“They Can Control Our Stomach, But They Cannot Control The Head”: An ARVN Special Forces General Survives 17 Years In A Reeducation Camp

Pham Duy Tat


Brigadier General Pham Duy Tat was born in 1933 in Quang Binh village in north-central Vietnam. His father, who died when Pham Duy Tat was young, was a farmer, and his mother raised his six brothers and one sister. After his oldest brother was killed by the French, two of his brothers joined the Viet Minh. Understanding the evils of communism, Pham Duy Tat and two other brothers moved south when the country was partitioned in 1954. When his mother came south for a visit, he took her paperwork to prevent her from returning to the north. In 1953, he enlisted in the National Army, and in 1954 he attended the Military Academy at Thu Duc, volunteering for the Airborne. As a Second Lieutenant, he was assigned to Regiment 21, stationed along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) after the border was closed. In 1955, after the defeat of the French, he transitioned to the American military system, attending the ARVN Ranger school, communications training, and demolitions courses, and he worked with some of the earliest American advisors. In 1961, he attended a psychological warfare class, and was responsible for maintaining the morale of the Soldiers in his unit. In 1964, as a Major, he established a Special Forces Training Center in Dong Ba Thin. Throughout the war, he was stationed in all four military regions with various units, serving all over the Republic of Vietnam and working with American Army and Marine units. In 1969, his mission was to seal the border in Region IV, and he fought for months in that area. In 1970, he served in Cambodia, and felt limited by the 30km limit of advance in that country. In March 1975, he served in Region II, and fought at the battle of Ban Me Thout as his Rangers served as the rear guard during the retreat. He surrendered when the Republic of Vietnam fell on April 30, 1975, and he began 17 years in reeducation camps. After he was released in 1993, he and his family escaped to the United States, where he reestablished himself in Virginia. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his military service, and his time in reeducation camps. He describes several battles, including Ple Me, An Loc, Loc Ninh, Ban Me Thout, and Xuan Loc. He compares the Viet Cong (VC) to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), stating that he preferred fighting the NVA because the VC could blend into local villages while the NVA required daily resupply. He briefly discusses his treatment in the reeducation camps, noting that the NVA treated prisoners better than the police did. Finally, he reflects on what his service means to him.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Leadership Courage P.O.W.s ARVN Vietnamese Concentration Camps Camaraderie Teamwork
interviewer David Siry
date 18 June 19


name Pham Duy Tat
institution Thu Duc
graduation year 1954
service Infantry / Special Forces
unit Army of the Republic of Vietnam
specialty Airborne / Ranger
service dates 1954 1975