"Serenading Minh"

I returned to my office. It was around midnight.

- This is Captain Hoa, I am listening -
- Hi, buddy, this is Lieutenant Colonel Minh -

It was Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen van Minh, known by his friends as "Serenading Minh", Province Chief of An Giang Province. He was a chief of province well liked by the President and the Advisor. I knew him well during the period I held the position of the 21st Infantry Division Commander's bureau chief, stationed in Can Tho. Lieutenant Colonel Minh had the reputation of being very attentive to his senior officers and very generous with junior officers in cases these junior officers were close to his senior officers. During that period, each time he came to Can Tho, he never missed to visit me and always handed me some money "to buy yourself a cup of coffee". One day he asked me:

- Hoa, do you know if Colonel Khiem needs anything? -

I remembered Colonel Khiem once had mentioned about a Polaroid camera which could make an instantaneous photo, very handy for psychological operations and intelligence gathering purposes. I told that to Lieutenant Colonel Minh. A couple of weeks later, he had someone bring a Polaroid camera to me so that I could present it to Colonel Khiem as a gift, and as for my part, I got an envelope with the following line "buy yourself a cup of coffee". Then during the time it was fashionable to raise swallow birds, Lieutenant Colonel Minh dispatched a truck carrying a cage with six pairs of extremely exquisite swallows inside, with a few kilograms of birds' food, from Long Xuyen to Can Tho to be presented to Colonel Khiem as a gift. This time my "buy yourself a cup of coffee" consisted in a pair of swallows inside a hand-held cage with a kilogram of birds' food.
[...]

Among the officers incarcerated after the 11.1.1963 military coup and confined at the military security compound, were Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Minh, An Giang Province Chief, and Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Khac Binh who was still a Major and 23rd Infantry Division Chief of Staff in Ban Me Thuot at that time.

The spouses of these two gentlemen came to my house several times and asked me to intercede with Lieutenant General Khiem for their release. Lieutenant General Khiem was initially reluctant, however when I submitted their request for the second time, buttressed with my own presentation of the matter, Lieutenant Colonels Minh and Binh were released and had their ranks fully restituted.

The first time Lieutenant Colonel Minh came to my office after his release, he maintained his usual generosity toward me, and this time my "buy yourself a cup of coffee" was an authentic baby doll manufactured from France. It was really beautiful indeed. And from time to time, he continued to come into my office for a chat. After a few times, Lieutenant Colonel Minh asked me to request Lieutenant General Khiem for a transfer to the 21st Infantry Division, where he was willing to assume any position. He offered additional explanation:

- Do you know, according to my soothsayer, if I head toward that direction, I will have more chances of advancement. Therefore, try hard to help me, Hoa -

While awaiting Lieutenant General Khiem's decision, he communicated to me some additional information concerning his case. The Colonel Commander of the 21st Infantry Division agreed to appoint him Commander of Ca Mau Brigade. That was a first successful step. Now the next step:

- Please help me once more. This time I ask you to make arrangement for a L19 airplane to pick me up, the important thing is that the pilot has to be present at the VIP parking area at 7:00 p.m. sharp - and tell him not to shut off the engine, I will board the plane immediately. Let me whisper to your ear this: my soothsayer told me that if I depart at such time and in such manner and head toward the direction of the 21st Infantry Division, I will reach the pinnacle in the Army. Don't turn me down, Hoa -

Before he left the office, he gave me an envelope intended for the pilot and my "buy yourself a cup of coffee" was also an envelope.

Let me provide some additional explanations: after the transfer of the command of the 21st Infantry Division between Lieutenant General Khiem and Colonel Bui Huu Nhon, and General Khiem assuming the position of Joint General Staff Chief in December 1962, this Division moved down to Bac Lieu, ceding the Headquarters in Can Tho to the 4th Corps Command Post which was formed in the beginning of 1963. Therefore, the direction alluded by Lieutenant Colonel Minh was South East as related to capital Saigon. Concerning Ca Mau Brigade, which Lieutenant Colonel Minh was about to assume the command, it comprised the 32nd Infantry Regiment (attached to the 21st Division), with Artillery and Armor units, operating in An Xuyen military area (Ca Mau). Lieutenant Colonel Minh talked about a L19 airplane; it was a military observation airplane used to guide artillery and air force fire powers aiming at the enemy. When needed, it was also used to ferry VIP officers or generals who traveled from one unit location to another one within a 300 kilometer range.

A couple of weeks after Lieutenant Colonel Minh assumed the command of Ca Mau Brigade, he telephoned me:

- Hoa dearest, I am subpoenaed to appear in court to answer to a few questions in Saigon. Would you please help me in responding to the bureau chief of the Justice Department, that my unit is conducting an operation, and that I will report when it is over. Please resolve this matter for me as soon as possible, would you? -
- What's the matter, Colonel? Is it very serious? -
- It's not very important, dear. It's just merely a matter of minor glitch -
- Well, I will try, but cannot make any promise to you, because I don't have a full picture of the matter -

Afterwards I learned that Lieutenant Colonel Minh was one among the suspects involved in the murder of a political figure in An Giang Province during the time he was Province Chief. The bureau chief of the Justice Department let me know that the Justice Minister granted the postponement until Lieutenant Colonel Minh wrap up his military operation.

Lieutenant Colonel Minh was able to resolve his problem in a short time. I have no clue how he did it, making such a heavy dossier put aside in some forgotten bottom shelf, then disappear completely altogether afterwards. To this day, I ask myself, "Did I have anything to do with Lieutenant Colonel Minh's exoneration?" In all honesty, I only relayed his request for an appearance postponement only.

I don't know how accurate the soothsayer's prediction was, but it was evident that after the battle of the Red Summer in April 1972, a rumor circulated among the generals that Lieutenant General Minh (he was promoted quite rapidly) might replace General Cao Van Vien as the next Chairman of the Joint General Staff.


Colonel Pham Ba Hoa
Doi Dong Ghi Nho (My Memoir)
1998

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