Who Killed My Father?

By Michael Do

How Captain Quach Duoc Thanh Was Murdered In Communist Concentration Camp

We name heroes who can survive years of imprisonment, torture, and starvation at the hands of enemies. It is not rare when people are brave enough to stand upright and speak the truth, even if it probably leads to their death. Those are our superheroes whose names we will never forget.

Right after the Vietnam War ended in April 1975, dozens of high-ranking officers chose death over surrendering to the enemies to defend their moral integrity. Generals Le Van Hung, Le Nguyen Vy, Nguyen Khoa Nam, Pham Van Phu, Tran Van Hai, and Ho Ngoc Can, to name a few. In the so-called re-education camps throughout the country, we have learned numerous cases in which our fellow detainees stood up against the communist cadres for righteousness without fear of being killed. As a result, many were isolated in the darkness and murdered mercilessly.

The death of Captain Quach Duoc Thanh is one such case.

In 1966, the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces’ Polwar College recruited cadets for its first class who, after 30 months, would be commissioned as political officers at the army company level. The young Quach Duoc Thanh quit his teaching job in his hometown, Rach Gia, to begin a new military career at Polwar College. Of 168 officer candidates, Thanh was one of the oldest. He was given the nickname “Quach Gia” (The old Thanh). Thanh had a broad knowledge of every subject. His warm voice was so convincing that it made him the Master of Ceremony of all events during his years in college. He won the Dalat city championship in table tennis (dual with Cadet Nguyen Manh Vy.) He was very good at Chinese chess, pool table, and acting in a comedy.

After graduation, 2nd Lieutenant Thanh was assigned to the Political Education Department of the College, where his background and skills would later earn him the full admiration of the cadets of the following classes.

Thanh was arrested at home by two armed Viet Cong months after the fall of South Vietnam. He was sent to Chi Lang camp in the former 4th military tactical region. On the eve of the invasion threat of the Khmer Rouge, the prisoners were moved to a new camp, Vuon Dao. The camp was built close to the road that leads to Moc Hoa, Cai Lay District. There were about 3000 South Vietnamese soldiers ranking from CWOs to Colonels. Among them, the most steadfast were Colonel Nguyen Duc Xich (Gia Dinh Province Chief under the late President Ngo Dinh Diem), the venerable Hoang Dinh Khang of the Catholic church, and Captain Quach Duoc Thanh. Despite starvation and torture, they always showed courage and steadfastness in the face of the enemy. To the camp authorities, they became the obstacle that must be annihilated.

In October 1979, Ba Minh, the camp Communist Party political commissar, accused Colonel Nguyen Duc Xich of being an agent left behind by the American CIA and locked him in an old US Army container. One day, as the guards escorted Colonel Xich out of the barbed-wire perimeter, they shot him from the back and told the prisoners that Xich was attempting to escape. Thanh could not avoid the same destiny. They put him in the container for 15 days without food or drink. At about 9 o’clock one night in December 1979, a VC captain unlocked the container and found Thanh was still alive. He then beat and suffocated Thanh to death. The event occurred not far from the barracks where prisoners were sleeping. Many years have passed, but Vuon Dao camp ex-detainees still recall the story with horror. Thanh died at age 37, survived by his wife and four children.

Ms. Quach Giao Chau, Thanh’s eldest child, was 8 when she visited her father for the last time just months before the murder. She had unsuccessfully searched for more information on her father for 25 years until recently found my website and hoped that I could help her collect such info.

Thanks to my classmates and other ex-detainees from Camp Chi Lang, I could provide Giao Chau with enough details on how her father had lived and died. I also have her permission to make the letters public for the next generation to learn how their fathers have endured the ordeal in the communist prisons.