A Sketch Of The General Staff Period

In 1953, after a two year period of convalescence imposed by tuberculosis, Lieutenant Hieu was transferred to Saigon to work at the Joint General Staff. Colonel Tran Ngoc Nhuan wrote in his Doi Quan Ngu (Military Life), page 59:

I resided at the bachelors' quarter of the General Staff compound and had as roommate Lieutenant Nguyen Van Hieu. Since then we knew each other well. He was a kind, religious and polite officer, extremely helpful toward his comrades.

After Viet Nam was divided into two, around August 1954, Captain Hieu was appointed Deputy Chief of G3, Joint General Staff. At that time, the Chief of Staff was Colonel Tran Van Don, the Deputy Chief of Staff was Major Dang van Quang, followed by Lieutenant Colonel Tran Thien Khiem, the G3 Chief was Major Nguyen Van Manh, the G4 Chief was Major Cao Van Vien. Along with many other officers, Captain Hieu initially lodged at Nghia Hiep Hotel, in Khanh Hoi, then moved into Lot 25 of the Khanh Hoi Housing Complex.

Colonel Quan Minh Giau remembered:

After the splitting of the country into two parts, I was transferred to G3 staff at the Joint General Staff, in charge of the General Research section; not long afterwards, Hieu was also transferred here as Deputy Head. I was overjoyed by our reunion. The first thing I noticed was he remained the same in his behavior and attitude, as in the old days. During the period we worked together at G3, I noticed that Hieu was very intelligent and diligent, sharp and quick in making decisions in strategy matters. Every staff member held him in high-esteem.

In 1957, Major Hieu followed General Tran Van Don to I Corps in Danang and held the position of I Corps Deputy Chief of Staff until January 1963.

Colonel Le Khac Ly said:

We knew each other way back in 1957, when General Hieu was still 1st Corps G3 Chief, and I was 1st Division G3 Chief. We had to muster all our skills in order to work in unison in an extremely delicate situation, in which constant clashes occurred between our two respective bosses, General Tran Van Don, 1st Corps Commanding General and General Ton That Xung, 1st Division Commanding General.

No doubt Major Hieu was an effective assistant to General Don in the opening of strategic highways and outposts as well as in organizing exercises in military operations of I Corps as narrated by General Don in his book Viet Nam Nhan Chung, pages 148-149:

As I Corps Commander, I ordered the construction of many important strategic highways. President Diem wanted to open the new National Highway 14 connecting Ban Me Thuot, Pleiku, Kontum and Thua Thien. The Army and the Engineering Unit of I Corps and II Corps - headed by General Ton That Dinh at that time - jointly accomplished those important strategic highways. In 1959, I used a jeep to ride along this newly built highway from Hue to Kontum, passing through Mo Duc (Quang Ngai) Plateau G.

I also used to ride on these highways to go from Hue or Danang to approach the Laos frontier to study terrains, and to establish 14 outposts, from the 17th parallel along side the frontier to Kontum, such as A Luoi, A Shau, Tabat, Ba Choc... Ba Choc was next to the 17th parallel. I placed a Company composed of about 35 soldiers at each outpost.

The work in setting up the 14 outposts was finished in 1960. Furthermore, I Corps and II Corps organized exercises of joint operations to counter the theoretical enemy invasion through the 17th parallel, either frontally or laterally, and made plan for civilian evacuation. These operations maneuvered seven divisions of the two Corps at the same time. Later nobody would train troops at such a scale.

Major General Nguyen Xuan Trang recalled:

At that time, Colonel Nguyen Xuan Trang, 1st Corps Chief of Staff and Major Nguyen Van Hieu, Deputy Chief of Staff, coordinated closely various offices and departments of the 1st Corps General Staff in order to give instructions to different units in the operational areas to conduct joint military operations.

In 1961, in order to interdict troops and materials infiltration from the North into the South, the 1st Corps instructed the 1st Infantry Division of Colonel Nguyen Van Thieu together with ten Local Security Forces Companies of Thua Thien Province to conduct military operations in the A Shau valley in order to establish 3 Special Forces camps: A Shau, A Luoi and Ta Bat at strategic points along the infiltration route. Camp A Shau was situated at 97 kms from Da Nang, 48 kms southwest of Hue, and two and a half kms of the Laos-Vietnam borders.

During that time, Colonel Trang and Major Hieu were both present at Lao Bao, Laos-Vietnam borders, on National Highway 9 Dong Ha- Se No - Savannakhet.

In 1962, the focus turned to the pacification of Tin-Ngai areas (Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Provinces). The 2nd Infantry Division of Colonel Lam Van Phat received orders from the 1st Corps to coordinate with the Local Security Forces to conduct military operations in the areas of Que Son - Nong Son. During that time, Colonel Trang and Major Hieu were both present in Tam Ky, Quang Ngai and Duc Pho, Quang Ngai.

Richard Tregaskis, author of Vietnam Dairy (1963) wrote:

Maj. Wagner introduced me to the Vietnamese Deputy Chief of Operations in this Corps Area, Maj. Nguyen Van Hieu, a slight, alert, well-scrubbed individual whom Wagner, in an aside to me, characterized as "very bright." The Vietnamese operations chief spoke highly of the strategic hamlet program: "In each tactical area, the Army is responsible for support, barbed wire, and weapons, and we are making progress. Elections are being held in many of the strategic hamlets."

I went back to the barracks and started talking to Rathbun about the favorite subject of the officers hereabouts: how our side can win this war. He said, "One of the main things is you have to have the support of the people, we have to do that." I told him that at Corps HQ, Wagner and his opposite number, Nguyen Van Hieu, had been trying to get some of the static and useless outposts disbanded and some troops made into a mobile reserve. I also told him that Wagner had suggested that he'd like to have three or four helicopter companies in this Corps instead of one. I also mentioned that junior strategists at the O Club were talking about the firehouse concept of a Tiger Force standing by with the helicopters all the time.

General Lam Quang Thi still remembered:

After our graduation, I had the opportunities to meet frequently with Hieu when we were both Major serving at Corps I: he as Chief of G3 General Staff, and I as Chief of Artillery Unit. Every weekend, we practiced pistol shooting. He was much better than me because he put much efforts in grooving his pistol to gain quickness.

Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, who was an officer with the 1st Division during that period, said:

Major Hieu was extremely helpful in assisting the needs of our division. Furthermore, he was reputed an excellent pistols shooter. Nine out of every ten shots hit the mark. Besides that, during his shooting practices, Major Hieu did not use ordinary bullets but rather self-made ones. He used chewed then packed rice-paper in lieu of metal bullets. What's amazing was that these paper bullets were as hard as the metal ones and the aiming accuracy was the same.

In the beginning of 1963, Major Hieu was selected to attend the Army Command and General Staff College. Documents show that General Lu Lan attended the same military college in 1957, Generals Nguyen Van Thieu and Linh Quang Vien in 1958, General Pham Van Dong and Pham Quoc Thuan in 1959, General Nguyen Xuan Trang in 1960, Air Force General Pham Ngoc Sang in 1961, Colonel Ta Thanh Long in 1963, Colonel Le Khac Ly in 1966, General Tran Quang Khoi in 1972 and General Le Nguyen Vy in 1973.

After his graduation, Major Hieu was assigned to the position of 1st Division Chief of Staff under the Command of General Do Cao Tri in Hue in August 1963. Colonel Pham Chung Khan of the Artillery Unit recounted that, during that time, upon learning that he and a friend came to Hue from a remote outpost to partake an examination of bachelor in law, Major Hieu came by jeep to invite them to go out for breakfast. During that period, Major Hieu assumed the task of dealing with problems raised by various Buddhist factions aiming at disturbing the situation in Hue and causing difficulties to the Central Government in Saigon.

After the coup d'tat toppling down President Ngo Dinh Diem in November 1963, Major Hieu was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. It was in that capacity that Lieutenant Colonel Hieu commanded a 1st Division unit to disarm the guards defending Ngo Dinh Can's palace. Two weeks later, General Do Cao Tri was assigned to replace General Le Van Nghiem as I Corps Commander by the General Junta. General Dao Cao Tri promoted Lieutenant Colonel Hieu to Colonel and assigned him to the position of Interim Commander of 1st Infantry Division.

In January 1964, when General Tri and General Khanh swapped I Corps and II Corps, Colonel Hieu followed General Tri to Pleiku and assumed the position of II Corps Chief of Staff.Two months later, in April 1964, General Tri and Colonel Hieu jumped into Do Xa stronghold to ferret out Viet Cong.

General Lu Lan narrated:

For a long while we did not see each other. When we met again, Hieu was already a Colonel and 2nd Corps Chief of Staff in Pleiku. I was also a Colonel who had just been relieved of a divisional command by General Do Cao Tri and reassigned to the post of 2nd Corps Deputy Commander. Every Monday, the 2nd Corps held the flag raising ceremony. Every military personnel must ceremoniously line up in participation. Therefore on my first Monday in Pleiku, I stood in attention with the General Staff group. General Do Cao Tri used to let his Chief of Staff preside over this ceremony in his place. I saw Hieu solemnly walk toward the presiding podium. Suddenly he raised his hand to interrupt the ceremony, then walk straight toward me and said: "This does not look right. Mon General, please allow me to relinquish the presiding role to you."

On 09/10/1964, General Tri assigned Colonel Hieu 22nd Division Commander. On 09/13/1964 General Duong Van Duc initiated a military push aiming at toppling General Khanh's government. Afterwards, General Tri was replaced by General Nguyen Huu Co in the command of II Corps. On 10/24/1964, General Co pulled back Colonel Hieu to his former position of II Corps Chief of Staff.

General Nguyen Xuan Trang wrote:

When Major General Nguyen Huu Co was 2nd Corps Commander, its Headquarters was situated in Pleiku, Central Highlands.

In 1964, Brigadier General Nguyen Xuan Trang was 1st Corps Deputy Commander and Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu was its Chief of Staff.

The 22nd Infantry Division received orders from the 2nd Corps to coordinate with the Local Security Forces of Kontum Province to conduct military operations in the areas of Dakto and Plei Trap valley, in order to establish the two Special Forces of Dakto and Ben Het. These areas had strategic importance because they were close to the junction of the three Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos borders, where the Ho Chi Minh Trail cut across Bolovens highlands.

During that time, Brigadier General Trang and Colonel Hieu were both in Kontum.

In the first half of 1965, Colonel Hieu helped General Nguyen Huu Co, II Corps Commander, in the planning of numerous attacks and counter-attacks to break the winter-spring offensive of the VC which aimed at isolating the highlands by cutting off Highways 19 and 1.

On 06/20/1965, Brigadier General Vinh Loc replaced General Co as II Corps Commander (General Co became Defense Minister). In July 1965, Colonel Hieu designed Operation Than Phong to clear Highway 19 linking Qui Nhon to Pleiku. In August 1965, Colonel Hieu with his II Corps General Staff concentrated his efforts in planning for the rescue of Duc Co CIDG Camp. In October 1965, occurred the big battle of Pleime (conducted by II Corps), followed by two mopping up battles in Ia Drang Valley (conducted by US 1st Cavalry Division) and in Duc Co (conducted by an ARVN Airborne Brigade). No doubt Colonel Chief of Staff Hieu's contribution in these three battles was not insignificant.

Brigadier General (retired) Theodore Mataxis recalled:

In 1965, I was the senior advisor to II Corps. One day I and Colonel Hieu accompanied the Commander of an ARVN Infantry Division in a battlefield inspection. Units of this division were always ambushed by the enemy each time they launched an operation. When our helicopter landed down, I saw the General Commander walked toward a waiting group and respectfully shook hand with a man in Vietnamese traditional dress. I turned to Colonel Hieu to inquire about the identity of that man. Colonel Hieu revealed that he was the General's soothsayer. I requested the CIA officers to have an eye on this intriguing person. After the soothsayer was put into jail, units of the above-mentioned division were no more ambushed by the enemy.

On 06/23/1966, General Vinh Loc assigned Colonel Hieu to the Command of the 22nd Division to replace Brigadier General Nguyen Thanh Sang, because according to General Vinh Loc, "General Sang was too corrupt."


Nguyen Van Tin
03 October 2002.
Updated on 07/9/2005

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