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Historical Dictionary

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ORPHANS

Young Vietnamese orphans sometimes found themselves caught up in the violence of the Indochina conflict. During the colonial period, the Bao Anh orphanage in Hanoi (now the center for the blind on 135 Nguyen Thai Hoc street) cared for dozens of parentless, whose numbers increased significantly due to the terrible famine that struck northern Vietnam between 1944 and 1945. During World War II, patriotic intellectuals, in particular members of the Association for the Promotion of Quoc Ngu, taught Vietnamese orphans at the Bao Anh center to read and write.

Young though they were, many of these orphans followed their nationalist-minded teachers into the ranks of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam after the Japanese defeat in August 1945. Nguyen Khac Ky was one such teacher to bring a number of the Bao Anh orphans with him and eventually into military preparations to defend Hanoi against French reoccupation in late 1946. The Viet Minh employed these orphans as messengers and liaison agents (Lien Lac Vien) in the Children’s Guard (ve ut) and apparently agreed to integrate this unit into the capital brigade led by Vuong Thua Vu. One of the youngest orphans to join the brigade as a part of the Children’s Guard was only eight years old. During the battle of Hanoi, several of these orphans ran highly dangerous liaison missions; some even took up arms and several were killed in battle. After the evacuation of the city, the Vietnamese army incorporated these orphans into artistic youth groups and moved them out of the line of fire. Vietnamese orphans were also active in the south, working as messengers and liaison agents in the urban battle for Saigon in particular. Nguyen Hong Phuoc, for example, worked for Zone VII’s Military Medical Service as a liaison agent. He was killed before he turned 15. See also CASUALTIES; EXPERIENCE OF WAR; MYTH OF WAR.