General Giap, the giant in Vietnamese contemporary history, passed away at age 102. He’s legendary and revered not only for his military brilliance, but also for his unblemished morality that rose above dirty power play and self-serving ambitions.

In middle school, for a long time I tried to have idols like my friends did. They all wrote letters to their favorite artists and athletes. It took me a while to realize that I am too flaky to have any obsessions. But I did write one letter when I was 17. The “celebrity”: General Giap. I was old enough to know that he would never read such letters. He was not a personal hero, but he was the only one that I have ever truly admired, and I just wanted to let him know how grateful I was for his integrity in an increasingly deceiving and corrupt government.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t hear anything back.

One day, someone rang the bell and asked for me by name. My parents and I were a little suspicious. Scammers were known to collect personal details and fabricate stories, pretending that they knew you to gain entry to the house. He quickly explained that he was one of General Giap’s assistants. He read my letter and saw the address; it turned out that we lived in the same neighborhood so he decided to drop by. I was shy, and even a little embarrassed. I don’t know why but for some reason I was embarrassed that my parents knew that I sent such a letter. I went mute and wasted a golden opportunity to ask some questions about my favorite person in Vietnamese history. The assistant nodded in agreement with my parents’ praises of his boss. Then he pulled out a recently published memoir by General Giap. It was signed, but without his name. We were told that it was to avoid forgery. I was the lucky one. My letter ended up in the hands of a neighbor.

The book is on my bookshelf at my parents’. I have never read a single page, except for the back cover.

R.I.P. General Giap.

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