The last revolutionary from mankind’s bloodiest century died Friday at a military hospital in Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi.
A former journalist with no formal military training, General Vo Nguyen Giap defeated the French at Dien Ben Phu in 1954 and later America’s South Vietnamese allies in 1975. The decades-long war for independence was one of the bloodiest and hardest fought by all combatants.
“No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or casued as many loses as this war,” said Giap in 2005.
General Giap began his military career fighting the Japanese with Ho Chi Minh in 1944. After the war, the guerrilla fighters conducted a 10-year campaign to drive the French colonial power out. Catching an elite army of paratroopers and Legionnaires at a mountain fortress of Dien Ben Phu, Giap used women and children to drag field guns over steep mountain passages and began a bloody 54-day siege. Giap’s reputation for ruthlessness was sealed by Dien Ben Phu; of the 10,000 French troops that began the siege, less than 900 made it home to France.
Roughly 20 years later, General Giap defeated a demoralized and disorganized South Vietnamese Army after the U.S. Congress cut off much-needed material. At the height of the war in the late 1960s, over 500,000 American troops were engaged in combat. The American casualties were staggering, with 58,286 KIA’s, 153,000 wounded, and 1,645 MIAs. After the fall of Saigon to Giap’s Army of the North, the death toll reached unprecedented levels with millions being executed, starved, or worked to death in “re-education” camps.
Giap’s tenacity and ruthlessness became his trademarks as he fought two of the world’s most technlogically advanced militaries. “At the end, it was the human factor that determined victory,” said General Giap.