, Binh was the leader of a squad stationed in Cao Bang town. He was sick and treated in a hospital. After recovering, he returned to his combat unit. On the way from Hanoi through Dong Dang to Cao Bang, he fell in the fighting.
At 5a.m. on February 17, the sky above the town turned red with Chinese ammunition and artillery.
His house was adjacent to Den Mau cave, so his family and neighbors ran into the cave to avoid bullets and saw a mobile police company taking groups of locals to move into the cave area.
Seeing the company comprise all recruits with less experience, Binh did not travel to Cao Bang province but stayed in the cave with residents. Afterwards, he merged into the company to fight and protect residents.
Three days in the cave from February 17-19, 500 residents together with 120 mobile police soldiers suffered hunger and thirst. In day time, Binh and soldiers took turns guarding the cave entrance to prevent Chinese troops from getting inside.
At night on February 18, they crawled and creeped along the mountain hill to seek food.
On the same day, the entire Dong Dang town was encircled. The soldiers in the cave discussed ways to snipe behind the enemy however their remaining ammunition was too insufficient so they must discuss another way, told Mr. Trieu Quang Dien, former private fighting against the enemy side by side with Binh.
Telling the rescue of over 500 residents from Den Mau cave, Mr. Binh said that after three days in the cave, he realized that the enemy was aggressive patrolling around the town with tank support in day time. At night they gathered together and shot into the air.
In the afternoon on February 18, the head and commissar of the company discussed way to take residents out from the cave. Many solutions were given including one to guide residents to travel through a mountain creek. With his personal experience and knowledge about local terrain, Binh deterred that measure fearing that they might be waylaid by the enemy.
At night that day, Binh and Dien came out to survey locations with the presence of the enemy and locations without. Finding the situation calm down, Binh and Dien proposed to take the company and residents out from the cave along the nearby stream to reach 1B Highway and travel to Van Quan district.
While being on their way, they were waylaid. Binh and Dien recalled they tried their best to carry injured ones out from the stranglehold. Holding back the paint of losing comrades in front of their faces, Binh, Dien and other soldiers continued fighting to take residents to safety.
In the end, they reached Van Quan district from the afternoon on February 19 to the morning on February 21 losing 13 mobile police soldiers.
The enemy killed residents, destroyed houses and all that he could think at that time was how to save residents, Dien recalled.
After the fight ended, Dien was awarded the Hero of the People's Armed Forces title by the Party and the State. Now he still believes that saving people and protecting the country is the mission of young soldiers at the age of eighteen and twenty.

By staff writers – Translated by Hai Anh

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