President Ho Chi Minh of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam dies of a heart attack in Hanoi. North Vietnamese officials announced his death the next day.
Ho Chi Minh had been the heart and soul of Vietnamese communism since the earliest days of the movement. Born in 1890, he was the son of a Vietnamese government official who resigned in protest against French domination of his country. He was educated in Hue and as a young man worked as a cook on a French steamship, travelling to the United States, Africa, and then Europe, where he took work in London and Paris. In 1920, having accepted Marxist Leninism because of its anticolonial stance, he changed his name to Nguyen Ai Quoc (“Nguyen the Patriot”) and helped found the French Communist Party. He traveled to Moscow in 1923 for study and training. In 1924, he went to Canton, China, to meet with Phan Boi Chau, one of the leading Vietnamese nationalists of the era. While in China, Ho played the leading role in the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1929. Ho spent most of the next 10 years writing and organizing, all while outside Vietnam. When the Japanese invaded Vietnam at the beginning of World War II, he changed his name to Ho Chi Minh (“Ho, the Bringer of Light”) and moved his revolutionary group to the caves of Pac Bo in northern Vietnam. There, in May 1941, he organized the Viet Minh, a nationalist and communist organization created to mobilize the people.
During the war, Ho and the Viet Minh entered into a loose alliance with the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), helping to rescue downed American pilots. In 1945, when the Japanese surrendered, the Viet Minh seized power and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with Ho as president. However, the French, wanting to reimpose colonial rule, refused to grant independence to the Vietnamese. In late 1946, war broke out between the Viet Minh and the French. It lasted for eight bloody years, ending finally with the Viet Minh defeating the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The subsequent Geneva Accords divided Vietnam into North and South Vietnam. Ho devoted his efforts to constructing a communist society in North Vietnam. In the early 1960s, a new war broke out in the South, where communist-led guerrillas mounted an insurgency against the U.S.-supported regime in Saigon. When the United States intervened militarily, Ho directed his forces in a protracted war against the Americans. During this period, Ho continued to provide inspirational leadership to his people, but as his health deteriorated, he increasingly assumed a more ceremonial role as policy was shaped by others. Still, he was the embodiment of the revolution and remained a communist icon after his death in 1969.