1. Wife and Children
The three letters General Hieu wrote to his wife from the front-line of Snoul battlefield demonstrated clearly how much General Hieu loved his wife and children, paying attention to minute details concerning their needs, using psychology in his dealings with them, enjoying spending time among them on weekends, either by him going back to Saigon, or by them joining him in Binh Duong or Lai Khe.
General Hieu never mentioned to his wife and children about his military works, partly because of his discreet character, but also because he did not want them to have to worry about the dangers facing a soldier who labored constantly out in the battlefields. Whenever his wife learned through someone else or through the media about his multiple brushes with death, either when his helicopter was fired at, or was gunned down, or when the military situation became extremely critical, then questioned him when he came back home, in those moments, General Hieu always deftly diverted the conversation towards other subjects after assuring her that the media always exaggerated too much! That is why, if one wants to know more about General Hieu, it would be foolish to go and ask his wife and children!
His wife sometimes envied the luxurious lifestyle exhibited by other Generals' madams. In those moments, General Hieu soothed her and persuaded her that a simple lifestyle is more conducive to happiness.
General Hieu described himself when he named his six children Dung, Cam, Anh Thu, Thu Ha, Hoang, Thu Hang: valiant (Dung), courageous (Cam), elegant (Anh Thu), magnanimous (Thu Ha), noble (Hoang), and always the same (Thu Hang).
Tran Ngoc Nhuan wrote:
I had Lieutenant Nguyen Van Hieu as roommate at the officers' quarters of the General Staff Office. We became good friends since that day. He was a gentle, virtuous and fine officer, always extremely helpful toward his friends. (My Military Life, page 59)
Colonel Trinh Tieu wrote:
General Hieu's attitude and work ethics commanded respect and pride among the soldiers of all levels who worked under him at the 22nd Division. Toward his subordinates, he was a Commander who was generous, intelligent, nonpartisan, incorruptible and accepting bribery from no one. (Portrait of a competent and virtuous General)
Colonel Nguyen Khuyen wrote:
I had the privilege to serve under General Hieu's command for a while. He was really a competent general and especially incorruptible. The image of a young General, handsome and yet simply dressed, a moderate and unpretentious character is still vivid in my memory. (Letter dated 18 July 1998)
Colonel John G. Hayes wrote:
General Hieu's good qualities include dedication, experience as a combat leader, ability to stimulate and maintain morale, and ability to control those in his command. He is quite religious and patriotic, and demands high standards of conduct and discipline. He is methodical but decisive. (Evaluation report dated 7 February 1970)
General Hieu always treated his soldiers of all levels with deference, be it a foot soldier; he never addressed them with vulgarities; he was always calm and patient; he only needed a stare or a stern look to straighten back into line a subordinate in the brink of malfeasance.
General Hieu was very unpretentious with soldiers, he did not want to receive a better treatment than they. He never found faults or punished someone who inadvertently was not aware that the person standing in front of him was a General, and thus demonstrated irreverent actions or deeds. On the contrary, during theirs or his after-office hours, General Hieu usually dismissed salutes.
Colonel Le Khac Ly, Chief of Staff of the 22nd Division, recounted how nice General Hieu treated his soldiers:
One day, a Company Commander, Lieutenant Hien carried a TV set and a refrigerator bought in the PX to the Commanding General's residence. Madam the General happily accepted these two expensive gifts and show them to her husband when he came home that evening. General Hieu slightly frowned his eyebrows and gently told his wife these items would have to be returned. The next day, he called in his foolish lieutenant and had the door close for a woodshed session. He said: "I don't think you can afford these two expensive items with your lieutenant's salary, am I right? Did you take out the money from the company's fund to buy them? In such case, I advise you to quickly take back the TV set and the refrigerator to the PX and return the money to where it belongs." Without saying, our lieutenant's face was white like a ghost! Only three persons knew about this incident. Afterwards, General Hieu acted as if it never happened. And at the next regular promotions and awards, Lieutenant Hien's points were not negatively affected.
General Hieu treated his soldiers exactly the way he advised his wife how she should treat their children, which was with a touch of psychology.
The majestic aura that soldiers perceived in General Hieu's personality came from his inner strength, not from an artificial majesty requiring the use of a general's baton, or a combat camouflaged outfit, or a cigar, or an imposing guards detail, etc...And thus they genuinely respected and loved him dearly.
3. General Hoang Xuan Lam.
After General Hieu had been released from the Command of the 5th Division in June 1971, he was transferred to the position of Deputy Commander of the 1st Corps, Danang, under Commanding General Hoang Xuan Lam, who had graduated Class 3/VNMA together with General Hieu.
Upon graduation, General Lam chose to join the Armor Unit. Lieutenant Colonel Lam assumed the command of the Armor Training School in 1957. In 1964, Brigadier General Lam was assigned to the command of the 2nd Division. He was promoted to Major General in 1965. In the end of May 1966, he was designated Commanding General of the 1st Corps, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in June 1967. He was the Commanding General of the Lam Son 719 operation, Laos.
While sitting idle in the seat of 1st Corps Deputy Commander, General Hieu witnessed the growing tension between Brigadier General Vu Van Giai, Commanding General of 3rd Division, and General Lam, Commanding General of 1st Corps, which lead to the insubordination of General Giai who unilaterally initiated the tactical withdrawal of his units from, and thus caused the lost of Quang Tri Province before enemy's attack.
4. General Ngo Quang Truong.
General Truong was General Hieu's cadet, graduating the 4th Class of Thu Duc Vietnamese Military Academy. He was still a Brigadier General in 1968 when General Hieu was already a Major General since 1968.
In March 1964, Captain Truong encountered Colonel Hieu, 2nd Corps Chief of Staff, when he lead Airborne units participating in the Do Xa Campaign; he received a battlefield promotion to Major in this operation. In November 1965, Lieutenant Colonel Truong, came again into contact with Colonel Hieu, when he commanded 4 Airborne Battalions whose mission was to block the retreat of enemy troops that had participated in the Pleime and Ia Drang Valley battles at Duc Co vicinity areas, as requested by the 2nd Corps.
In March 1975, two CIA agents approached General Hieu's father, and asked him if the two Generals Truong and Hieu were or were not good friends, perhaps with the intention of inducing them in joining forces to topple down Thieu with a coup.
5. General Pham Van Phu
General Phu attended the 8th Class of the Vietnamese Military Academy. Initially he did not make the grade to graduate, but then at the last minute, due to the needs of more officers to replenish the growing armed forces of that year, he was allowed to graduate. General Phu was frequently mentioned by the press, even since the day he was a paratrooper captain distinguishing himself in the Dien Bien Phu battle, since he was still a Colonel commanding the 1st Division, then Brigadier General Commander in the Lower Laos operation. He was promoted to Major General for heroic performance in this Lam Son 719 operation in 1972, while nobody knew about General Hieu who was already a Major General at the helm of the 22nd Division since 1968.
On 2 April 1975, General Hieu, in the capacity of Commanding General of the 3rd Corps Forward Commanding Post (only for a short while because President Thieu changed his mind and assigned General Nguyen Vinh Nghi to that position instead) received from General Phu the remaining units of the 2nd Corps to be integrated into the 3rd Corps, at "Lau Ong Hoang" in Phan Thiet. During the changing of arms ceremony, General Hieu had to contain General Phu from killing himself with a pistol, out of frustration against President Thieu who had ordered him to withdraw from the Highlands without giving him sufficient time to prepare for a decent retreat.
6. General Nguyen Van Minh.
General Minh graduated Class 4 of the Dalat Military Academy, one class after General Hieu.
General Hieu belittled General Minh for not knowing to decipher tactical maps properly. General Hieu narrated that when General Minh was assigned to temporarily replace General Tri as the 3rd Corps Commander, who was exiled to France (the official release indicated that General Tri was taking a leave of absence due to health reason), he came to the 5th Division for an initial inspection. Standing in front of a tactical map, he used his general's baton to pompously point at the map and questioned the whereabouts of the artillery positions, with emphasis that without artillery support there would be no real operation. In reality, artillery positions were clearly indicated on the maps. General Hieu, not wanting to embarrass him in front of everybody, made believe that he and his staff might have indeed goofed by remaining silent. Meanwhile all the officers present had to repress their urge to laugh aloud!
General Minh was the one who spoiled the plan which was designed and executed by General Hieu, with General Tri's blessings, to attract the enemy out of its sanctuary into a trap in Operation Snoul. It was an all-encompassing operation which would involve all three Divisions of the 3rd Corps (5th, 18th and 25th). This plan was ready in November 1970. General Hieu had to wait until May 1971 to see the enemy starting to show signs that they were taking in by the bait. At that right moment, the American Advisors at the 3rd Corps level, leaning on General Minh's weakness, interfered with the course of the operational plan and wanted to use massive B-52 bombs, resulting in the near-missed extinction of the 8th Task Force, which was used as the bait, if General Hieu did not muster all his dexterity to extract them from being engulfed by the enemy. (If General Hieu was incompetent he would not be promoted to the 1st Corps Deputy Commander right after that, then the 3rd Corps Deputy Commander in 1973).
General Minh assumed the command of the 3rd Corps on 27 February 1971. Captain E. Stanley, secretary of the General Staff, 3rd Corps gave the following assessment on General Minh when he wrote to Brigadier General Andrew J. Gatsis, HQ, USARPAC, Fort Shafter, Hawaii:
So today, LTG Minh, formerly CG, Capital Military District, has the tremendous responsibility of filling the vacancy of command and control of Military Region 3. Though not confirmed by the government, he will more than likely be the permanent CG. He is seemingly a fine person and a thoughtful as well as capable leader. His intention to keep key men in their positions has enhanced his acceptability.
How wrong that assessment turned out to be! General Minh had weakened the 3rd Corps to the point his units lost one battle after the other, and the enemy was able to cross the border back into Vietnam within a year and directly threaten Saigon in 1972. Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi wrote:
When Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Minh took over the command of the 3rd Corps, our troops were dominating the battlefields, all of a sudden stopped. Our troops went rapidly from an offensive posture to a defensive one. Numerous times, I had to argue with General Minh for the sake of my men's lives.[...] Because of my difference with the Commanding General of the 3rd Corps, in December 1971, I resigned and was replaced on the spot by Colonel Nguyen Kim Dinh, a confident of General Minh. A few months after my departure, the 3rd Corps withdrew its entire units force back into the country, abandoning all important strategic base camps in the territory of Kampuchea. Enemy's pressure immediately built up all along the border. Upon returning to the country, the 3rd Corps Armored Cavalry Brigade was dismantled into pieces by General Minh and the 3rd Corps Assault Task Force was disbanded.
For ruining the strength of the 3rd Corps, General Minh should have been brought to appear before the Congress, as he had forced General Hieu to do so, to explain his reprehensible action, or should even have been court-martialed. But then, because he was one of President Thieu's proteges, he was given back the command of the Capital Military District in 1973 until the end of Saigon's days. How silly and stupid Thieu was for surrounding himself with such incompetent individuals!
When Thieu was about to nominated General Minh to the Command Post of the 3rd Corps in replacement of General Tri, who had just died in a helicopter accident, an American advisor cautioned Thieu to tell General Minh to put a brake on his greediness (he had enriched himself enough just by collecting kickback dues paid by bus owners for the right to enter Saigon bus parking lots). Everybody knew General Minh had a villa built by the Saigon river, in Binh Quoi Tay, Thi Nghe, next to villas of other corrupt military high-ranking officers, such as General Tran Thien Khiem (Prime Minister), General Nguyen Van Vy (Defense Minister), Colonel Pham Van Lieu (Chief of Police and Security Bureau), Colonel Tran Cong Lieu (Commander of Rangers), Colonel Ho Tieu (Commander of Special Forces). If one were allowed to visit General Minh's weekend hideout, one would have noticed piles of bags containing gold leaves wrapped in Kim Thanh papers.
7. General Pham Quoc Thuan.
General Thuan graduated the 5th Class of the Vietnamese Military Academy, two classes later than General Hieu. General Thuan was the predecessor of General Hieu at the 5th Division Command. General Hieu replaced him in August 1969.
When President Thieu called upon General Thuan to take over the 3rd Corps from General Minh's hands, General Thuan bargained with Thieu: General Hieu had to be assigned his Deputy Commander for him to agree to take the 3rd Corps Command.
8. General Du Quoc Dong.
When General Du Quoc Dong was assigned to replace General Thuan, General Hieu remained at the position of 3rd Corps Deputy Commander. General Dong graduated Class 5/VNMA, two classes after General Hieu.
General Dong and General Hieu have had ample opportunities of working together when General Hieu was still Commanding General of the 22nd Division and then of the 5th Division, because as Commanding General of the Airborne Division, his Airborne units were frequently attached to units of the 22nd Division in operational missions in Tactical Region 2, and of the 5th Division in Tactical Region 3 as well during incursions into Cambodia.
General Dong enjoyed the reputation of a good combat leader with his aggressive Airborne fighters. He was known to be able to sustain combat performance for a whole two, three-month duration. However, he would get headache if forced to a two, three hour operational planning session with his General Staff. In this regard, General Dong and General Hieu complemented each other.
9. General Nguyen Van Toan.
General Toan attended the same 3rd class with General Hieu at the Vietnamese Military Academy, but did not make the grade to graduate, and was held back and graduated with the 5th class.
When General Toan got the nickname of "the Baron of cinnamon", General Hieu, as the Anti-Corruption Special Investigator under the Vice-President Tran Van Huong's Office, went to the Center of Vietnam to investigate him.
What a stroke of fate: General Hieu was the Deputy Commander and Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Committee of the 3rd Corps, when General Toan took over the 3rd Corps Command!
General Toan was the first on line suspect in General Hieu's assassination, because of the following factors: had been investigated by General Hieu for corruption, feelings of inferiority toward a more competent subordinate, tactical disagreement, acted under instruction from the Presidency Office. However, it is more likely that the mastermind of General Hieu's assassination was higher placed than General Toan.
General Hieu more than once had to sigh out of frustration for having to work under a General who only knew to attack and attack without planning.
10. President Nguyen Van Thieu.
It is certain that Thieu had ample opportunities to come into contact with Major Hieu, Head of G3 General Staff of the 1st Corps, while he was Colonel Commanding the 1st Division.
When General Thieu, as the Chairman of the Generals' Ruling Committee, was invited by the Taiwan Government to attend its National Day Celebration in 1967, he selected Brigadier General Hieu, the 22nd Division Commander, a shining star among the Generals rank and file, who also knew Mandarin, to accompany the delegation of guests of honor to be the proud show case of the ARVN.
On May 30, 1969, President Thieu was invited to visit Taiwan, General Hieu, who was still 22nd Division Commander, was again chosen to accompay President Thieu as his General Officer Aide de Camp.
But then General Thieu was scared to employ a General more competent than he, and moreover with a straightforward character who hated to bent down with flattery, in addition to that was close to General Do Cao Tri. Consequently, he discarded General Hieu. Therefore, although General Hieu reached the rank of Major General at a very early stage, since 1968, only 39 years old then, when Thieu became President and monopolized the promotion decision to the rank of general (the Chairman of Joint General Staff could only promote up to the rank of colonel) General Hieu was unable to ascend further up to the rank of Lieutenant General, and watched with discouragement other Generals less competent bypassed him.
In the section A$S of a meeting in California, Mr. Thieu said he knew General Hieu was "competent, straight like an arrow and very clean" and he had once the idea of brought him in as his special assistant, but then relinquished him to Vice President Tran Van Huong who wanted him as his Special Assistant in Charge of Anti-Corruption.
Thieu was well aware of General Hieu's competency: he assigned him Deputy Commander of the 3rd Corps, at the time he was willing and ready to relinquish massive chunk of territory to the Communists, retaining only the 3rd and 4th Military Regions, he would not dare entrust General Hieu with the direct command of units with the Command of the 3rd Corps.
When facing with the scene of Thieu frequently appearing on TV to express his displeasure, with tears, with sympathy-seeking endless lamentations, complaining to the whole nation about him being abandoned by the American supporters, General Hieu commented that Thieu was not behaving as a President of a country should.
In the morning of 6 April 1975, President Thieu convoked General Hieu into the Presidential Palace. In that meeting, General Hieu refused to stop an ongoing investigation of a corruption act perpetrated by one of Thieu's cronies. He also criticized openly the ill-planned withdrawals of the 2nd and the 1st Military Regions ordered by Thieu.
Could it be possible that, according to General Vinh Loc, "The President of the South, who distrusted even his own shadow and reflection, was afraid and stood trembling at the thought the Paratroopers and the Armored Units might topple him down" (Letter to our American Friend), equally dread that General Hieu might be contemplating fomenting a coup against him, and thus gave orders to kill him? Was that why he did not show up at General Hieu's wake and funeral?
11. American Generals and Military Advisors
Colonel Trinh Tieu wrote:
From the American and allies units side, General Hieu was well respected because of his dedication to his country and army. In order to defend the sovereignty of the ARVN, Major General Hieu had once to protest the action of the American Major General of the 1st Field Task Force, stationed in Nhatrang, who ordered the 22nd Division to put a regiment commanded by a colonel under the OPCON of a captain chief of district in the pacification program. This action resulted in a heated and complicated argument, and Lieutenant General Lu Lan, Commander of the 2nd Corps had to mediate the two sides. (Portrait of a Competent and Virtuous General)
General Hieu was born in Tientsin and grew up in Shanghai, in the French Concession, where many English and American businessmen, merchants, military personnel and foreign affairs officers operated. That was why he spoke English as a native person. Therefore, he could dialogue and argue at par with American Generals with fluency. In a dialogue concerning Dong Tien Operations between General Hieu and Brigadier General McAuliffe, Senior Advisor of the 3rd Corps, recorded by the latter to be filed because of the meaningfulness and significance of its content, during the first 3 subjects, General McAuliffe talked first, with General Hieu concurring; during the last 5 subjects, General Hieu took control of the dialogue and discoursed in length, with General McAuliffe resigning to listen and take notes!
General Hieu did not hesitate to square against the general tendency of the American Generals and Officers to usurp the authority of Vietnamese Commanders. In the above-mentioned article, Colonel Trinh Tieu recounted the heated argument with the American 1st Field Task Force General (MG William R. Peers or MG Charles A. Corcoran). In that same article, Colonel Trinh Tieu also recounted how General Hieu calmly put Major General Commanding the American 1st Cavalry Division (MG John Norton) back into his place when he aggressively pressed General Hieu into changing the operational plan. A similar situation happened with the Major General Senior Advisor of the 3rd Corps (maybe MG Jack J. Wagstaff) who put pressure on General Nguyen Van Minh, the Commanding General of the 3rd Corps, into changing the course of the Operation Snoul. General Hieu vehemently opposed. In a smaller scaled situation, Colonel R.M. Rhotenberry, Assistant Advisor of the 3rd Corps, kept on harassing General Hieu into heeding to his suggestions in the Loc Ninh Operation in September 1970, and then complained to his superior that General Hieu despised his offer to use American air and artillery support units. He reported that General Hieu emphatically had stated this was solely a Vietnamese operation!
General Hieu had no qualm in cooperating closely with his American counterparts. But they, like Colonel Senior Advisor of the 5th Division John G. Hayes, knew he was "a strong General", who had only ear for genuine suggestions.
In return, the American Advisors were also eager to cooperate with General Hieu and did not hesitate to follow him through life and death. The Assistant Advisor of the 5th Division, Lieutenant Colonel Roy E. Couch died on 7 February 1970, while accompanying General Hieu in his visit by helicopter to the 4/9th Battalion at the occasion of Tet Celebration.
Major Edgar C. Doleman, an advisor with the 5th ARVN Division, remembered General Hieu as a very competent divisional commander. He was extremely fluent in English and used to tell jokes when his C&C helicopter was under enemy fire, in order to alleviate the tension and fear among the other passengers. Major Doleman recalled that, being a junior advisor, he was frequently assigned by the senior advisor the dangerous task of accompanying General Hieu on his field inspection flights, and unfortunately for him General Hieu liked to fly constantly. Major Doleman stated that, except Colonel John G. Hayes, the Senior Advisor and himself (who had served two tours as company commander and intelligence officer with the 1st Cavalry Division), the other American Advisors to General Hieu lacked combat experiences. In the evaluation report dated 22 April 1970, Major Doleman stated: "After General Hieu took command of the division in October 1969, the general staff seemed to infuse with more life." He later authored the book entitled Tools of War, one among the 26 volumes of The Vietnam Experience series, Boston Publishing Company. (In regard to Major Doleman's remark concerning combat experiences, I was told that LTC Roy E. Couch, the Deputy Senior Advisor, had had combat experience while serving in Germany during WWII and the US Army awarded him the Silver Star at the time he served in Vietnam because of his Heroic Service. I was also told that LTC Robert Lott, who replaced LTC Roy E. Couch after his accidental death as the 5th ID Deputy Senior Advisor, was a Rifle Platoon Leader and later a Rifle Company Commander in the 3rd Infantry Division during the Korean War).
Because of the strange policy adopted by the Pentagon at that time, which allowed an American General to remain a Commanding General for only one year, the American Generals could not possibly gain more combat experience than General Hieu. Therefore, we have the following situation that occurred at a joint operational meeting between the US 1st Infantry Division and the ARVN 5th Infantry Division, in which Commanding General Milloy sat mute, while Commanding General Hieu discoursed in length.
The American Generals, although sometimes consumed by envy, all recognized and respected General Hieu's combat leadership. An American General dared to make the following statement: "In the ARVN, only General Hieu has the ability and charisma to command a unit at the Corps level with effectiveness, the other Generals can only command unit up to the Division level."
12. General Lu Lan.
General Lu Lan graduated the 3rd Class of the Dalat Military Academy together with Cadet Hieu. While attending the Military Academy, they were assigned to the same brigade: they exercised, ate and slept in the same room. Upon graduation, First Lieutenant Lu Lan were sent to Quang Tri where he participated in military operations conducted by the French-Vietnamese Allied units, while Hieu was admitted into Lanessan Hospital in Hanoi because he was struck with tuberculosis. When Lieutenant Lu Lan was assigned to attend the General Staff School in Hanoi, he sought out his former classmate. The two went to a diner on Hang Ngang, Hang Dao street to talk. Hieu listened with envy to tales of military exploits recounted by his friend and sadly confided: "As you can see I am crippled now. I don't know what I am going to do with my life."
Years later, when the two of them met again, it was under an unusual circumstance. When this incident happened, one was Colonel Chief of Staff of the 2nd Corps and the other was newly appointed Deputy Commander of Operations of the 2nd Corps, after being relieved of the Command of the 25th Division by General Do Cao Tri. Every Monday, the 2nd Corps headquarters started the day with the ceremony of saluting the flag, attended by soldiers of all levels serving at the headquarters. General Tri rarely presided this solemn ceremony and used to delegate his Chief of Staff instead. Colonel Hieu walked solemnly to the presiding podium, the military band conductor was about to strike his baton. Suddenly, Colonel Hieu raised his hand to stop the ceremony, when he noticed General Lu Lan standing among the ranks of General Staff's officers. He swiftly walked toward General Lu Lan and whispered to him: "This is not right. Will you please take over the ceremony, mon General."
In February 1968, when General Hieu was Commanding General of the 22nd Division, General Lu Lan was assigned to replace General Vinh Loc as the Commander of the 2nd Corps.
13. General Vinh Loc.
Colonel Hieu served as the 2nd Corps Chief of Staff under Commanding General Vinh Loc when the battle of Pleime occurred. As a result of the Pleime victory, 2nd Corps Commanding General Vinh Loc was promoted from the rank of Brigadier General to the rank of Major General. Also during this period, ARVN units of the 2nd Corps joined US units of the 1st Airmobile Division in operation Silver Bayonet in Pleiku Province. This operation included the Ia Drang Valley battle, where the 3rd Brigade of the US 1st Cavalry Division inflicted the enemy with 1771 KIA.
General Vinh Loc was one of the Generals who were promoted very rapidly after the coup d'etat of November 1, 1963: Colonel 11/63, Brigadier General 4/64, Major General 10/65, Lieutenant General 10/66.
General Vinh Loc entrusted Colonel Hieu the command of the 22nd Division in June 1966.
14. General Nguyen Huu Co.
General Nguyen Huu Co graduated first of his class from Class 1 of the Vietnamese-French Allied Military Academy. He replaced General Do Cao Tri as the Commanding General of the 2nd Corps before the 9/13/64 military coup. But prior to his eviction, General Tri appointed Colonel Hieu 22nd Division Commander on 9/7/1964. Nonetheless, General Co acting under General Khanh's order pulled Colonel Hieu back to the position of 2nd Corps Chief of Staff on 10/24/1964.
During his tenure at the 2nd Corps, Colonel Hieu had to assume the daily operations of the 2nd Corps, because General Co was deeply involved in several consecutive military coups occurring in Saigon, first backing General Nguyen Khanh, then the "Young Turks", Generals Thieu, Ky and Thi.
15. General Tran Van Don.
General Hieu commenced his military career with Colonel Chief of Staff Tran Van Don at G3 General Staff, Choquan; then followed Major General Don to Danang where he assumed the Command of the 1st Corps.
When General Hieu had to appear before the Congress to defend himself in the issue of the Retreat of Snoul, General Don, a Senator at that time, mustered his military experience, and came to the defense of his former protege General Hieu, against the onslaught of civilian senators and representatives who, despite ignorance in military tactics and strategies, nevertheless went up to the podium to give their opinions and to condemn General Hieu.
General Don had witnessed the blossoming of extraordinary, military leadership, strategic as well as tactical, of General Hieu and so said: "If the ARVN had more Generals of General Hieu's caliber, Vietnam would not have been lost."
16. Vice President Tran Van Huong.
Colonel Khuyen stated that in General Hieu's life, there were two persons who loved him the most. They were General Do Cao Tri and Mr. Tran Van Huong. As a matter of fact, Vice President Huong considered General Hieu as his god's son. He brought him in as Minister of Anti-Corruption at the Vice Presidency Office and fully backed him in that difficult task. When President Thieu, at the insistence of General Thuan, wanted to pull General Hieu back to the 3rd Corps to be its Deputy Commander, he had to wait until Vice President Huong was admitted into the hospital for an ailment treatment, and then surreptitiously stole General Hieu from Vice President Huong, who upon coming out of the hospital had to resign to the fait accompli.
If General Hieu was not assassinated, when Huong ascended to the Presidency, it was almost certain that the position of Chairman of Joint General Staff would be given to General Hieu. It was partly because of such certainty that someone wanted General Hieu eliminated as a preemptive measure.
17. General Do Cao Tri.
If Huong considered General Hieu as his god's son, then General Tri viewed General Hieu as his god's brother. The two were like tandem cards. They stuck together since 1953, when they met in Saigon, then together followed General Don to Danang. Perhaps General Tri was the person who recognized General Hieu's military potential more and earlier than anybody else, and thus recommended Major Hieu to attend the US Army Command and General Staff College , Ft Leavenworth, Kansas.
Upon graduation from this military leadership training, Lieutenant Colonel Hieu was assigned to the position of the 1st Division Chief of Staff by General Tri, who was holding both the command of the 1st Division and the 1st Corps (in replacement of General Le Van Nghiem). After the coup d'etat that toppled President Diem, General Tri was officially nominated Commander of the 1st Corps and he assigned Colonel Hieu to the position of 1st Corps Chief of Staff. In January 1964, General Tri brought Colonel Chief of Staff Hieu with him to the 2nd Corps in Pleiku. Before General Tri was evinced from the 2nd Corps by General Khanh, following the failed coup headed by General Duong Van Duc, he appointed Colonel Hieu to the position of 22nd Division Commander on 7 September 1964.
Then when General Tri took command of the 3rd Corps, he called upon General Hieu to head the 5th Division, while he had already assigned Major General Nguyen Xuan Thinh to head the 25th Division, and Major General Lam Quang Tho to head the 18th Division. Coincidently, all three Division Commanding Generals of the 3rd Corps were graduated of the Dalat Military Academy's 3rd Class. Among the three, General Tri made the most use of General Hieu's talents. Later, General Thinh was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, while General Hieu was stopped by Thieu from ascending to that rank of Lieutenant General in his lifetime.
General Tri and General Hieu was like twins, and yet they differed in so many ways and even possessed opposite traits. One liked out pouring ego exhibitions, the other preferred low-profiled discretion. One did not hesitate to bully, even to dispense someone if necessary, the other tended to give in and respect others' rights. One liked to enjoy life by engaging into the four vices (liquor, drugs, gambling and women), the other relied on healthy exercises for entertainment. One had a quick temper and liked to throw tantrums, the other always remained calm and patient.
Oftentimes when he was in Pleiku, General Tri used to have women and entertainers fly up to the headquarters of the 2nd Corps from Nhatrang on weekends. One such time, the airplane came under heavy enemy anti-aircraft fires and could not safely approach the runway. After circling the airplane for a while, the pilot decided to return to Nhatrang. General Tri went into tantrums and barked orders forcing the pilot to make U-turn and land down with high risk. Upon landing down, the airplane crew was imprisoned waiting to be court-martialed. The Presiding Judge of the Court Martial seat was held by the Chief of Staff. And so Colonel Hieu had to discreetly dismiss the trial based on technicalities and then called Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky to come up and retrieve his airmen!
In the letter dated 6 June 1970, Captain Wayne T. Stanley, secretary of G3 of the American Advisors of the 3rd Corps, wrote to Lieutenant Colonel John L. Huestis, Fort Braggs, North Carolina: "General Tri continues to rule the land with fire and determination. He is now on vacation in Europe and he continues to plan on being CG, III Corps until he retires in 18 months." This captain did not realize that General Tri was banished into exile by the Generals' Ruling Committee (the official reason was health problem!). During his absence General Nguyen Van Minh was assigned to man the 3rd Corps. When General Tri was allowed to return, he went straight down to camp in the headquarters of the 5th Division, using the strength of this Division as a show of force against the Generals' Ruling Committee, resulting in General Minh relinquishing the command of the 3rd Corps back to General Tri.
Colonel Le Khac Ly, who had served as Chief of Staff at Division and Corps levels under numerous Generals, states that he admires the most two Commanding Generals. The first one is General Do Cao Tri for his fearlessness; he used to put into practice his own declaration: "On the battlefields, just walk erected with head up. If bullets hit you, you are considered a hero. And if bullets duck you, you are also considered a hero!" The second one is General Nguyen Van Hieu who commanded units by the book, allowing his General Staff under his command to perform its duties with ease and without glitch.
When the situation of Lam son 719 became critical, President Thieu wanted to replace General Hoang Xuan Lam with General Do Cao Tri. This latter put out a condition: General Hieu had to be his replacement at the 3rd Corps command for him to agree to be transferred to the 1st Corps. While decision was still up in the air, General Tri died in an helicopter accident.
With General Tri's death, General Hieu lost a "cowboy" brother (General Tri was 5 months younger than General Hieu) who always protected and defended his gentle brother and created for his hard-working brother plenty of opportunities to show-off his strategic and tactical skills. It was unfortunate indeed!
Nguyen Van Tin