On May 7 Vietnam celebrated the 55th anniversary of its decisive victory over U.S.–backed French colonialist forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu during the First Indochina War. At Dien Bien Phu City in mountainous northwestern Vietnam, solemn ceremonies and military parades, as well as artistic and sporting events, were held to celebrate the anniversary.

The battle was fought between the Viet Minh, led by General Vo Nguyen Giap (now 98 years old) and a 13,000 strong French military force garrisoned in the Muong Thanh Valley, where Dien Bien Phu is located. In an amazing logistical feat, the Viet Minh moved infantry and artillery into the steep mountains surrounding the French garrison. After a 57-day siege lasting from March 13 to May 7, 1954, the Viet Minh charged down from their mountain bases and overran the French.

Widely regarded as one of the most important military engagements of the 20th century, the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu was the first time that a non-Western national liberation army was able to defeat a modern Western military force. It led to French withdrawal from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and eventually to the massive U.S. military intervention in Southeast Asia during the Second Indochina War, known in the U.S. as the Vietnam War, and in Vietnam as the American War. During the battle, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower first put forward the infamous Domino Theory, which articulated the U.S ruling class’ fear of Communist expansion in Southeast Asia.

The immediate aftermath of the French defeat was the signing of the Geneva Accords, intended to temporarily divide Vietnam into a North and a U.S.-controlled South until the country could be unified on the basis of internationally supervised elections scheduled for July 1956. Certain of a Communist electoral victory that would make Ho Chi Minh leader of a unified, socialist Vietnam, the U.S. and South Vietnam refused to hold the elections. South Vietnamese citizens opposed to this treacherous move formed the Communist National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong, which fought a war of national liberation against U.S. occupation forces and the South Vietnamese military. The Viet Cong, with the support of the North Vietnamese Army, defeated the United States, which withdrew its forces in 1973. The South Vietnamese army was defeated and the country unified on April 30, 1975.

In the 55 years since the battle, the people of Dien Bien Phu, along with the entire Vietnamese nation, have worked hard to overcome the legacies of colonialism and war. Today, Dien Bien Phu is a thriving city of approximately 98,000 people, and the capital of Dien Bien Province. Recent decades have seen advancements in local agriculture that have eliminated hunger and improved living standards. One-hundred percent of villages in the province have telephones, schools, and medical clinics. Once entirely dependent on agriculture, the region now boasts a diversified industrial and service-based economy which grew an average of 8 percent annually from 2001 to 2005 and 11 percent annually from 2006 to 2008.

At the victory ceremony, Dien Bien Province was awarded the Order of Ho Chi Minh in recognition of its contributions to economic renewal and the construction of socialism in Vietnam. It was the second time the province has won the award.