Three times a day in the sixties and early seventies, as the Vietnam War raged in the villages and cities of Vietnam, The Dragon Lady, as the American soldiers called her, delivered the news – and uncomfortable truths – in almost perfect English, played American songs, and recited the names of the newly killed or captured American soldiers.
Trinh Thi Ngo, alias Hannah Hanoi aka The Dragon Lady, says her broadcasts from Vietnam’s national radio station had a simple objective: get the American invaders out of the country.
“The message I wanted to deliver to the US soldiers was that they were fighting for an unjust war and would die in vain,” Ngo told Thanh Nien recently.
She often found creative, simple, but powerful ways to get her message across, including sending a late birthday wish to an American soldier who had been killed recently.
Ngo was born into a wealthy Hanoi family in 1931.
Her father Trinh Dinh Kinh was then the owner of the biggest glass factory in Indochina.
American soldiers called her Hannah Hanoi because it was easier for them to remember.
But Ngo often used the name “Thu Huong” during her show.
Her radio show during the war was so well-known that though she was not considered a “star,” Hannah Hanoi appeared in many of the world’s major publications – including The New York Times, Life and People.
She was referenced by Robin Williams’ character Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning Vietnam” and appears in an upcoming film script, based on Bao Ninh’s Noi Buon Chien Tranh (The Sorrows of War), to be directed by Nicholas Simon.
A comparison to Tokyo Rose, the famous Japanese broadcaster who was imprisoned following Japan’s defeat in World War II, was intended to intimidate, but Ngo says she never doubted Vietnam’s ability to win the war.
“Someone sent me the picture of Tokyo Rose behind the bars, as a sort of warning,” she remembers. “I never believed I would end up that way.”
Ngo said she started learning English because of her attraction for film classics like “Gone with the Wind.”
“I watched that movie five times,” she recalls.
“I had a desire to know what the actors and actresses were really speaking instead of understanding it from subtitles. Fortunately, my family was able to send me to take private English lessons.”
Her broadcasting career began when she was 25, when Ngo began reading the English newscast for Vietnam’s national radio station under the supervision of several Australian experts, including famous journalist Winfred Burchett.
The broadcast was aimed at listeners in Asia’s English-speaking countries, but it unexpectedly drew attention in Europe and America.
“Most of the news I delivered during the war was edited by the politics department of Vietnam’s People’s Army,” Ngo recalls.
“They used material from newspapers such as The Stars and Stripes of the American army. We had a segment titled ‘Those who die but not for glory,’ under which we recited the names of Americans who were killed.”
Ngo says she never referred to American soldiers in South Vietnam as the “enemy” but called them “adversaries.”
The US radio station took immediate notice of Hannah Hanoi.
Very soon after her first broadcast following the landing of American soldiers in Da Nang, it announced that a woman with a mellifluous voice was exhorting the GIs to resist the war.
Ngo says she often began the show with war news and music, and then simply ended with small talk directed at the soldiers.
“We gradually increased the delivery of war news, especially during the Paris negotiations.”
As the war entered its last throes and the Americans left the country, Ngo signed off with her last broadcast in 1972.
Following the country’s reunification in April 1975, she returned to live in Ho Chi Minh City with her husband.
She was invited to work for the HCMC Television but instead stayed at home to take care of her husband who had suffered a stroke.
These days, 78-year-old Ngo leads a quiet life in her house on Phan Xich Long Street in Phu Nhuan District.
For Ngo, Hannah Hanoi is something of the past.
She says she has just one simple wish now: good health for her family.
“Hannah Hanoi seemed to magically know where US units were – and the names of US dead. Though most Americans hooted at her scare tactics, they couldn’t help feeling that North Vietnamese spies must be everywhere. Ironically, most of Hannah’s ‘intelligence’ reports came from publications such as the US military newspaper, Stars and Stripes,” Sean Price – October 10, 2001 – The New York Times.
Making news: an article about Trinh Thi Ngo in a Western newspaper.
Reported by Le Thi Thai Hoa