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The Viet Minh commander who inflicted the first big and deadly defeat on the French colonial army is still a strong tennis player at 90 years of age!

An exlusive report on Dang Van Viet, an amazing personality we met on a tennis court in Nha Trang.

Dang Van Viet stems from a prestigious family of mandarins. His ancestors were generals from the Tran dynasty which defeated the Mongolians in the 13th century. Family members were scholars and ministers during different dynasties. His father was appointed minister by Ho Chi Minh in his first government. As a fierce patriot, Dang Van Viet gave up his studies at the faculty of medicine in Hanoi to join the Viet Minh in 1943 at the age of 23 in order to fight the foreign intruders and he quickly became the youngest lieutenant colonel. The legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap under whose command the Vietnamese military defeated the invading French, Japanese and U.S. armies entrusted him with some of the most difficult military tasks. Colonel Viet was put in charge of the regiment of the Vietnamese People’s Army that inflicted the first great defeat in 1950 to the French colonial army (according to Yves Gras’s "Histoire de la guerre d’Indochine", Denoël 1992) along the colonial number four highway at the Chinese border. During this border campaign more than 5.500 French soldiers were wiped out in seven days.

Dang Van Viet led his regiment into more than 120 battles and lost just five. As a brave and exemplary military leader he always stood in the front line with his soldiers and got injured many times and escaped death several times. Colonel was the highest rank he could achieve due to his family history. Soldiers from formerly oppressed peasants’ and workers’ classes had first priority to rise to the highest military ranks in the people’s army of Vietnam. Dang Van Viet has always been a devoted soldier and a loyal member of the communist party. He shared and fully supported Ho Chi Minh’s vision of a united, independent and socially just Vietnam. After successfully fighting the French he turned to the civilian sector and helped rebuild his country as a senior civil engineer.

Dang Van Viet was not only an important actor on historic battlegrounds but also an esteemed witness of the Vietnamese anti-colonial struggle. He documented this historical event in a book called “The Flaming Number Four Highway” (available in English). His commander General Vo Nguyen Giap wrote about Viet’s book: “The memoir 'The Flaming Number Four Higway' by Dang Van Viet depicts in a realistic way some of the most important and most unforgettable events at the historic battlefields of the anti-French war. It’s the main reason that makes this memoir an impressive work which I enjoyed so much.”

At the age of 90 Dang Van Viet leads a healthy, sober, modest and useful life. He continues to write books, meets people and plays tennis. Felix, who has been playing tennis with Dang Van Viet in Nha Trang says about the Vietnamese war hero and former national tennis champion: “I feel honored and I am happy to have met Dang Van Viet and to have made friends with him. I am astounded by the extraordinary physical and mental strength of Mr. Viet at his age and after having been so seriously wounded in war times. I enjoy listening to this great man who speaks fluent French. Dang Van Viet taught me a lot of interesting things. I learnt from him that the Vietnamese have defeated and repelled 20 foreign invasions: the Chinese 13 times, the Mongolians 3 times, the French 2 times, the Japanese and the Americans each once. He proudly explained to me that the Vietnamese, throughout their long history, succeeded in maintaining their territorial integrity and their own culture. He also told me that Vietnam developed distinct military strategies serving its own needs best which are not copies of Chinese military strategies (Sun Tzu) or European military theories (Clausewitz). He is working on a book on Vietnamese military history where he will explain this in more detail and I will be the first to buy it when it’s published!”

Playing tennis in Nha Trang: Dang Van Viet and Felix 


Some military history facts

  • Vietnam was invaded 20 times in its history. It defeated and got rid of the invaders. No other country has been invaded so often.
  • Its invaders were stronger and had resources many times those of Vietnam. But smaller countries can defeat stronger invading countries if they have the right strategies and tactics, as Dang Van Viet says.
  • Amongst the 30 biggest military battles on earth two were fought in Vietnam according to military historians: the colonial highway No. 4 battle in 1950 (under the command of Dang Van Viet) and the battle in Dien Bien Phu 1954 which led to the end of the French colonial rule in Vietnam.


Interested in learning about the history of Nha Trang and the mighty Cham kingdom who was founded by the native Lady Po Nagar? If so, click here


Dang Van Viet also wrote the book “LES MEMOIRES D’UN COLONEL VIET MINH”:

Most books are in Vietnamese and French. If you speak Vietnamese or French and want to buy books written by Dang Van Viet, send us an email which we will forward to Mr. Dang Van Viet or his publishers.

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