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Vietnam Mourns Beloved General

  • Marianne Brown

Former Vietnam Communist General Secretary Le Kha Phieu, center, stands between wreaths before paying respects to the late Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap at the National Funeral House in Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct. 12, 2013.

Former Vietnam Communist General Secretary Le Kha Phieu, center, stands between wreaths before paying respects to the late Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap at the National Funeral House in Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct. 12, 2013.

Streets are blocked off in central Hanoi and unrelated public events canceled this weekend as Vietnam mourns the death of one of its most celebrated war heroes, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died on October 4 at the age of 102.

On Saturday, the country's most powerful politicians and military leaders led processions of mourners to honor a man considered one of modern Vietnam’s founding fathers. Rows of soldiers in white uniforms stood at attention outside the the National Funeral Hall in central Hanoi, where the general’s body lies in state.

Over the course of the day, 175 delegations are expected to visit.

Mourners gather to honor Vietnam's late General Giap in Hanoi, Oct.12, 2013

Mourners gather to honor Vietnam's late General Giap in Hanoi, Oct.12, 2013

Earlier this week, tens of thousands of mourners stood in line for hours outside the general’s home, many carrying yellow daisies to pay their respects to the man dubbed Vietnam’s “red Napoleon” for his role in masterminding the battle of Dien Bien Phu, which ended French colonial rule in 1954.

Through tears, one elderly woman, who gave her name only as Thu, said Giap’s role in Vietnamese history was second only to President Ho Chi Minh.

Thu, volunteer during the war, said Giap was the greatest commander, very good at leading the country against the French and the Americans. She said thanks to him, Vietnam has peace today.

Another mourner, 84-year-old Nguyen Xuan Tu from Nghe An, says he spent 34 years in the army fighting for the North Vietnamese. When he heard about the general’s death he said he was so moved he could not cry.

As well as the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Giap is also credited as one of the tacticians behind the 1968 Tet Offensive and other major military campaigns against the United States.

However, some historians question how crucial his role in war against the Americans really was.

Lien-Hang Nguyen, associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky and author of the book "Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam," says it is inaccurate to say Giap led the war effort against the United States because he was sidelined politically by leaders in the Communist Party, Le Duan and Le Duc Tho, who felt threatened by his popularity.

"There was no way they could do away with him, but what they could do behind closed doors was marginalize him in the top party leadership, and silence him when he opposed them" Hang said.

A woman holds a portrait of General Giap outside the National Funeral House in Hanoi, Oct. 12, 2013.

A woman holds a portrait of General Giap outside the National Funeral House in Hanoi, Oct. 12, 2013.

After Dien Bien Phu, where thousands more Vietnamese troops died compared to their French adversaries, Giap became known as a tactician willing to sacrifice large numbers of soldiers in return for victory. However, Hang said later in the war he did not want to spend as many lives and it was other leaders who were blind to the casualties.

In the early 1980s the general was removed from his position in the Ministry of Defense and the politburo, and effectively pushed out of political office by the 1990s.

Despite outliving his rivals, Giap never spoke out against the party.

Some observers have questioned whether the general did make a political statement in the end by choosing to be buried in his hometown in Quang Binh province, south of Hanoi. Many expected him to be buried alongside his war-time associates at Mai Dich military cemetery in Hanoi.

The National Funeral Hall will remain open to mourners until Saturday evening. On Sunday, a grand procession will escort the general's body to his hometown for burial.

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