Huynh Tan Mam
Huynh Tan Mam was a leader of the student protest movement during the American War. He came from a poor peasant family in a small town; the only one in his village who went to the city to get an education beyond elementary school. Mam joined his first student organization in 1960 while he was a high school student in Sai Gon. He continued his involvement through medical school and was eventually elected president of the Student Committee of South Viet Nam.
Mam was arrested ten times and imprisoned in eleven different jails in South Viet Nam. In all, he spent five years in prison. His first arrest was in 1970, as the student movement was heating up with mass demonstrations on the streets of Sai Gon. His last arrest was in January of 1972. The government always moved Mam around from prison to prison in an attempt to isolate him from the movement raging outside. But, in fact, Mam was communicating with student leaders through the prison guards.
The authorities beat and tortured Mam, trying to bribe him with promises they would take care of his mother if he would inform on his colleagues. He never accepted and the beatings would continue. “They gave me electric shock or would shine a bright light in my eyes. They beat me on my knees so that when I went to court I was not able to walk. They hung me upside down and put needles in fingertips. They beat the joints of my fingers. The most painful torture was being beaten over and over again in the same swollen spot.”
Mam was released two days before reunification in 1975, but the impact of his ordeal lived on after the war: “After liberation, when I went outside and saw police cars I would think they were going to catch me. Or I would hear the ring of keys and think the police were coming and I would go to jail again. That time was terrible. Sometimes I would see the people who beat me in prison. When they finished re-education camp they came back to Sai Gon. At first I was angry, but those feelings have now softened."