whose legacy was second only to that of his mentor,
founding president Ho Chi Minh.
Giap died Friday evening(September 4, 2013) in a military hospital in the capital of Hanoi, where he had spent close to four years growing weaker and suffering from long illnesses.
Called the "Red Napoleon," he stood out as the leader of a ragtag army of guerrillas who wore sandals made of car tyres and lugged their artillery piece by piece over mountains to encircle and crush the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The unlikely victory, which is still studied at military schools, not only led to Vietnam's independence but also hastened the collapse of colonialism across Indochina and beyond. Giap went on to defeat the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, reuniting a country that had been "temporarily" split.
"No other wars for national liberation were as fierce or caused as many losses as this war," Giap told The Associated Press in 2005, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the former South Vietnamese capital.
"But we still fought because, for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom," he said, repeating a famous quote by Ho Chi Minh.
Giap remained sharp and well versed in politics and current events until he was hospitalized. Well into his 90s, he entertained world leaders, who posed for photographs and received autographed copies of his books while visiting the general's shady colonial-style home in Hanoi.
Although he was widely revered in Vietnam, Giap was the nemesis of South Vietnamese who fought alongside U.S. troops and fled their homeland after the war, including the many staunchly anti-communist refugees who settled in the United States.
Born August 25, 1911, in central Vietnam's Quang Binh province, Giap became active in politics in the 1920s and worked as a history teacher and journalist before joining the Indochinese Communist Party. He was jailed briefly in 1930 for leading anti-French protests and later earned a law degree from Hanoi University.
He fled French police in 1940 and met Ho in southwestern China before returning to rural northern Vietnam to recruit guerrillas for the Viet Minh, a forerunner to the later southern insurgency derogatorily called 'Viet Cong' by the U.S. and Saigon government.
During his time abroad, his wife was arrested by the French and died in prison. He later remarried and had five children.
In 1944, Ho called on Giap to organize and lead guerrilla forces against Japanese invaders during World War II. After Japan surrendered to Allied forces the following year, the Viet Minh continued their fight for independence from France.
"It was an unbelievable story."
VIDEO (5:28): Film footage of the General, and interview with Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst during the U.S.-Vietnam War.
From Melbourne Age newspaper, September 5, 2013: