In August 1998, I presented a preliminary report about General Hieuís death in the article Cover-up of General Hieuís Death. After a long six-year journey attempting to uncover this mysterious death, now I have reached the final phase in the analysis of the collected data Ė which are quite adequate Ėallowing to ascertain a plausible conclusion.
I was fortunate to discover and made contact with the principal witnesses who were present at III Corps Headquarters on the day General Hieu was assassinated: (1) Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba, 25th Division, (2) Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, Chief of III Corps Military Security Bureau, (3) Lieutenant Colonel, Nguyen Khuyen, III Corps Military Police Commander, (4) Military Doctor Luong Khanh Chi, III Corps Medical Unit Chief, (5) Colonel Ta Thanh Long, Head of Vietnamese Delegation, member of the 4-Party and 2-Side Combined Military Committee, (6) Colonel Nguyen Van Trang, III Corps Artillery Unit Commander, (7) Major General Dao Duy An, III Corps Deputy Commander/Territory, (8) Colonel Phan Huy Luong, Assistant to III Corps Deputy Commander/Operations, (9) Captain Do Duc, General Toanís Attachť, (10) General Nguyen Van Toan, (11) Brigadier General Le Trung Tuong, III Corps Chief of Staff, (12) Colonel Le Trong Dam, II Corps Police Force Commander, and (13) Lieutenant Colonel Ly Ngoc Duong, M.D., General Toanís Chief of Cabinet.
Among these 13 witnesses, the first 9 stood at the peripheral circle and the last 5 stood at the center vis-a-vis General Hieuís death. Colonel Khuyen narrated the crime scene as he heard from Colonel Luong. Colonel Long, Colonel Trang and Major General An said that after having left III Corps Headquarters and reached the office or home, they got a phone call from Colonel Luong breaking the news of General Hieuís death and when they returned to III Corps Headquarters, they were forbidden to approach General Hieuís body. Meanwhile Colonel Luongís whereabout when things occurred was unknown, and he said that he was not the one who first ran into General Hieuís office and also he did not place a phone call to anyone whatsoever to communicate the bad news.
These discrepancies between Colonel Khuyen, Colonel Long, and Colonel Trangís testimonies on one side and Colonel Luongís on the other side can be explained by a mix up of identities between Brigadier General Tuong, III Corps Chief of Staff and Colonel Luong, Assistant to III Corps Deputy Commander/Operations. Colonel Khuyen wrote: I did not know what to do but to go in to see Colonel Phan Huy Luong who was the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Corps. Colonel Long wrote: During the meeting, General Hieu sat in the middle. At his left: General Dao Duy An, chief of Staff and Colonel Phan Huy Luong, Deputy Chief of Staff/Operations. And he added further: At that point, Colonel Luong stepped in to invite General Hieu to go to supper. General An and I stood up and excused ourselves. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Tuong and Doctor Duong both said General Hieu invited Brigadier General Tuong, and not Colonel Luong to join him for dinner. Furthermore Brigadier General Tuong wrote that he was the one who ran into General Hieuís office when he heard the gunshot and Doctor Duong said that Brigadier General Tuong phoned him to break the news: "Hieu is dead".
Captain Do Duc recounted that when he returned to III Corps Headquarters "General Toan had ordered General Hieu's office cordoned, and so, I did not get to see the crime scene."
Lieutenant Colonel Quyen and Doctor Chi were summoned to III Corps Headquarters to write up forensic reports; however it was clear that they were pressured by General Toan and his clique not to tell the truth and to present the facts according to the cover-up scheme concocted by III Corps Headquarters.
Not only the four last individuals were first hand witnesses, they were also key players in plotting and carrying out the assassination of General Hieu. Following is the likely scenario of the event, based on the analysis, verification and matching of the testimonies of these four individuals.
Around 8:00 a.m. on April 8, 1975, the Presidential Palace was bombed. President Thieu panicked at the thought of an imminent coup. He ordered the determination of the positions of military commanders throughout the four military regions and received an intelligence report from General Quang stating that all military commanders were at their normal positions, except General Hieu who was present at Go Dau Ha having some kind of meeting with Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi, III Corps Assault Task Force Commander. President Thieu immediately suspected General Hieu was fomenting a coup. He recalled that four years ago, in June 1971, General Nguyen Van Minh had alerted him that General Hieu colluded with Brigadier General Khoi in maneuvering units of III Corps Assault Task Force to Loc Ninh under the pretext of rescuing the besieged troops in Snoul with the intention to bring tanks in Saigon for a coup. General Vinh Loc wrote in LŠ Thư Gửi Người Bạn Mỹ (Letters to an American Friend) that President Thieu was paranoid even toward his own reflection and projection, and dread that Paratroopers and Armored units might topple him down (page 82). He sensed that this time he must eliminate General Hieu as a preventive measure. The order was relayed to General Toan, III Corps Commander.
Around 9:00 a.m., General Hieu flew back to III Corps Headquarters. From his office, he phoned home at Chi Hoa Officers Co-op to caution his wife not to allow the children to play on the streets because a 100 percent camp confinement was promulgated, then went on working as usual.
In the meantime, General Toan had a secret meeting with the plotters comprising Doctor Duong, Brigadier General Tuong and Colonel Dam; these three individuals were close associates of General Toan who had brought them here from II Corps. Brigadier General Tuong was entrusted the task of bringing in a group of soldiers to replace the Military Police units guarding III Corps Headquarters and of making arrangements to lure General Hieu back to his office. Doctor Duong noticed in the daily calendar memorandum that a meeting with Militia Force on the agenda, presided by General Hieu and with Major General Dao Duy An, Colonel Khuyen and Colonel Luu Yem, Mayor of Bien Hoa, as participants, would take place at 5:00 p.m. He saw it as a good opportunity because the meeting would end around 6:00 p.m and as usual General Hieu would invite Brigadier General Tuong to have dinner together and the personnel working at III Corps Headquarters would have all departed.
Doctor Duong and Colonel Dam assumed the task of making arrangements to insert a trusted policeman of Colonel Dam in General Toan's office. After putting the final touch with Doctor Duong, Colonel Dam left III Corps Headquarters around 2:00 p.m. and went to Saigon to distant himself from what about to occur.
When III Corps Headquarters was deserted, the assassin slipped quietly from General Toanís office to General Hieuís office which was close by and set up an ambush. Around 6:00 p.m, the high ranking officers terminated their meeting and went home; Brigadier General Tuong used the pretext of having to take a shower to force General Hieu to go back to his office to wait. At that moment, General Toan and Doctor Duong also stepped out of their office to go back together to General Toanís residence.
After killing General Hieu with a special tiny pistol, the assassin put General Hieuís own pistol in his hand, pointed it to the ceiling and used General Hieuís finger to trigger a shot. Afterward, he slipped back to a safe haven within General Toanís office...
Upon hearing the gunshot, Brigadier General Tuong did not run immediately to General Hieuís office, but rather phoned the Military Police to come and investigate "a crime" first, then rushed into General Hieuís office to evaluate the situation. He then phoned to notify General Toan mission accomplished: "Hieu is dead." He also phoned to some others (such as Colonel Khuyen, Colonel Trang, Major General An, Colonel Long...) to tell them that General Hieu had committed suicide.
General Toan and Doctor Duong returned to III Corps Headquarters. They went in General Hieuís office and saw him slumped at his desk. Doctor Duong came close to examine; General Toan stood at a distance by the entrance door. Doctor Chi was called in to examine General Hieu.
Captain Do Duc rushed back and saw that the Military Police had already cordoned III Corps Headquarters. This Military Police unit did not belong to Lieutenant Colonel Quyenís troops, because the reporter Dang Van Nham, upon hearing the news, rushed from Saigon to Bien Hoa to gather the news and had time to accompany Lieutenant Colonel Quyen and his Military Police unit to go to III Corps Headquarters, not to investigate but to arrest General Toan.
General Toan ordered all lights at III Corps Headquarters turned off and had General Hieuís body transported on a Red Cross jeep equipped with a stretcher and driven by a major. After lingering at the crime scene for about half an hour, he issued aloud an order for a speedy and thorough investigation, then left to return to his residence, accompanied by Captain Do Duc.
Ranks and files at III Corps Headquarters received a gag order not to discuss General Hieuís death.
General Tuong had his staff communicate the news to General Hieuís family by phone and by dispatching General Hieuís driver to Saigon. The driver drove Madame General Hieu and her eldest son to Bien Hoa that same night. Upon their arrival, she was ushered directly into General Hieuís office where she found her husbandís head slump on his desk. Consequently, there was a cover-up attempt in carrying General Hieuís body from the dispensary back to the office. When she returned home, she told her father-in-law: "there was no blood anywhere-just a speck of it under his chin."
In the official press conference at III Corps Headquarters, a reporter raised the question of how did General Hieu die; the spokesperson, being prompted General Hieu had committed suicide, improvised pitifully: "with a bullet wound in his mouth." (it is of common pratice, when one commits suicide, to either press the pistol against oneís temple or insert its barrel into oneís mouth). Brigadier General Tuong, for his part, falsely recounted with impunity to Colonel Khuyen that he saw "General Hieu lying immobile in his armchair next to the desk. A blood streamed effusively down his face and chest. A bullet had pierced his forehead and went straight up to the brain. The bullet found force to reach up to the ceiling, and perforated it..[Ö] Blood and pieces of brain splattered on the wall!"
Doctor Duong was somehow wiser than Brigadier General Tuong in rejecting the suicide scenario: "I did not think so because General Hieu was a devoted catholic." He therefore creatively advanced the theory of a self-inflicted wound caused by an accidental pistol discharge since General Hieu liked to play with pistols. Therefore, when he was asked how did General Hieu die, General Toan responded: "I saw he had died from a pistol bullet piercing through his eye and exiting the top of his head, causing him to die right at his desk.". He visualized General Hieu, after cleaning his pistol, turn it around, closing one eye, the other eye peering directly into the barrel to detect any residual dust!
One strange fact ought to be pointed out: while testimonies from witnesses in terms of time, circumstances and bullet path in General Hieuís death differed from each other, they all agreed in stating that General Hieu liked to play with pistol and had been a champion in pistol shooting competition; this trait, they all concurred, was likely the cause of his death. Doctor Duong even noticed that, "that fateful morning, the Engineering Unit returned a pistol that General Hieu had asked to repair a faulty trigger mechanism."
Another strange fact is worthwhile mentioning; the majority of the witnesses opened their testimonies in stating that they recalled vividly the event like it just happened yesterday; but when they were pressed to come up with specifics, they fumbled pitifully with such expressions as I didnít pay attention, I didnít recall, I donít know, I mixed up, and Let me double check further
Two individuals came close to General Hieuís body to examine thoroughly the wound: Doctor Duong and Doctor Chi. Doctor Duong recounted: "I saw General Hieu sitting on his chair, his head slumping on the desk, his left arm resting on the desk, his right arm dangling above floor, and a pistol lying next to his hand on the floor. I noticed that the bullet went from his neck Ö uh Ö uh Ö uhÖno, it was not so, let me say it again, from the right hand side jaw to the left hand side temple." When I asked him: "Was the temple churned up by the bullet impact?", he answered: "I did not pay attention to that detail." I drilled him further: "Was the pistol that lied next to General Hieuís body a P.38 type?", he responded: "I am a physician, and am totally ignorant in terms of weapons." Doctor Chi, for his part, showed his sympathy in telling to a relative of General Hieuís who came to visit his body: "the bullet upon entering the chin, encountered the jaw bone which was too solid for it to go straight up to the top of the head, and had to veer down and exited to the back of the skull, resulting in an instantaneous death, with no feeling of pain." Not only these observations made by two medical professionals differed - one said the bullet exited the temple, the other the back of the skull - but they were also totally false, because in fact the bullet exited near the top of the head, slightly toward the right; the skull still intact with only a tiny red dot, as I had observed with my own eyes when I visited my brotherís body.
In order to lure General Hieuís back to his office, Brigadier General Tuong feigned to be busy with something to do. Doctor Duong recounted he heard Brigadier General Tuong said he needed to take a shower. While Brigadier General Tuong recounted he said he needed to go over the officials documents. I do not think Brigadier General Tuong had forgotten: he lied because to be held up by official matters is a more "legitimate" excuse than by personal matters.
Doctor Duong resorted to the pretext of having to finish drafting a radio announcement to be read by III Corps Commander regarding the bombing of the Presidential Palace as a reason for accompanying General Toan to his residence that evening. It definitely was not a common practice for corps commanders to perform such a task; besides, that same morning, President Thieu had reassured the population in announcing that the attack was not part of an attempted coup. He and General Toan merely stayed together that evening just to wait for the news of General Hieuís assassination (normally Doctor Duong would go home in Cholon).
Doctor Duong and Captain Do Duc recalled there was a 100 percent camp confinement, and General Toan went home with both of them. Not long after arrival at the residence, they received General Tuongís phone call announcing General Hieuís death. And yet, General Toan lied when he wrote that he "was returning from an airborne operation when he got the news of Major General Hieu's death in his office. He immediately flew to Major General Hieu's office."
Two things indicate Colonel Dam was closely involved in General Hieuís death. (1) Although it was thirty years ago, he still remembered he was present at III Corps Headquarters at 2:00 p.m that day, and was adamant in contradicting with Colonel Khuyen, Chief of III Corps Military Security who claimed that General Hieu had died at 12:00 noon. (2) When I poked him aiming at extracting from him how he left Saigon in 1975 in three different occasions, he did not reveal he was with General Toan on the last helicopter flight to the US 7th Fleet. The first time, he said he went by way of Ha Tien; the second time, he said he did like me, which was to be picked up by US Marines Corps from Tan Son Nhat airport; and the third time, he talked about General Toanís helicopter flight but failed to mention the fact he was on it. When it was beneficial, even not asked, he volunteered information; but when it was detrimental, even under intense interrogation, his lips remained tight. Colonel Dam and his assigned assassin man who both belonged to II Corps, were the outsiders, while Brigadier General Tuong and Doctor Duong were the insiders; two key elements normally present in an assassination plot.
Upon learning General Hieuís death, everybody speculated that General Toan shot General Hieu following a heated argument over tactics. This might be possible in the case General Toanís action was not pre-meditated due to an uncontrolled anger. But Captain Do Duc stated that it could not happen like that because he stayed close to General Toan all day long, and when General Hieu died, General Toan already had returned home. Besides, General Hieuís assassination was the result of a careful plotting, carrying out by a small group composed of four members (Toan, Tuong, Duong and Dam). General Toan could only be part in the killing of General Hieu in the case he received order from higher authority; and General Toanís superior could only be President Thieu.
Therefore, in General Hieuís death, Thieu was the mastermind ordering the killing, Toan the ring leader of the plotters carrying out the order, Tuong, Duong and Dam the executors of the plot with Tuong and Duong playing the role of insiders leading the way, and Dam with his assigned hit man playing the role of assassins.
Nguyen Van Tin