General Hieu's Parents

All the likable traits in the person of General Hieu, such as handsome, majestic, virtuous, intelligent, skillful, unpretentious, humble, upright, unyielding, just and clairvoyant, etc. were all transmitted to him by his parents. I can attribute the following traits to my mother: handsome, virtuous, unpretentious, humble; and the following traits to my father: majestic, intelligent, skillful, upright, unyielding, fair and clairvoyant.

If one put side by side my mother's picture and my brother's, one cannot not notice the similarity: gentleness, elegance, courteousness and modesty. My mother passed away when I was 4 years old; thus, I was not fortunate in knowing her well. However I still remember fuzzily that one day my Chinese nanny took me to a school in Shanghai to see my mother. At that time my mother was a teacher's aide in a Franco-Vietnamese school reserved for children of Vietnamese policemen working for the French Police in the French Concession. The teacher's aide should have been well liked by the students, because they fought each other to gain the right to hold me in their arms, including male students! I don't remember ever being scolded and beaten by my mother. She treated servants fairly and was well loved by them. She was very religious, and attended a school run by French nuns in Tientsin. She liked to read religious books provided by the nuns. It was one of these religious books which my mother lend to my father that caused my father to convert to Catholicism (my father told us that he became catholic solely for that reason alone, and not because that was the requirement for getting my mother's hand!)

Not as in my mother's case, I know my father well enough to pinpoint exactly which of my brother's traits can be attributed to him. However I prefer to let my father, who is presently 95 years old, speak for himself, because I was able to nudge him into writing his autobiography for his posterity, and let the readers judge for themselves.

Nguyen Van Tin (July 1998)

My Life

I was born on 26 September 1903 in Bac Ninh, a small town 30 km north of Hanoi. My father is Mr Nguyen Dza Tinh, an eastern medicine practitioner, well known by the name of Ong Lang Tinh who had the magic touch. He had two wives: the first wife, whom I called "Mother", had one son named Dan, 7 years older than I, and 3 daughters; the second wife, whom I called "Nanny", had 3 sons: Thuong (same age as Dan), me (Huong) and Tue, 3 years younger than I, and 3 daughters. After my Nanny passed away, my father unofficially married a third wife, a concubine I might say, known as Chi Ba (3rd Sister). She gave birth to a boy named Sac, whose name changed to Nguyen Ngoc Dzanh when he became a young man.

The head of the family was my paternal grand mother; she became a widow at the age of 35, very resourceful, raised her only son, sent him to eastern medicine training center. She also learned by listening and by observing and was able to cure simple illness cases. When I was 10, my Nanny contracted tuberculosis, lied in bed for more than a year then died. A few years later, my father contracted intestinal complication and died at the age of 58. My Mother took care of me as her own son. When I attended 5th grade at a Franco-Vietnamese primary school, the teacher's name was Mr. Truong Quy Binh. At that time, my two brothers had graduated from Buoi High School, and both had become teachers: Dan taught in Phu Lang Thuong and Thuong taught 4th grade in Bac Ninh.

Under the French Protectorate, French was the language used in school. All subject classes were taught in French; Vietnamese was considered as a foreign language. Each week we had only a few hours of "Theme" lessons: translation from Vietnamese to French; "Version" lessons: translation from French to Vietnamese.

I was very studious in learning French: I read the weekly magazine for educators "Le Journal des Instituteurs"; numerous books for children "Livres Roses"; a long story book "Le Morne du Diable" by Eugene Sue; "L'Expedition au Pole Sud de l'Amiral Peary". Then when I attended Buoi High School in Hanoi, I read a lot of French novels authored by: Rousseau, Diderot, Andre Theuriet, Anatole France, Paul Bourget, etc... My essays in French got high marks from my French teachers: 7, 8, 9 on a scale of 10. My essay "Le foyer paternel" (My father's household), received a 9 from Ms Alice Godbille who sent it back to France to show how well her students wrote French...

During the 4 years in Buoi High School (1917-1921) I was ranked number 1, and at the graduation examination, in June 1921, I was the valedictorian, but got only a mention "Assez Bien" (Fairly Good). The diploma issued was "Diplome d'Etudes complementaires franco-annamites", equivalent of 9th grade level. Besides that, I underwent and got 2 other diplomas sent directly from Paris , issued by the France Education Department:"Brevet Elementaire" and "Certificat d'Etudes Primaires Superieurs".

If one possessed one of these diplomas, one could apply to the following high education establishments: Teachers' Institute, Civil Engineering, Medicine, Pharmacy, Business, Agriculture, Veterinary, or work as a secretary at the French Governor Bureau, or as elementary teachers.

But after the graduation, I listened to my brother-in-law, Do Duc Du, who every year went to sell embroidered products in Tientsin, North China. He told me:"I know a Vietnamese named Nguyen Van Khai. He only possesses a primary diploma and works at "Banque Franco-Chinoise" in Tientsin, and enjoys a salary equal to a General Manager in Vietnam. There is a French Concession and a lot of French merchants, perhaps you can find a good paid job."

I went to the "Commissariat de Police" to apply for an I.D. card, took it to the "Resident of France" to apply for an exit permit. The Resident asked me a few questions, took out a form, filled it out and then signed it:"Le nomme Nguyen Van Huong, ne le 26.9.1903 est autorise a se rendre a Tientsin, Chine. Bac Ninh, le 2 juillet 1921. (Signed) Le Resident de France, Bouteiller."

My brother Thuong bought me a credit certificate worth 150 dong, I went to Mr Ca Hoan's shop, had a khaki suite and a shirt made, bought a tie, a pair of shoes, a hat. Together with my brother-in-law, we went to Hai Phong, boarded the "Canton" ship sailing for Hong Kong, stayed in Hong Kong for a few days, then boarded the "Shangtung" to go to Tientsin.

I advertised in the wanted section. A few days later, I was hired by a French construction company "Brossard Mopin & Cie" as a secretary. My job was to enter outgoing construction materials used for X, Y, Z construction projects into a registry book... The accountant manager, a Chinese, found fault with my penmanship, introduced a relative to replace me. I lost my first job. Fortunately, Mr Khai, besides his position at the bank, also moonlighted as an accountant manager at "Lemoine & Cie", took me in as his assistant accountant. Beside that, Mrs Khai asked me to tutor her two daughters named Nghiem and Lien, who were attending a school run by French nuns "Soeurs St Joseph". Remuneration: free room and board. Temporarily settled!

For listening and speaking days in and days out, I ended up speaking Chinese, and also English. All correspondence in English sent to England and the United States were written and typed by me.

There were two Chinese colleagues, Pierre Che and Joseph Pang, good catholics. They often enticed me to receive baptism. I joked around: "Even if you gave me a million dollars, I still would not convert to catholicism." Not long after that, I read a book given to Nghiem by the nuns, and was touched by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When I received baptism, Joseph Pang jokingly asked me:"How many million dollars did they offer you!"

In 1925, a French lieutenant was transferred from Hanoi. One day he came to our office for a business. My boss introduced me:"Ce jeune homme vient de Hanoi; il parle francais comme un Marseillais." The lieutenant asked me with a big brother tone of voice: "Depuis combien de temps travailles-tu ici?" (You, kid, how long have you been working here?). I calmly responded: "Depuis bientot deux ans, mon lieutenant."(Sir, almost two years), then retorted: "Et toi, combien de temps as-tu vecu dans mon pays?" (And you, kid, how long did you reside in my country?) The lieutenant blushed, raised his eyebrows, but then smiled: "Je vous demande pardon, Monsieur, une mauvaise habitude.(I beg your pardon, Sir, it was a bad habit).

Later on, my boss recruited a former French officer for the position of business manager named Plessis. He had the ambition to expand the company's trading business, and sold weapons, ammunition, armored vehicles, canons, combat airplanes to the Chinese Warlords like Chang Tso Lin, Wu Pei Fu, etc.

Mr. Plessis set up an office in Moukden, capital of Manchuria, hired a manager named Tesmar, an Eastern European. One day Mr. Plessis on a business trip to Moukden, hurried up back, gave me 5,000 dollars, told me to bribe a Chinese Colonel named Liu, in case he threatened a law-suit. In connivance with colonel Liu, the director of Communications of the Moukden army accepted 100,000 dollars in order to import goods, and gave half of that amount to Liu...That was it, there were no imported goods! But Liu was greedy, after a few weeks, he wanted to collect estate money. A few days after my arrival in Moukden, colonel Liu had a contingent of soldiers occupied the warehouse. Tesmar told me that colonel Liu would not accept the 5,000 dollars. I ran to a nearby French company and telephoned the French Consul requesting him to intervene. In a few minutes, Mr. Crespin arrived, and told colonel Liu:"If there is a complaint against a French company, I am here to resolve the matter with General Chang Tso Lin, you should not behave in such a cavalier manner!" The colonel sheepishly withdrew. After the Consul left, Tesmar whispered into my ear:"All has been resolved now, let us share the 5,000 dollars between the two of us!" I shook my head:"No way! I am returning the money to the boss."

In 1925, I married Nghiem. The marriage banquet was held with solemnity at the "National Grand Hotel", with the presence of the French Consul, my boss and his wife, and a lot of French and hundreds of Vietnamese soldiers (working for the French army).

My first son, Trung was born on 4 September 1927; Hieu, my second son, was born on 23 June 1929; Tiet, my third son, was born on 17 April 1932...In the beginning of 1933, Trung was 6, Hieu was 5, there was no school for them. I resigned my job to return to Nhatrang where a position awaited me at Caltex company. But once in Shanghai, while awaiting to trans board to a Messageries Maritime ship to go to Saigon, a classmate of mine, Nguyen Duc Mao, principal of the Franco-Vietnamese school reserved for Vietnamese children of more than one thousand Vietnamese policemen in the French Concession, advised me to remain and look for a job with the French Concession Police Bureau and place my two sons in his school, and have their mother work there as a teacher's aide.

Fortunately, when I applied for a job at the French Concession Police Bureau, the director inquired if I knew stenography. I answered:"Sir, I have read the book "Stenographie en 20 lecons" by G. Buisson, but only have a superficial knowledge." He took out a report, dictated to me a dozen of lines. I scribbled something that did not look like stenography, but recited back without a mistake!

I only officially worked starting the beginning of the following month at the French Concession Police Bureau. Base salary: 300 dong, knowledge of Japanese: 20 dong; of English: 20 dong, of Chinese: 20 dong; of Chinese characters: 60 dong; overtime: 60 dong; teaching French to Vietnamese policemen: 60 dong; total: 540 dong. Nghiem's salary as a teacher's aide at the Franco-Vietnamese school: 60 dong.

After a few months I gained the reputation of an excellent writer in French. French employees flocked to me to have their reports typed (and corrected). In particular, I regularly corrected the reports of the Chief of Security. I attended classes in "Police Technique". After 3 months of testing, I received a diploma with Honor. In June 1939, I took the French Baccalaureat and passed with Mention "Good".

In June 1940, France was occupied by Germany. Mr. Jobez, the deputy director and lieutenant P. Blanchet, left Shanghai to return to France to join the resistant movement. The French Concession was reverted to China. In 1946, under the Japanese occupation, China suffered a terrible starvation. Nghiem, my wife and Trung, my first born, contracted tuberculosis and died. In May 1949, I and my children boarded a French Navy destroyer to go back to Saigon. With us was Truong Ma Le...

A few months later, I went to Hanoi to be the Deputy Director of the Northern Vietnam Police and Security Bureau, under Mr. Nguyen Dinh Tai, the director and a former classmate. Truong Ma Le agreed to come with me to the North and married me. Nha, our first son, was born in 1950; Lich, a girl, was born in 1953; Thiep, a girl, was born in 1955; Liem, our benjamin, was born in 1957. Hieu attended the Dalat Military Academy, became captain, major, attended high command school in the United States, promoted to lieutenant colonel, colonel, major general, married to Pham Thi Huong, gave birth to 3 boys (Dung, Cam, Hoang) and 3 girls (Thu, Ha, Hang), was assassinated on 8 April 1975 for being suspected of fomenting a coup d'etat.

After I lost the Deputy Director of Police and Security job, a colleague told me:"We end up poor for being honest. I won't be that foolish the next time around!" After that, I was assigned to the position of Director of Police and Security. An opium smuggler group sent a representative to offer me a deal:"If you order your policemen to look away and not to take a close look at flights coming back from Laos, we will give you 1 million dong for each flight. There will be a flight for each month." I refused, and so still remained poor after my end of duty as Director of Police and Security.

In 1954, our family moved to Saigon. Premier Minister Ngo Dinh Diem had me come in and consulted me if it was possible to squash the police units force of Bay Vien. I advised him that he just had to call in the paratroopers. After that I was assigned to the position of Deputy General Director Of the Security Bureau, as an assistant to General Nguyen Ngoc Le. One day, the General Director had me come into his office and instructed me to imprison all corrupted public servants who accepted bribery. I told him:"In such case, mon General, I have to arrest you first!" As a consequence, I was demoted to the position of Director of Police Training Center.

On 29 April 1975, Tri, Tin, Hieu's wife and children emigrated to the United States. I remained back, had to enter reeducation camp on 15 June 1975. In January 1983, at the intervention of Tran Dai Nghia, a son-in-law of my brother Thuong, was released from the camp, and in January 1988, again at the intervention of my nephew-in-law, emigrated to the United States...

Nguyen Van Huong
New York, June 1995