P.O.W. - Viet Cong Reeducation Camp

April 07, 2016


Dad Pham fought against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War because they were the enemy of the Vietnam Navy (VNN). He didn't truly know Ho Chi Minh's communist regime until the VNN were defeated and he was put in a 'Reeducation Camp' (aka prison camp). It's estimated 1 million people were thrown into the prison camps without trial or process. Prison camp was revenge and punishment for being on the losing side. It was inside the prison camp where Dad Pham learned what the Viet Cong really stood for - cruelty, torture, murder and greed. He learned firsthand the hypocrisy and injustices of their policies and the corruption of the officials that carried out those policies. It's also when Dad realised he couldn't live in Vietnam under their rule if he ever got out of prison.

Prison camp taught Dad that he'd been fighting for the right side in the war. He isn't a hateful person, so he didn't hate them like his fellow inmates - Dad Pham has one old navy friend who used to walk our Phamly home swatting flies and with each loud THWACK! he'd yell, "Kill VC!" It wasn't just because of his years in the prison camp, it's because for a lot of refugees, the Viet Cong destroyed the Vietnam they knew and loved.

Random but related fact. Dad Pham used to drink Ensure (the protein milk powder), which comes in canisters like the baby formula canisters. One day last year, I asked if I could throw out the dozen tins he had stowed under the stove and never seemed to touch. He casually said, 'Sure. Men killed each other over containers like this in prison camp but I guess here it's considered rubbish.' Another of Dad Pham's truth bombs. Food was scarce in prison camp - Dad lived off mouldy rice and on the rare occasions there was meat he was too scared to chew it. He didn't want to rush himself and would suck on the piece of meat until it gradually disintegrated. Friends, this is why I had to 'come out as vegetarian' to my Dad - I know I'm lucky to live in a country where I have dietary options and can choose not to eat meat.

Dad Pham saw the worst of humanity during his time there. The way the guards treated prisoners - abuse of power and unnecessary cruelty. The way prisoners turned on each other - starvation and deprivation brought out the worst in people. Humans are ugly creatures is what he learned in 'Reeducation camp.' It's understandable that he couldn't make sense of what he experienced and this fractured his mind like it does to so many touched by war.

Dad was one of the lucky ones. He made it out alive and he made it out very quickly compared to others. Dad Pham never showed defiance to his captors. He cooperated and answered their questions honestly when interrogated. He showed them how to operate machinery if asked. He didn't see a point in resisting because the war was over and the country he grew up in, his Vietnam was gone.

Dad was released from prison camp after 14 months. Some of his friends that remained defiant to the bitter end either died in prison or stayed locked up for over 15 years. Dad Pham knew he couldn't live in Vietnam because the VC would target him and his family if he stayed. It hurts my heart to think how desperate he must have felt to make the awful decision to leave his home and family to protect them.

In the next part, I learn how Dad Pham was not just a boat person, he was the one steering the rickety fishing boat loaded with dozens of Vietnamese refugees into the dangerous open ocean because all everyone had left to risk was their life and a glimmer of hope.

If you haven't yet, read Part 1: O Captain! My Captain! about Dad Pham's navy days during the Vietnam War.

Phamly History:
Part 1 - O Captain! My Captain! Dad Pham's navy days during the Vietnam War.
This is Part 2 - P.O.W. Viet Cong Re-education Camp Dad Pham's time as a prisoner of war.
Part 3 - Living with Viet Cong Mum Pham's experience with communism.
Part 4 - Boat People Dad Pham seeks refuge after the war.
Part 4 - Boat People Dad Pham seeks refuge after the war.
Part 5 - Finding Faith Dad finds peace.

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