UNITED STATES PILOTS MAY HEVE controlled the air during the Vietnam War, but it was a petite, 5’4″ radio announcer who seemed in control of the airwaves. Dubbed Hanoi Hannah by U.S. troops, Trinh Thi Ngo was North Vietnam’s radio propaganda queen, whose thrice-daily broadcasts urged GIs to quit the “unjust and immoral war.” Between Elvis Presley and Herb Alpert records, Ngo coolly recited the names of newly killed or captured Americans, read articles from U.S. newsweeklies about peace demonstrations back home and played taped messages from stateside antiwar activists.
Many servicemen didn’t tune in, but Ngo had a captive audience in prison camps, where, says Arizona Sen. John McCain, a POW for five years, he and his fellow prisoners gleaned what news they could from her “somewhat amusing but heavy-handed” broadcasts. “The Americans called it propaganda,” says Ngo. “We just thought we had to tell them the best thing to do was not to interfere in the affairs of the Vietnamese.”
Now, 20 years after the fall of Saigon, Ngo,, 64, lives in a modest three-room apartment in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) with her husband, retired engineer Nguyen Van Rang, 65, and their daughter Thu Huong, 35. A son, Quang Tuyen, 36, is an abstract painter living in Europe. She has worked as a translator for the city’s television station since 1966 and this year went on the air as a part-time English-language newsreader. “Sometimes my colleagues joke and call me Hannah, ” she says. “But I don’t mind.”
Ngo was an unlikely choice to become communism’s voice. She had grown up as the pampered daughter of a glass-factory owner, taken private English lessons and steeped herself in French-subtitled Hollywood movies. When North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh started his drive to reunite the partitioned country in 1955,, Ngo eagerly volunteered at Voice of Vietnam, little realizing how useful English skills would be when American troops began pouring in 10 years later. “I had to do something for the country,” she says.
More than two decades later, Ngo is still at it, though her goals now have little to do with war. “My biggest ambition is to travel,” she says, “and to see my children marry and have grandchildren.”