French Indochina, which covered Annam, Tonkin, Cochin China, Cambodia and Laos, was established in 1887. Ho Chi Minh, founder of the Việt Minh, proclaimed the democratic republic of Vietnam on 2 September 1945. For eight years, beginning in 1946, Việt Minh waged war against the colonists. In early 1954, they managed to encircle and stifle Diên Bien Phu. There, after five months of fierce fighting, they overcame the French resistance. French presence in the Far East was coming to an end.
On 14 September 1956, the last French soldier left Saigon.
The signature of the French-Vietnamese protocol in 1986, meant a site had to be found for the construction of a necropolis in France. Fréjus was chosen as having a long colonial history, and where there was a camp for soldiers preparing to leave for Indochina.
The first stone of the necropolis was laid by Jacques Chirac, then Prime Minister, on 19 January 1988. The Memorial was later opened by François Mitterrand, then President of the France.
The bodies resting in the necropolis in Fréjus are those of soldiers “who died for France” as well as civilians. In addition to building a necropolis, there was a plan to create a historic exhibition space. From there came the name “Indochina War Memorial”.
The Memorial is on a 23,403m2 plot of land and was designed by architect Bernard Desmoulin, who worked on the partial restoration of the museum of decorative arts in Paris and the interior design of the Grand Commun in the Palace of Versailles.
It is a periphery 110 m in diameter, the circle symbolizing both the journey and military enclosure that was heir to the tribal spiritual circle. “It’s a kind of metaphor of the loop interrupted by death…”
The rows of alcoves hold the bones of 17,250 identified military personnel. In the crypt, the remains of 3,152 unknown victims lie in an ossuary.
The total number of bodies is 23,945 with 34,955 names inscribed on the memorial wall – soldiers whose bodies were returned to their families, missing soldiers and those left behind. A cultural site with the four main religions represented and a historical exhibition complete the ensemble.
In 2012 the ashes of General Bigeard were also transferred to the Indochina War Memorial. The date chosen, 20 November, is that of Operation Castor, during which he parachuted over Dien Bin Phu at the head of his paras.
The Memorial is the property of the Department of Veteran Affairs and War Victims. It is managed by the Interdepartmental Directorate of Veteran Affairs and War Victims in Marseille.