A Few Additional Testimonies

During the month of August 2004, I succeeded in contacting three witnesses to inquire additional details concerning General Hieu’s death. Doctor Luong Khanh Chi, III Corps Physician, Colonel Le Trong Dam, II Corps Police Force Commander and Lieutenant Colonel Ly Ngoc Duong, MD, III Corps Commander’s Chief of Cabinet.

Doctor Luong Khanh Chi

Unfortunately when I was able to contact Doctor Chi, the physician who examined General Hieu’s body and who officially declared his death, I was told by his family members that he was suffering from a stroke that occurred a few years ago and it had affected his memory. That was why when I introduced myself to him on the phone as a brother of General Hieu, he sounded puzzled and asked, “Who is General Hieu?” Therefore I was unable to get any information from regarding General Hieu’s death. However, a family member told me that prior to his medical predicament, when asked, he responded that he had submitted a forensic report to the Joint General Staff in which, based on the bullet’s path, he had concluded that the death was caused by an accidental self-inflicted wounded.

Colonel Le Trong Dam

When I fortuitously noticed the inopportune presence of Colonel Dam on General Toan’s evacuation helicopter on 04/29/1975 – unlike all the other passengers who belonged to III Corps, he belonged to II Corps – I tried to contact to ask him what he knew about General Hieu’s death.

He said that on the day General Hieu died he was present at III Corps Headquarters and returned to Saigon the same morning. That evening, Lieutenant Colonel Duong, MD phoned him to break the news of General Hieu’s death. When I mentioned that Colonel Khuyen placed General Hieu’s death at noon time, he categorically stated that Colonel Khuyen was wrong for he still lingered at III Corps Headquarters until 2:00 p.m.

The phone conversation lasted quite long, about 45 minutes; however he only alluded to General Hieu’s briefly as such. He recounted knowing General Hieu the days he was still a captain working under General Nguyen Van Manh who was a mayor holding the position of G3 Chief at the Joint General Staff in Cho Quan, and he happened to be General Manh’s brother-in-law. He revealed further that the day he escaped out of Nha Trang, he paid a visit to General Toan at III Corps Headquarters, and General Hieu hugged him warmly and exclaimed: “Glad you made out.” He spent the remaining time of our conversation talking about what he knew about General Toan and the close relationship he enjoyed with General Toan since childhood.

With the specific intention of testing his sincerity, I ask him how he evacuated out of the country. The first time, he said he came out by way of Ha Tien; when I expressed my puzzle by questioning his answer, he hastened to rectify by saying that his family came out by way of Ha Tien and not him. The second time, I said I evacuated by going into Tan Son Nhut airport and was picked up by US Marine Corps’ helicopter to the 7th Fleet and asked he if also came out the same way; he mumbled inaudibly, “the same way”. The third time, when I said that it appeared that General Toan fled by helicopter to the 7th Fleet, he responded by saying that he had read an article written by General Khoi in which he wrongly stated that General Toan sent back his helicopter inland without mentioning the fact he was on board that flight.

Lieutenant Colonel Ly Ngoc Duong, M.D.

Following is the content of the phone call I placed to Doctor Ly Ngoc Duong, former Medicine Lieutenant Colonel, Cabinet Chief of General Nguyen Van Toan, III Corps Commander, on 8/31/2004.

I still recall vividly the events happening on the day of General Hieu’s death. It was a hectic day because that morning the Presidential Palace was bombed and I was busy with the drafting of a radio announcement to be delivered by General Toan regarding the bombing to reassure the public.

During that time, a meeting was holding in the Chief of Staff’s office, adjacent to mine, with The Popular Force on the agenda – I knew it because I had read the memorandum announcing that meeting – with the participation of General Hieu, General Dao Duy An (Deputy Commander/Territories), Colonel Nguyen Khuyen (III Corps Chief of Military Security), and a Colonel Commander of III Corps Police Force whose name I do not recall.

Around 6:30 p.m., General Toan walked into my office to announce he was leaving and going to his residence located in Bien Hoa. I gathered my papers in view to finish the drafting of the said document and joined him in his car to go back to his residence; Captain Do Du, his attaché was riding also in the car.

On my way out, I saw General Dao Duy An hurrying up to go home in his jeep which sped up in roar. I heard General Hieu inviting General Le Trung Tuong to go to dinner together, to which General Tuong responded: “Let me take a shower first.” There was a private bathroom installed in the Chief of Staff’s office. General Hieu returned to his office to wait for General Tuong.

At General Toan’s residence, while I was setting up equipments to record General Toan’s announcement in the room next to General Toan’s bedroom, the phone rang. I picked up the phone, at the other end of the phone line, General Tuong said: “Hieu is dead.” I answered: “What did you say? Please repeat.” “General Hieu is dead.” I ran into General Toan's bedroom to break the news. General Toan was still untying his shoes.

We hurried back to the Headquarters. Captain Do Duc accompanied us in the car.

In entering General Hieu’s office, I cautioned General Toan not to touch anything so as not to leave his finger prints. 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 … uh … uh … uh…no, it was not so, let me say it again, from the right hand side jaw to the left hand side temple. General Toan did not come near, he stood with an arm leaning on the door frame, and I witnessed him crying. That was the second time I saw him cry; the first time, when we were in II Corps, and the third time on board of Midway ship on 4/29/1975.

The III Corps physician was called in to examine General Hieu and officially pronounced him death.

A Police Forensic team came to investigate, found the bullet on the ceiling and matched it with the pistol lying next to General Hieu’s body. And a Police Forensic Major using the method of black powder stated that General Hieu’s right hand has trace of gunpowder and smoke could be smelled at the tip of the pistol. These were proofs that the death was caused by an accidental self-inflicted wounded.

Someone stipulated that General Hieu committed suicide when the military situation became hopeless on the battlefield. I did not think so because General Hieu was a devoted catholic and also a capable General. He could take on any challenge on the battlefield. If there were more generals as competent as him, perhaps we would have to run over here.

I suppose you are well aware that General Hieu liked to tinkle with pistols. That fateful morning, the Engineering Unit returned a pistol that General Hieu had asked to repair a faulty trigger mechanism. One day, General Hieu took me into his trailer home to show off his collection of various types of pistols.

I greatly admire General Hieu. He was very competent, perhaps the most competent among ARVN generals, and yet very humble. The day I was appointed General Toan’s Chief of Cabinet, he stopped by my office. I did not sit behind by desk to receive him. We sat on sofas at the guest area and he did not treat me as a subordinate of a lower rank, but as friends. He talked about his military career, his multi-language abilities, his official visits to several foreign countries… He exuded an air of graceful confidence that was firm but not at all cocky. Everybody took notice of his modesty. The female operator at the telephone switchboard of III Corps headquarters praised that General Hieu remained always sweet; he never raised his voice on the phone line like most of the others high ranking officers when the phone lines were not clear, which was the general norm on military phone lines.

Because my feelings toward General Hieu were as such, as you rekindle the old days, I still remember vividly and am unable to contain my emotions.

Notes

1. Regarding the path of the bullet, Doctor Chi analyzed to it to a relative of General Hieu who came to see the body the day after as following: "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”. Doctor Duong said instead: “I noticed that the bullet went from his neck … uh … uh … uh…no, it was not so, let me said it again, from the right hand side jaw to the left hand side temple.” When I asked if the bullet ripped off the temple or not, he responded he was not sure (!). As for me, when I visit my brother’s body, I saw with my own eyes that the bullet entered his left hand side jaw and exited the back of his head at the right hand side top. When descriptions provided by two well trained physicians are different, they became questionable.

2.Two main facts need to be pointed out in Colonel Dam’s testimony: (1) he was merely a passerby and yet he claimed his memory is sharper than Colonel Khuyen’s and emphatically affirms the General Hieu could not have died at noon because he was still present at III Corps headquarters around 2:00 p.m.; (2) For what unspoken reason he did not reveal that he evacuated in company with General Toan by helicopter?

3.Doctor Duong said that General Tuong told General Hieu to wait him on his way to take a shower when General Hieu invited him to go to dinner; but General Tuong himself wrote that he told General Hieu to wait so that he could finish reading his paper works. Doctor Duong said he returned to III Corps headquarters with General Toan and Captain Do Duc was with them in the car; but Captain Do Duc said he went straight from a dinner to III Corps headquarters when the driver brought to him the news of General Hieu’s death and of General Toan returning to the headquarters.

4. I had the privilege of meeting with Colonel Ton That Soan, VNMC in a wedding in New Jersey on October 02, 2004. He recounted when General Hieu died, he was Province Chief of Hau Nghia. Lieutenant Colonel Pham Khac Dat, Commander of Hau Nghia Police Force went to III Corps Headquarters to find out more about this intriguing death. Upon returning, he showed Colonel Soan a dozen of photos taken at the crime scene in General Hieu’s office. These photos were given to him by a colleague in the Police Force. Colonel Soan remembered clearly Lieutenant Colonel Dat wondered aloud: "General Hieu is a right-hander, how come the self-inflicted wound was caused by a left-hander?" Lieutenant Colonel Dat is currently residing in San Jose, California.

Nguyen Van Tin
09 September 2004
Updated on 10.06.2004

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