The story of a volunteer - Pierre Pihan, alias "le Quintal"
Only noise could be heard and smoke seen hovering over the Ninh Binh church, which sheltered Commando François. Its roof gave way under Viet mortars and its nave was a shelling target.
From calcareous rocks GIAP bo-doïs thronged towards the smoke-filled church. Mortars and cannons intensified shooting without recoil; machineguns soon joined the party, followed by individual arms. SEVENO’s mortar stopped shooting and its men took shelter in the church.
As large pieces of roof continued to crash down from above, remaining in the church became quite dangerous. The pasha decided to jostle the enemy in order to come out around friendly positions in Ninh Binh. As soon as the men started emerging, they came under machinegun fire impeding them from advancing. The MG was just next to the church, at the foot of a statue of Christ. Under a cover of fire, petty officer HENRY and leading seaman CZARNECHI armed with a MG, rushed down the stairs and passed through the bursts. Leading seaman MALECOT fell on the square, PIHAN maintained a hell of fire to cover CZARNECHI, who with an MG at his hip, opened fire bringing the Viet section under control. Enemy fire on the square ceased, allowing the commandos to spring out of the trap.
The intensity of Viet fire was such that the pasha considered it impossible passing the lines in a group and so ordered a dislocation: “small groups and move on!” With PIHAN (le Quintal) leading the way, followed by SEVEN, MULLER, BRIOT and COSSO, they headed towards a pagoda, which stood against the light, in the hope of finding a way out. Thinking the commandos were still in the church, the Viet concentrated shooting on the building. As the small group headed towards the Rach and Doris camouflés a volley of mortar shells and grenades landed on them, plunging them into sludge. The Viet were behind an embankment, just three metres away from the commandos. COSSO who laid against PIHAN became lifeless. The giant turned towards SEVEN who grimaced in pain and then died as well. The shock was immense and the pain unbearable. Le Quintal who had just been wounded managed to stand up only to realize that BRIOT too was dead.
A section of crazy bo-doïs rushed towards the church shouting and trample passed over the commando, crushing his huge bloody body in the sludge. Realizing the horde had passed, he struggled and turned on his back, and mustering up his ultimate strength, he hitched himself up and ran towards the rach tripping over a body which sprang up. It was MULLER! Together they covered some twenty metres before hearing gun shots. PIHAN was wounded on the right flank, while MULLER was killed instantly. PIHAN fired one or two bursts in the direction of the shots. A group of Viet came out shouting and rushing to capture him. He pretended to be dead beside his buddy’s body. The Viet trampled passed over both of them heading for the church. He saw CZARNECHI and two other commandos taken prisoners and led away by the bo-doïs who milled about. From his hideout, he could see that German Legion deserters were serving Viet mortars.
A few metres away from him, he could hear Viet voices. A grenade was thrown in his direction gashing his right hip. He bled profusely; the pain was unbearable. But he managed to hang on to life thanks to the unshakable desire to return to the doris . He crawled towards the rach and could hear water splashing against the banks. The Viet scurried around furiously hunting for escaped commandos.
Finally he got to the rach, dived into the fresh water and managed to cross over. Coming out of the water, he inspected his weapons and staggered along a path to a wall where he collapsed, completely exhausted. Awaken by noise from behind the wall he had already clutched his gun ready to open fire when he discovered it came from three commandos: MAHE, CAZEAU and MASSEBOEUF. Hearing bursts, PIHAN told his friends it would be better for them to go and get backup before coming to rescue him. As they left, he squashed himself up against the wall.
PIHAN got up and tried to run after his friends. He heard gun shots, then a voice; it was that of his friend CAROFF who ordered a ceasefire. He was at home.
PIHAN was operated in Hanoi , in the nick of time. He and his friends CAROFF and SIMON are today our heroes in the Amicale des fusiliers marins et commandos (marines’ and commandos’ association) of Toulon .
The Viet, infuriated by the resistance of this handful of men, executed in total disrespect of war conventions, seventeen soldiers on the sites where the confrontations took place. Nine men died in captivity and twelve were reported missing. Nine others were killed during fighting while twenty-four survived. Five men were liberated from the prison camp.