- Title: VIETNAM: VETERANS REMEMBER THE BATTLE OF DIEN BIEN PHU 50 YEARS AGO
- Date: 7th May 2004
- Summary: SCU (SOUNDBITE) (French) INTERIOR MUSEUM AND FRENCH PILOT VETERAN MICHEL MARSZALEK SAYING: "At that time we did not dare to show ourselves. There was too much shooting and we were just throwing the supplies to the ground and we were very afraid." CLOSE OF WREATH AT FRENCH MEMORIAL VARIOUS OF FRENCH VETERANS AT MEMORIAL VARIOUS OF FRENCH VETERANS SALUTING MEMORIAL CLOSE OF CANDLE SCU (SOUNDBITE) (French) OLIVIER SANTIER, FRENCH CIVILIAN, SAYING "Fighters from both sides deserve respect" WIDE OF THE MEMORIAL Initials Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
- Embargoed: 22nd May 2004 13:00
- Location: HANOI, VIETNAM
- Country: Vietnam
- Topics: History
- Reuters ID: LVACC1OZN8XEPYSE95IIB0J541C8
- Aspect Ratio:
- Story Text: Vietnam, France recount battle 50 years later.
Veterans of Dien Bien Phu gathered at the site of the historic 1954 battle on Friday (May 7, 2004) to mark the 50th anniversary of the 56-day siege that hastened the end of French colonial rule in Indochina.
Undeterred by unrelenting rain, some 15,000 people crowded Dien Bien Phu's main stadium to watch military parades, variety shows and listen to rousing speeches.
General Nguyen Dieu, a 79-year-old veteran of Dien Bien Phu, a broad significance in the event.
"I feel the victory like a legend and I never thought that we could survive and live until today to witness this event," he said.
French pilot Michel Marszalek fought in the battle of Dien Bien Phu half a century ago, but until this week had never set foot in the Vietnamese city which has come to epitomise the end of French rule in Indochina.
The 73-year-old veteran, who flew 115 missions over Dien Bien Phu in a C-47 Dakota, was in the mountain-ringed city to remember his own fallen comrades as it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the epic victory over the French on Friday.
"At that time we did not dare to show ourselves. There was too much shooting and we were just throwing the supplies to the ground and we were very afraid," said Marszalek.
It was on May 7, 1954 that a rag-tag group of Viet Minh accepted the surrender from the better equipped forces led by General Christian de Castries after a bloody 56-day siege. The v ictory marked France's withdrawal from Indochina.
Estimates show French forces -- which included a multinational French legion comprised of Germans, Italians, north Africans, Thai and even Vietnamese -- suffered 16,000 casualties.
The Viet Minh, a coalition of communists and nationalists, lost around 10,000.
The actual tallies will probably never be known. Other accounts, including "The Last Valley" by Martin Windrow published this year, note about 9,000 French forces were marched away as prisoners, and perhaps half died or disappeared.
The French have taken a low-key approach to the 50-year anniversary, with President Jacques Chirac and Ambassador Antoine Pouillieute expected to attend a ceremony in Paris on Friday to honour the fallen.
Embassy officials and veterans laid a wreath at the French monument in Dien Bien Phu, a white obelisk within a courtyard of trees that lies along a small road surrounded by houses. It was the former location of the French military hospital.
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