Ho Chi Minh was little known to most Vietnamese in 1911 when he boarded a French passenger ship in Saigon as an assistant cook to discover the world. He spent 30 years abroad, working as a pastry chef in Boston, studying in Paris and moving to Moscow, where he became a Communist agent. He traveled through China, Hong Kong and Thailand before returning covertly to Vietnam and setting up headquarters in mountain caves.
Ho—his full name translates as He Who Enlightens—hoped for reunification of Vietnam, which had fought China on and off for a thousand years, spent nearly a century under French rule and had been occupied by Japan in World War II. Ho died at age 79 in 1969, his dream of a united Vietnam still unfulfilled.