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George Wickes on Ho Chi Minh

In a recollection written to the historian Marilyn Young, George Wickes, who met Ho Chi Minh right after the Second World War, recalled his impressions of the revolutionary. Wickes had no doubts about Hos allegiances.

. . . It was during this period that Frank White and I paid our call on Ho Chi Minh. He received us in his office in the governor-general's palace. As if to indicate his official role, he was wearing a military-style tunic, but wearing it modestly without any insignia to suggest that he was more than a private citizen. We had expected the interview to be in French, but to our surprise he spoke to us in English and reminisced about his experiences in the United States when he worked in restaurants in Boston or New York. When asked if he was a communist, he made no secret of the fact, but when asked if that meant Vietnam would become a communist country, he said he was not the one to determine that, for the political character of the country would have to be decided by the people. He spoke a good deal about the United States. He admired the principles of the Declaration of Independence, some of which he had paraphrased in declaring the independence of Vietnam the previous September 2. He wanted us to transmit to Washington his high hopes that the United States would aid Vietnam in its efforts to establish itself as an independent nation.

Ho invited Frank [Major Frank White] to a dinner he was giving that night. When Frank arrived he found himself in the company of high-ranking dignitaries, including several French and Chinese generals and Vo Nguyen Giap. To his astonishment Frank discovered that Ho had reserved the place of honor for him.

In a letter I wrote home a few days after our visit with Ho Chi Minh I attempted to describe him:

His pictures present him as an emaciated martyr with burning eyes. He looks like a martyr all right (and in fact is one, having devoted practically all of his 60-odd years to the cause of his country), but kindly rather than fanatic, like a benevolent grandfather for his people.

Short and very slight, a little stooped, with seamed cheeks and generally well-weathered features, wiry, grayish hair, a scraggly mandarin mustache and wispy beard-- all in all not a very imposing man physically.

But when you talk with him he strikes you as quite above the ordinary run of mortals. Perhaps it is the spirit that great patriots are supposed to have. Surely he has that -- long struggling has left him mild and resigned, still sustaining some small idealism and hope. But I think it is particularly his kindliness, his simplicity, his down-to-earthness. I think Abraham Lincoln must have been such a man, calm, sane and humble.

In the minds of most Americans, Abraham Lincoln is our greatest president, the man who kept the nation together through our terrible Civil War and freed the slaves. Though no one uses such language, it would be no exaggeration to say that Abraham Lincoln is generally revered as a saint. Ever since that meeting with Ho Chi Minh I have thought of him in the same light, and when asked what he was like described him as a cross between Saint Francis of Assisi and Abraham Lincoln. . . .


George Wickes
English Department
University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon
Memorandum to Marilyn Young
George Wickes served with the O.S.S. in Indo-China during WWII