Born Nguyen Sinh Cung, as Ho Chi Minh
he became the leader of a Vietnamese nationalist movement that fought against the French, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Americans and eventually secured an independent and unified Vietnam
Born into a family with strong nationalist feelings, Ho left Vietnam in 1911 working as a ship's cook. Working aboard ship he would travel to Africa, Europe, and the United States. While abroad he helped found the French Communist Party in 1920. He then travelled to study revolutionary tactics in Moscow. In 1924 the Comintern sent him to China as a communist agent. It was in China that he assumed the name he would make famous; from the identification papers he bought that had been taken off a dead chinese man.
Ho's travels abroad as a communist agent landed him in numerous troubles. In 1929 he was sentenced to death by the French for his rebel activities. He escaped to England - where he was again imprisoned. In 1941, back in China again, he was arrested by the Chinese government (under Chiang Kai-shek) as a French spy. He escaped to southern China where he began building the League for the Independence of Vietnam or Viet Minh. During World War II Ho also served as an agent for the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) -- which later became the CIA.
The Japanese had taken control of Vietnam during World War II and it was they whom the Viet Minh were organized to fight against. In 1945 the Japanese granted Vietnam its independence -- and Vietnam was ruled by Emperor Bao Dai. The Viet Minh formed a government in exile with Ho Chi Minh as President. When the Japanese were defeated, ending World War II, Bao Dai stepped down and in September 1945 Ho assumed control of his Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Ho was always a pragmatic leader. He was never so much an ideologue as a nationalist -- using ideology, communism in his case, as a means to achieve an independent Vietnamese state. He tried to work with the French after World War II, but they were unwilling to grant the Vietnamese independence. So, for eight years the Viet Minh fought the French, finally defeating them decisively in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu.
The victory did not result in Ho's goal of a unified and independent Vietnam. In 1956 international intervention resulted in Vietnam being divided into two parts -- North and South. Elections were scheduled to unify the country, but the United States reneged on these plans and instead supported puppet governments in the south for the next 20 years.
Not to be deterred, Ho organized a guerrilla movement in the South, the National Liberation Front or Viet Cong. The Viet Cong would eventually drive the United States from Vietnam, but at great cost. Ho would not live to see his goal of a unified independent Vietnam. He died in 1969, while the United States retreated from Vietnam in 1975.
One of the first acts the unified government undertook was to rename Saigon, once capital of the south, Ho Chi Minh City. Ho's body lies on display in Vietnam's capitol, Hanoi, just as the Russians had displayed Lenin's body in Moscow before the fall of communism in that country.
Noung says Ho Chi Minh means "He who enlightens" and that his birth name was Nguyen Sinh Cung. Nguyen Tat Thanh was the name given to him upon entering adolescence and means; "He who will succeed"