Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris in 1969

In a warm and friendly atmosphere, the interesting stories of three special guests from Switzerland brought Vietnamese Ambassador to France and listeners back to the vibrant anti-war atmosphere of the years 1969-1970.

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Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris
The Vietnamese Ambassador to France received three Swiss citizens, Olivier Parriaux, Noé Graff, and Bernard Bachelard (from left to right respectively), participating in hanging the flag of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam on top of Notre Dame Cathedral Paris on January 18 – 19, 1969. Photo: VNA

Vietnamese Ambassador to France Dinh Toan Thang on March 25 has met with the three Swiss nationals who flew the flag of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam on top of Notre Dame Cathedral Paris on January 18 – 19, 1969, to protest the war and advocate peace for the Vietnamese people, VNA reported.

At the gathering in Paris on March 25, Bernard Bachelard, Olivier Parriaux, and Noé Graff from Lausanne city of Switzerland recalled their 30-hour journey to plant the flag on January 18 – 19.

The event took place over 50 years ago, but it was not until 2019 when the cathedral’s spire collapsed in a fire, that the truth about this event was revealed.

They said they started their action on January 18, 1969, when the negotiations on peace for Vietnam began.

At that time, Bernard Bachelard (a 26-year-old physical education teacher), Noé Graff (a 24-year-old law student), and Olivier Parriaux (a 25-year-old physics student) had been strongly engaging in the movements protesting the wars waged by the US and France in Vietnam.

Parriaux noted that as soon as then US President Lyndon Johnson declared to halt bombing in North Vietnam and expressed their readiness for negotiations, the three Swiss realized that the talks in Paris from January 18, 1969, would be a special event leading to the international recognition of the front which had been set up nine years before that.

To celebrate the negotiations in an impressive way, they decided to select a high location, not the Eiffel Tower but a highly humane place respected by the whole world, and that was Notre Dame Cathedral Paris.

Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris
Three Swiss citizens and the Ambassador offer incense at Uncle Ho’s altar in the campus of the Vietnamese Embassy in France. Photo: VNA
Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris
Vietnamese Ambassador to France Dinh Toan Thang (second from right) meets with the three Swiss nationals – Bernard Bachelard (first, left), Noé Graff (second, left), and Olivier Parriaux on March 25. Photo: VNA

Parriaux made the plan, Graff was in charge of driving and guarding, and Bachelard with support from Parriaux was the one climbing to the spire to fly the flag.

This action required thorough preparations since they were not Parisians and didn’t know how to reach the spire, Parriaux recounted, noting that they reached Paris around noon on Saturday, January 18, 1969.

Bachelard and Parriaux hid in the cathedral’s bell tower and waited until the evening when they moved to the spire while Graff was standing guard. They also had to cut some iron bars to prevent firefighters from accessing it and ensure the flag would stay on the spire long enough so that people could see it the next day, on Sunday, January 19.

All their action took place in 30 hours, and before returning home, they dropped by the headquarters of the Le Monde daily to send a communiqué of their action, Parriaux added.

The flag of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam, with a rectangular shape, half red, half blue, and with a yellow star in the center, proudly fluttered against the blue sky, under the eyes of locals and tourists.

It was not until 3 pm on January 19 that the flag of the front was removed by the Paris firefighting team, which had to use a helicopter for the first time to perform a mission then. Journalists, photographers, and videographers had been able to capture that scene from any angle. Finally, Raymond Belle, a firefighter, and stuntman (now deceased) hung himself from a helicopter cable to approach the cross. In extremely difficult conditions and after many failures, this brave firefighter managed to take the flag down.

The flag planting on the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral Paris became a hot topic for international media at that time, Parriaux said, adding they were satisfied with the influence of this event while nobody knew they had made it. The three kept the truth about this event for 50 years.

He went on to say that they decided to reveal the truth by writing a book about it just several days after the cathedral’s spire collapsed in a 2019 fire, 50 years after their action because they were deeply touched by the collapse.

Another reason was that the Quan doi Nhan dan (People’s Army) newspaper of Vietnam wrote in an article that the flag planting 50 years ago was considered one of the important events in the cathedral’s centuries-long history, he said.

“It also proves that the Vietnamese government has recognized that our actions are also important to Vietnam’s history, and this makes us very happy. The book also has a great meaning when it is published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” Parriaux added.

Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris in 1969
Photos showing the Swiss nationals’ process to reach the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral Paris on January 18 – 19, 1969, to plant the flag of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam. Source: VNA
Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris
The book titled “Le Viet Cong au sommet de Notre-Dame” (The Viet Cong atop Notre Dame) was launched in January 2023.

Titled “Le Viet Cong au sommet de Notre-Dame” (The Viet Cong atop Notre Dame), the book was launched by the Lausanne-based FAVRE publishing company in January 2023 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam (January 27, 1973).

Expressing his gratitude towards the Swiss nationals, Ambassador Thang described their flag planting as a demonstration of peace-loving people’s support for Vietnam, noting amid the resistance war against the US, the international community’s support played a significant role in helping the Vietnamese people secure the 1973 Paris Peace Accords and move towards the national reunification in 1975.

The ambassador also emphasized that welcoming the three Swiss citizens this time not only “recalls that period of the nation’s history, but it is also an opportunity to express our gratitude to you, as well as to the entire movement to support the Vietnamese people during the heroic years of the Vietnamese people’s resistance war against the US, the struggle for national independence and national reunification”.

Meeting Three People Planting Vietnam Flag atop Notre Dame Cathedral Paris in 1969
Pictures of firefighters using helicopters to remove the Vietnamese flag from the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris were published in the international press.

Hannah Nguyen