Monday, February 15, 2010

Pouget was now once more pleading for reinforcements and ammunition. The calm voice of Vadot sounded like that of an old teacher trying to explain a difficult problem to a somewhat obtuse student:

“Come on, be reasonable. You know the situation as well as I do. Where do you want me to find a company? I can’t give you a single man or a single shell, old boy.”

But that moment, at about 0400, Captain Jean Pouget had about thirty-five men left alive and in fighting condition on the whole hill. Obviously, he thought, further resistance under such circumstances would be completely pointless and he requested from Vadon permission to abandon E2 and to break out in the direction of E3. There are two versions of what followed next. According to Jules Roy, Vadot is supposed to have said: “You’re a paratrooper. You are there to get yourself killed.” According to Pouget himself, Vadot said, after telling him that he had to fight on: “After all, you are a paratrooper and you must fight to the death—or at least until morning.”

There was nothing else to be said between the two men. Dien Bien Phu could no longer do anything for martyred Eliane 2, and Pouget, whose radio operator had been killed, no longer had any need for a transmitter.

“Understood. Out. If you have got nothing to add, I’ll destroy my set,” said Pouget.

The calm voice of Vadot seemed very far away, much farther than merely 400 meters of shell-pocked mud which actually separated the two men. Vadot also stuck to French Army radio protocol. “Out for me also.”

“Don’t destroy your radio set just yet,” said a Vietnamese voice in French. “President Ho Chi Minh offers you a rendition of the Chant des Partisans.” It was the voice of a People’s Army radio operator listening in on the French command channel. And the beloved words which the French Resistance sang in the dark days when it fought against the Nazi occupier could be clearly heard on the command channel. Pouget listened to it, from the first verse which spoke of the black crows—that is, the foreign occupiers—flying over the land, to the very last verse which speaks of black blood drying tomorrow on the roads, and ends on the haunting line: “Companions, Freedom is listening to us in the night…”

Then Pouget fired three bullets into his set and walked out of his command post.
Bernard Fall, Hell in a Very Small Place