Meeting the man who played Nguyen Van Troi - Robert McNamara’s would be assassin

| 03 Jan 2018
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03 Jan 2018

On a recent visit to Hanoi, I randomly met the delightful Mr Binh on the street. Now 82 year old, he found fame on the stage in the 60s and 70s playing revolutionary hero Nguyen Van Troi.

Nguyen Van Troi is one of the most celebrated figures in communist Vietnam’s war against the US-backed South Vietnamese government. He was executed in 1964 after unsuccessfully plotting to kill US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara during his 1963 visit to Saigon.

During my recent visit to Hanoi, I met with the man who played Nguyen Van Troi in the famous play that was written in wartime. The meeting was completely unplanned. I was taking a shot of a Hanoi street corner and we began chatting.

Meeting Mr Binh was was another wonderful street-side encounter. Meet Mr Binh in the video below.

I often sit down for a chat with locals - especially the elderly. And especially in Hanoi. Mr Binh was a charmer from the outset and after we spent some time chatting, he told me he’d been an actor and a singer. I asked him whether he’d achieved any fame during his career and he told me he had achieved modest fame playing Nguyen Van Troi on the stage.

The play was a huge hit in the north during wartime - as you’d expect. Binh travelled throughout northern Vietnam entertaining Uncle Ho's troops. He told me a career highlight was travelling south with his theatrical troupe after the war in 1975, for the Saigon premiere of the play.

Like so many other elderly folk I’ve encountered on the streets of Hanoi and all over Vietnam, meeting Mr Binh was a highlight of my recent visit.

Nguyen Van Troi background

When US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara visited Vietnam in 1963, a young nationalist, Nguyen Nguyen Troi, hatched a plan to blow up the Cong Ly bridge on the main airport road as McNamara’s motorcade passed over. The plot was uncovered and Nguyen Van Troi was executed in 1964. Troi became one of the most well-known martyrs of the communist campaign. US activist Jane Fonda even named her son Troy Garity after Troi.

Nguyen Van Troi’s commitment to the cause right up until his execution has helped build the legend. Wikipedia quotes him as saying before his firing squad -

"You are journalists and so you must be well informed about what is happening. It is the Americans who have committed aggression on our country, it is they who have been killing our people with planes and bombs ... I have never acted against the will of my people. It is against the Americans that I have taken action." When a priest offered him absolution, he refused, saying: "I have committed no sin. It is the Americans who have sinned." As the first shots were fired, he called out, "Long live Vietnam!"

Nguyen Van Troi is remembered in street names, market names and museums all over southern Vietnam. The main airport road in Saigon, the road where the assassination was intended to take place, in now called Nguyen Van Troi St. So you’re likely to have an encounter with Troi during your Vietnam travels.

But probably not like the very special one I had with Mr Binh on a Hanoi street corner a few weeks ago.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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