When he arrived at the 5th Division on August 14, 1969, General Hieu was glad to see that the 1/8th Battalion was lead by an outstanding commander, Major Chau Minh Kien.
Chau Minh Kien graduated Class 19 of the Dalat Military Academy in the end of 1964, and was the fastest in ranking advancement among his classmates, being promoted twice in battlefield: Captain in 1968 then Major in August 1969.
Upon graduation he was commissioned to serve at the 5th Division (General Tran Thanh Phong, Divisional Commander) and was assigned Executive Officer of 9th Company (Lieutenant Nguyen Ky Suong, Class 16, Company Leader), 3/8th Battalion (Captain Ly Duc Quan, Class 10. Battalion Commander). In 1968, Captain Kien was given the command of 1/8th Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Le Nguyen Vy, 8th Regiment Commander and Major General Pham Quoc Thuan, 5th Division Commander. Unfortunately, Major Kien was killed in action on September 14, 1969 Ė and was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Ė just one month after General Hieuís arrival at the 5th Division.
General Hieu noticed the combat resolve of 1/8th Battalion suffered enormously following the sudden death of its charismatic leader. Then, when it sustained a heavy toll under the leadership of LTC Kienís replacement in a battle that took place in November 1969, General Hieu sensed the urgency of finding a new Battalion Commander that would restore the reputation of this battalion.
A look at the group of current battalion executive officers in the division, General Hieuís eyes were caught by the sight of an officer with a rather short height (even perching on a stool, others would still surpass him by a head!), an alert couple of eyes and a wide forehead named Tran Van Thuong. In reviewing the individual military records submitted by the Personnel Bureau, General Hieu noted the following salient facts:
The reading of the records lead General Hieu to the conclusion that he was in the presence of a hidden jewel buried deep into the sand which ought to be put into good use and he decided to entrust Captain Thuong with the leadership of the 1/8th Battalion in December 1969. He felt justified in his personnel selection when he read the following evaluation dated February 02, 1970 submitted by Colonel John Hayes, Senior Advisor regarding Battalion Commander Tran Van Thuong and 1/8th Battalion:
With the outstanding leadership of Battalion Commander Tran Van Thuong and of Regiment Commander Bui Thach Dzan, who replaced Colonel Le Nguyen Vy in March 1970, General Hieu employed the 1/8th Battalion and the 8th Regiment respectively as the head-lance and the javelin of the 5th Division, as shown typically in the Snoul Battle.
Nguyen Van Tin