1. General Hieu assumed the position of Deputy Commander of III Corps, responsible for ARVN forces stationed in III Corps, on December 3, 1973. Hieu has a reputation for being an excellent staff officer. Prior to his appointment to III Corps, General Hieu was assigned to the Vice President’s office holding the rank of Deputy Minister, and was in charge of the anti-corruption campaign.
6. On February 16, 1958, Hieu was assigned as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations in I Corps. The Corps Commander was LTG Tran Van Don. In August of that year, Hieu received an evaluation from an American Advisor(*). It is apparent from the report that Hieu had, during the six months he had been in I Corps, left a very favorable impression on the American Advisory Group in Danang. Hieu was highly recommended for attendance at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; lauded for his administrative abilities; for his skillful and proper utilization of personnel; and for his superior attitude toward receiving and accepting advice from US advisors. The advisor concluded his report by stating: “He is a man who possesses potential for highest rank in the Vietnamese Army. He should be sent to a CONUS school as soon as possible, preferably Ft. Leavenworth. He should be assigned to field command jobs to give him more command experience. This officer, properly handled and developed, could well become a future competent if not eminent general officer in the Vietnamese Army. His attitude toward the United States is strong, and his language fluency would be an invaluable asset to Allied operations.”
7. A little more than a year later, on October 6, 1959, Hieu received another evaluation which echoed his earlier one. He was again highly recommended for attendance at the Command and General Staff School.
12. On August 9, 1969, Hieu was promoted to major general and two days later became the Commander of the 5th Division. LTG Do Cao Tri, the III Corps Commander was responsible for Hieu’s assignment. On August 19, 1969 he was again rated by an American advisor(1) who stated: “General Hieu is an extremely competent officer who enjoys an excellent military reputation in his own army and with American senior officers. I am not knowledgeable of his financial status but believe him to be honest and dependent solely upon his army pay for support. Militarily sound and experienced, he must be described as a highly competent and effective commander.” These sentiments were repeated in May 1970.
13. Hieu and the 5th Division were shortly involved in greatly expanded operations, a situation Hieu did not like because he believed the 5th Division was not yet ready for such an active combat role. By August 1970, at least one American advisor began to voice strong opposition to General Hieu’s conduct of the 5th Division. The Deputy Senior Advisor (2), III Corps, a BG, stated: “General Hieu’s pessimistic and contrary views, voiced freely and publicly, have colored the attitudes of many of his subordinate commanders and made them less responsive to efforts to get on with the Đồng Tiến program. It is hoped that time, which fortunately the Cambodian campaign has provided, and a growing realization that the 5th ARVN Division can perform its new and expanded mission, will modify General Hieu’s outlook. If not, he should be relieved of command.” This was to be the first of several reports which suggested the removal of General Hieu. Within a month and a half, two additional, critical reports on Hieu were filed by both the outgoing (3) and incoming(4) senior advisors to the 5th Division, the latter having been on the scene for slightly more than a month.
14. General Tri, while acknowledging that Hieu did not entirely approve of the cross-border operations and especially those which called for the 5th Division to operate in the Snoul, Cambodia area, did not immediately move to relieve Hieu. By December 1970, however, there were rumors that General Tri was going along with American desires and was looking for a replacement for Hieu. Before Tri could act, if indeed that was his intention, he was killed in a helicopter crash on February 23, 1971. His successor, LTG Nguyen Van Minh, was also susceptible to American desires and Hieu’s tenure in III Corps was limited.
15. In May 1971, General Hieu found his forces in the Snoul area facing an increasingly serious enemy threat. He requested permission to withdraw from Cambodia, but General Minh refused to grant him permission until the two 5th Division regiments were faced by a two-division enemy force. The two regiments were mauled in their withdrawal from Cambodia and General Hieu was blamed for the disaster. At American behest, and with General Minh’s active consent, Hieu was removed from command of the 5th Division on June 9, 1971.
16. Hieu’s dismissal, as reported by an Embassy officer on June 17, 1971, was a cause célèbre, primarily because of Hieu’s well-known reputation for personal integrity and for his strong personal interest in the welfare of his troops.
22. Hieu has an excellent reputation and has never been accused of corruption. His family is wealthy and he undoubtedly supplements his salary from family holdings. He is well-read and is fluent in English, French and Chinese.
23. It is not known who his mentor is, but it may be Tran Van Don. In February 1972, Don, who was a LTG and is currently a Deputy Prime Minister, stated to the Consul in Danang that Hieu was one of the most capable generals in ARVN and “the most honest general in the Army today”. The latter assessment is broadly held and frequently voiced by ARVN officers. Don further stated that he would take Hieu over virtually any ARVN general he knew. Barring a severe military setback, it is likely, therefore, that Hieu will remain in highly responsible positions for the foreseeable future.
24. Americans working with him in MR-3 find him friendly and cooperative. In Bien Hoa, he lives in a trailer at MR-3 Hq and spends most nights there only occasionally taking an overnight leave to be with his family in Saigon. He frequently visits in the home of Bien Hoa Consulate General senior officers for long evenings of discussion or chess games (he is a master of Chinese Chess, and plays “Western” chess well). He played shortstop on his high school softball team in Shanghai, but apart from pistol and rifle target shooting does not seem to play any sport now. He often borrows books on world affairs from his American friends. He has made a detailed study of Red Army defeat of German invasion forces in Russia in World War II and obviously admires the Russian performance. While candid, courteous, and friendly with American officials in MR-3, a certain reserve and circumspection, perhaps a part of a Mandarin sense of dignity and position, is always discernible.
Combat effectiveness of the 5th Infantry Division (ARVN) is improving. Since Major General Nguyen Van Hieu took command, the Division has initiated a program of carrying the war to the enemy. This initiative is a vital element which the Division has lacked. The employment of the Cavalry Regiment in an offensive role was a dramatic departure from their "Palace Guard" mission.
MG Hieu has evidenced that he is receptive and will react to meaningful suggestions. It cannot be overemphasized that he is a strong commander, and will only implement ideas which will definitely improve the combat effectiveness of the Division.
Definite progress is being made in all areas within the Division. Basically improvements can be attributed to positive leadership which has forced the maneuver units to seek and destroy the enemy.
The new Commanding General definitely removes the leadership problem formerly faced with the Division Commander.
[...] Through Dong Tien and implementation of the Commanding General's offensive tactics, Regimental Commanders are pressed to field good unit leaders.
[...] With the assumption of command by MG Nguyen Van Hieu on 14 August 1969, 5th Division units are changing from a defensive to an offensive posture.
Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell, Senior Advisor, III CTZ (2 February 1970)
We have no pressing need for division commanders at this time. Hieu should be able to move the 5th Division. Tho likewise the 18th. Thinh and Dong are doing fine with the 25th and Airborne Divisions.
The failure of the 5th Division to show improvement is, in my judgment, attributable to the turbulence caused by the: (1) take-over of Lai Khe in February; (2) assumption of responsibility for a two-province area of operations upon the departure of the 1st US Infantry Division in March; and (3) the replacement of two regimental commanders in this same period. More time will be needed for this division to gain in effectiveness and confidence, but there are indicators that this unit is beginning to come up now.
Colonel John G. Hayes, Senior Advisor, 5 Div (7 February 1970)
MG Nguyen Van Hieu, DOR 1-11-67, 20 years service. General Hieu is an above average commander. 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. He is rated better than the average US Division commander in overall performance.
Major Edgar C. Doleman, Jr, G3 Plans/Training Advisor (22 April 1970)
After General Hieu took command of the division in October 1969, the general staff seemed to infuse with more life.
Lieutenant General Michael B. Davison, Senior Advisor, III CTZ (14 July 1970)
At division level, the leadership of MG Nguyen Xuan Thinh, Commander of the 25th ARVN Division, remained firm and effective as illustrated by the Cambodian cross-border operations; he was the Deputy Commander of Operation Toan Thang 42 and the Commander of TF 225. In the 18th ARVN Division, MG Lam Quang Tho has steadily improved in leadership and his influence is being felt at all levels as evidenced by his division's accomplishments this quarter-particularly in recruiting as the division surpassed the JGS goal (1200) by recruiting 1412 personnel as of 25 June 1970. In the 5th ARVN Division MG Nguyen Van Hieu's overall effectiveness as a commander remains questionable.
Brigadier General D. P. McAuliffe, Deputy Senior Advisor, III CTZ (26 November 1970)
Two of the three divisions assigned to III Corps, the 18th and 25th ARVN Infantry Divisions, are combat effective with good leadership and morale, and they can be counted on for mission accomplishment. The 25th Division, under the command of MG Nguyen Xuan Thinh, is ranked among the top three ARVN divisions in country. The 18th Division has shown steady improvement under the command of MG Lam Quang Tho, and has responded well to the division's new mobile mission in Cambodia. The 5th ARVN Infantry Division has not performed effectively for any sustained period during the year. Early in the year, it was possible to attribute the division's shortcomings to turbulence suffered in the take-over of the US 1st Infantry Division’s tactical area and the division base camp (Lai Khe). However, in two subsequent operations into Cambodia (north of Binh Long Province), the performance of the participating divisional elements was undistinguished, and reflected the poor leadership and inactivity that had characterized the division all year. The division did benefit from the more recent cross-border operation, to Snoul (November 1970), although it is unlikely that the present
division leadership will capitalize on these gains. There are two feasible remedies to the division's plight, both of which have been proposed to General Tri: (a) replacement of the division commander, MG Nguyen Van Hieu, and the commander of the 8th Regiment; (b) further participation by divisional elements in cross-border operations, to lift the morale and exercise of the combat skills of the unit commanders and soldiers involved. (General Tri has
recommended that General Hieu be replaced, and is considering future operations involving the 5th Division.)