Hoang Bao was barely 20 years old when he trekked to Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam to fight the French, facing his enemy full of hatred and ready to die for his country's independence, reports Channel NewsAsia.
More than 60 years after the communists' shock victory in the epic battle, the site of which French prime minister Édouard Philippe will visit Saturday, retired colonel Bao is happy to call his former foe a friend.
"We have no hatred toward the French any more," 85-year-old Bao told AFP in Hanoi, wearing his dark green military uniform decorated with medals.
But he said there are important lessons to be learned from the bloody 56-day fight that sparked the collapse of France's colonial Indochina empire and paved the way for northern Vietnam's independence.
"The French didn't learn our history well, so they lost ... Vietnam is different from other countries, we are not willing to surrender," he said.
Vietnam's win over the French led to the country's division into the communist-ruled north, headed by revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, and a pro-US southern regime.
That set the stage for two decades of war which would end with unification and America's defeat in the Vietnam War in 1975.
Today France is one of Vietnam's most important allies, with soaring trade worth US$7.6 billion and cosying military alliances.