Vietnam War: A combat priest who wandered the jungle for 17 years and survived

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Vietnam War: A combat priest who wandered the jungle for 17 years and survived

Vietnam War: A combat priest who wandered the jungle for 17 years and survived

Today, 75-year-old Pastor Wai Hun Nai is preaching the gospel in the comfort of his church in the state of North Carolina, USA. But there was also a time in his life when he spent nearly two decades wandering the jungles in his youth and preaching to his comrades fighting with the Vietnamese forces long after the end of the Vietnam War. His rifle AK-47 was never separated from him.

During his escape, he remained cut off from the world. Han Nai and his unit of rebels roamed around in search of food and hunted for tiger skins to pay the Khmer Rouge government. His 'forgotten army' did not surrender until 1992 when Han Nai negotiated for their release.

Wai Hin Nai had his first near-death experience on the night of January 30, 1968, when the Viet Cong, fighting for communist North Vietnam, launched a massive attack on the US-controlled part of Vietnam under the guise of a New Year's celebration. 

Hin Nai grew up in Vietnam and lived with American Christian missionaries in Bavaon Mathut, the largest city in Vietnam's central highlands. He says that his parents, due to poverty, left him with the missionaries at the age of eight in the hope that their child would have a better life.

His adoptive 'godmother' Caroline Griswold was sleeping when the rocket struck. Separate reports from missionaries said that communist soldiers also attacked inside the house.

Carolyn's father Leon was killed in the attack. Han Nai, who was staying with a friend that night, rushed to his home and pulled Carolyn from the wreckage, but she died.

"My godmother died of pain," he says. God saved my life.

Many other missionaries were killed or captured while Han Nai hid in a bunker.

Despite the loss of a pin, Han Nai did not give up and continued to advance. He studied in Bible school and worked in the church.

They did not join the war until a decisive battle in March 1975. The US-backed southern forces were decimated in this battle and forced to retreat from Bwan Mathut.

Hun Nai and 32 Bible School students escaped by walking miles during the rain of bombs. It was at this time that Han Nai was approached by United Front (Furlow) fighters fighting for the freedom of the oppressed races. The Furlough was an armed rebel movement that supported the autonomy of an ethnic minority called the Montagnards. The people of these highlands have long faced persecution in Vietnam for their Christian faith and other reasons.

They hoped that Han Nai's close connections with American missionaries and his English would give him an advantage in getting help from American troops.

It should be noted that before the US withdrew from the war in 1973, tens of thousands of mountaineers were recruited as front-line fighters.

Han Nai said he was drawn to join the fighters who were devout Christians like him. "I had no choice, it touched my heart," he says.

On March 10, 1975, he escaped to the forest with his companions. For the first four years, he lived inside Vietnam's borders, constantly on the run, hiding from the army.

'Shoot and run, shoot and run,' says Hun Nai. We didn't have good weapons.' He added that he himself was not directly involved in combat, but carried an AK-47 for self-defense and hunting.

Vietnam War: A combat priest who wandered the jungle for 17 years and survived

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