Returning for a moment now to a project that I worked on last summer in Hue, Vietnam, on women who fought in the war with the United States. In addition to the small written piece below, you’ll find portraits of the women with testimonies accompanying each image. This is still a work in progress, and so any and all feedback is much appreciated!
Yes, she acknowledged, the women had been good soldiers. But they had paid dearly for their war service, in ways that men had not…stress, backbreaking labor, malnutrition, contact with death and blood had eventually robbed these young girls of the very future they sought to defend when they left home in the first place.
Karen Turner, Even the Women Must Fight p 4
Thirty-six years after she last took aim with her AK-47 assault rifle, Ngo Thi Thuong’s phone rang.
General Võ Nguyên Giáp was looking for the young lady who had shot down the American bomber in June 1968. In the nearly four decades that had past since then, she had worked many jobs and raised three children. And until now, her tale had little recognition beyond a retelling to her kids.
Heroines and striking female figures are not new in Vietnam – they have played an integral role in Vietnamese history for millennia. In the 1st century C.E., the Truing sisters, often called Vietnam’s earliest national patriots, rebelled against the Chinese Han Dynasty for three years. The female legacy is no different today; in all of Vietnam’s recent conflicts, women were crucial. They fought alongside men and carried heavy loads down the Ho Chi Minh Trail until 1973.
Yet their stories remain largely unheard. As Karen Turner notes in Even the Women Must Fight, “women warriors, so essential to Vietnam’s long history and so important in the most photographed are in history, have remained invisible.”
These are the stories of six women, all soldiers for the North Vietnamese Army in the American War, and mothers of the nation’s children. For some, motherhood came before they fought. For others, it was not until after they had returned home. In all cases, their experiences fighting directly shaped their children’s lives – those children that became the next generation of Vietnamese. Their stories provide a means of seeing how a nation torn by conflict for decades has rebuilt itself, has been nurtured back into a whole.