“With the victory of April 30, slaves became free men,” Giap said. “It was an unbelievable story.”
It came at a price for all sides: the deaths of as many as 3 million communists and civilians, an estimated 250,000 South Vietnamese troops and 58,000 Americans.
Throughout most of the war, Giap served as defense minister, armed forces commander and a senior member of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, but he was slowly elbowed from the center of power after Ho Chi Minh’s death in 1969. The glory for victory in 1975 went not to Giap, but to Gen. Van Tien Dung, chief of the general staff.
Giap lost the defense portfolio in 1979 and was dropped from the powerful Politburo three years later. He stepped down from his last post, as deputy prime minister, in 1991.
Despite losing favor with the government, the thin, white-haired man became even more beloved in Vietnam as he continued to speak out. He retired in Hanoi as a national treasure, writing his memoirs and attending functions — always wearing green or eggshell-colored military uniforms with gold stars across the shoulders.
He held news conferences, reading from handwritten notes and sometimes answering questions in French to commemorate war anniversaries. He invited foreign journalists to his home for meetings with high-profile visitors and often greeted a longtime American female AP correspondent in Hanoi with kisses on both cheeks.
He kept up with world news and offered advice in 2004 for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.
“Any forces that wish to impose their will on other nations will certainly face failure,” he told reporters.
Among the foreign dignitaries he received was friend and fellow communist revolutionary Fidel Castro of Cuba. In 2003, they sat in Giap’s home chatting and laughing beneath a portrait of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union.
The general’s former nemesis, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, visited in 1995. He asked about a disputed chapter of the Vietnam War, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident in which two U.S. Navy destroyers were purportedly fired upon by North Vietnamese boats. It’s the event that gave the U.S. Congress justification for escalating the war.