Cover-Up After General Hieu's Death
On 8 April 1975, Major General Nguyen Van Hieu, Deputy Commander of the 3rd Corps was assassinated right in his office. Only this fact is certain. After that minute, except the mastermind and the assassin, nobody knows for certain where the truth lies because the traitors immediately orchestrated a cover-up to detract the public opinion.
The fact that two news were released one after the other following the event, and both news originated from the 3rd Corps Headquarters - one was that General Hieu killed himself, two was that General Hieu inadvertently shot himself - indicated that something did not click here. Even details provided by those first on the scene also were full of contradictions or did not conform to facts. For example, Colonel Phan Huy Luong, the 3rd Corps Deputy Chief of Staff/Operations, who was the first to run into General Hieu's office after hearing the gun shot, recounted to everybody that the bullet pierced his forehead and exited the top of the head, resulting in "pieces of brain spattered all over the wall". This description did not fit with the fact I observed with my own eyes when I visit my brother's body. I only noticed the bullet left a tiny dark dot at his left chin, 1cm and 45-degree downward from his mouth corner. The bullet also left a tiny dot at the right top side of his head (and not behind the top back of his skull, as stated by the physician who examined his body to a relative; he even demonstrated his compassion by consoling that because of this General Hieu "died immediately without feeling any pain.") With such a tiny dot, with his skull intact, how could one state that "pieces of brain spattered all over the wall." Who pressured Colonel Luong to tell such a lie?
Furthermore, General Hieu was assassinated around noon time, from 12:30 p.m to 1:00 p.m., while awaiting to go to lunch, according to the confirmation of Colonel Khuyen, to the strong statement of Colonel Nguyen Van Y ("Toan shot him, I pity General Hieu: people normally dies with a full stomach, he had to die without being able to each lunch) and to the statement of Brigadier General Tran Dinh Tho (the person whom Colonel Luong telephoned to announce the striking news right after the occurrence of the event at noon, while he also was about to have a late lunch, because that day he was somehow busier than normal). But General Hieu's family was only notified about the sad news after 7;00 p.m. and Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba only heard about the news of General Hieu's death after his meeting with General Toan was over in the evening, when he passed by General Hieu's office on his way back to his units. And the death certificate put the time of death "at 7:00 p.m.".
It was undoubtedly a cover-up. Not until this day, in August 1998, did I come to realize the discrepancy in terms of time factor. It is why in my article "My Brother, General Hieu", finished in August 1998, I recounted that our family was told my brother died while preparing to go to eat supper, that was why only my sister-in-law went to Bien Hoa that night, while the rest of the family waited until the next day to go to visit his body...
And so, based on data collected while hearing or reading news about General Hieu's death, more than 20 years, especially based on data recently amassed in this last month, I am reconstructing the development of the event that happened on 8 April 1975 at the Headquarters of the 3rd Corps. Although this is an imaginative development, I think it follows closely with what really happened that day, because I am convinced it has been sketched under the guidance of my brother's spirit.
* Early in the morning of 8 April 1975, General Hieu flew from Bien Hoa to Go Dau Ha to meet with General Tran Quang Khoi, 3rd Corps Assault Task Force Commander at 8:30 a.m. Around 9:30 a.m., General Hieu flew back to the 3rd Corps Headquarters.
* At 10:00 a.m., General Hieu, as chairman of the Anti-Corruption Committee of the 3rd Corps, presided a monthly meeting with its members, in which were present Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, Head of the 3rd Corps Military Security unit and Colonel Luu Yem, Chief of Bien Hoa city, in the office of the 3rd Corps Deputy Commander. The meeting ended at 12:00 noon. Afterwards, Colonel Khuyen went back to his office located 10 minutes away from the Headquarters.
* After the meeting, General Hieu went to meet Colonel Luong so they could go to lunch together as usual. Noticing Colonel Luong was still busy, General Hieu told him that he was going back to his office to wait for him there.
* A few moments later, suddenly Colonel Luong heard a gun shot coming out from General Hieu's office. He quickly ran in and saw General Hieu collapsed at his desk. He immediately telephoned the 3 Corps Physician for emergency procedure, then dialed General Hieu's family home number in Chi Hoa Officers Housing Complex, but nobody answered, he then called Brigadier General Tran Dinh Tho at the General Staff Command Office.
* While he was frantically making those phone calls, the perpetrators entered the room and forced Colonel Luong to put down the phone and ordered him, from that moment on, to act under their marching orders.
* The Physician came, examined General Hieu and declared him death on the spot without feeling any pain. The ambulance transported General Hieu's body to the hospital of the 3rd Corps. Soldiers around the Command Headquarters who made inquiries were told General Hieu was wounded, reason unknown.
If General Hieu died immediately, then why transferred his body to the hospital before the Military Police came to do the investigation? Was it not because the perpetrators wanted to destroy evidences?
* Colonel Luong called the 3rd Corps Military Police to come to investigate.
* After conferring, the perpetrators released the first rumor to a limited number of agencies only, for example the 3rd Corps Military Security unit, while the general public was still kept in the dark: General Hieu killed himself.
* The 3rd Corps Military Security unit announced this news to Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, who was about to go out to lunch with his friends who came from Saigon to visit him. Colonel Khuyen excused himself and hurried back to the Command Headquarters. He was only allowed to go in to see Colonel Luong. Colonel Luong, in the presence of General Toan, recounted the event to Colonel Khuyen: "General Hieu lied immobile in his armchair by the desk. Blood streamed effusively down his face and chest. A bullet pierced his forehead and went straight up his head. The bullet found enough strength to reach the ceiling and perforated it, leaving a hole."
How could it be possible that a bullet pierced the forehead - perhaps at the temple (isn't it how people who commits suicide normally does?) - then maneuvered and went up to the top of the head then shoot up to the ceiling! That was why blood streamed effusively down the face and chest. Unfortunately, in reality the bullet pierced the left chin and exited the top back of the skull. How could this fact explain the direction taken by the blood stream as described?!
* Colonel Khuyen, Colonel Luong and General Toan strolled together into General Hieu's office. M.P.'s were sketching the crime scene. One M.P. climbed up a ladder to look for the bullet who had reached the ceiling; but he did not find it. Suddenly General Toan exclaimed:"Here it is, here it is, I found the bullet!"
Expert investigators of crime scene, after combing the area could not find the bullet, was General Toan that skillful? Was he that dedicated to the point he was not afraid of being laughed at by the soldiers and climbed up the ladder himself to search for the bullet? Or did he find it at the wall, because after reaching the ceiling, it took a dive to end up there? Furthermore, the crime scene was cordoned, why so many people, be it a General, were allowed to roam the crime scene?
* Somebody among the perpetrators group raised an objection: it was not plausible to say that General Hieu killed himself for the following reasons: 1) there was no suicide note addressed to his family or to the soldiers left behind; 2) General Hieu, who was a devoted catholic, could not have committed suicide because catholic doctrine forbids its followers to take their lives into their own hands; 3) everybody saw that General Hieu was jovial that morning and did not show signs of a despondent man. And thus a second version of the event was released: General Hieu, who liked to play with guns, inadvertently shot himself.
General Hieu, who had won championship awards in pistol shooting, was that awkward? He was about to go to eat lunch, why did he still have to take out his pistol to clean? General Hieu was right-handed, how could the bullet pierced his left chin? Did he pull the trigger with his left hand's thumb? Semiautomatic combat pistol used large size bullets with a strong destructive force, how could it cause tiny holes left at the chin and at the top of the head? The bullet that General Toan had found, did it fit with the size of the pistol barrel General Hieu held in his hand? (For sure it had to fit!) But did the dimension of the bullet fit the dimension of the bullet mark left at the victim's body? I am certain the Military Police did not have to labor painfully before easily reaching an answer to all these questions.
It was because of these complicated minutiae pertaining to pistol and bullets of that type, which prevented the perpetrators from producing the pistol as evidence, and they could not even specify the pistol's brand, they only stated vaguely it was a pistol!
Moreover, the Physician who examined the body analyzed to a relative as follows:"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.
It's strange indeed: the bullet, in one instance pierced the forehead, in another instance pierced the chin; went up to the top of the head here, exited the back of the skull there; had the strength to reach the ceiling here; lost momentum and bent down to hit the wall there! In any case, be it to the top of the head - as stated by Colonel Luong, or be it to the back of the skull - as stated by the Physician - the victim was declared fortunate to die immediately without feeling any pain! A psychological strike aimed directly at the heart of the listener, forcing the inner force of the listener himself to rush up to his brain, causing the mind to blur, resulting in him loosening the capacity of judgment! The perpetrators were quite clever indeed!
* General Toan held a scheduled meeting with his General Staff, as though nothing had happened in the Military Base which was worth mentioning (that the Deputy Commander was wound or had died) before the opening of the meeting, during the meeting and at the closing of the meeting (because Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba, Commander of the 25th Division who was present at the meeting was not aware of anything).
* While General Toan was presiding the meeting, the news of General Hieu inadvertently shot himself while awaiting to go to supper was officially released to the media after 7:00 p.m.
And so, General Toan had an alibi. He had plenty of people who would testify that he was at a meeting when General Hieu died in his office. He would not have such an alibi at noon, though!
* Around 7:00 p.m., after the meeting, on his way back to his units, Brigadier General Ba passed by General Hieu's office and overheard the soldiers mentioned that General Hieu's shot himself in his office. Because he had to hurry back to his units, he could not linger to get more information.
* The 3rd Corps had someone telephoned General Hieu's family to break the news that he was wound while awaiting to go to supper and was told to stand-by for further news. A moment later, a second telephone communication announced he was death.
Why was it that General Hieu died while awaiting to go to lunch, according to Colonel Khuyen's statement, the 3rd Corps told the family that he died while awaiting to go to supper, at 7:00 p.m.? Besides the need to create an alibi, the perpetrators needed time to orchestrate a cover-up.
* Lieutenant Colonel Quyen, head of the 3rd Corps Military Police was designated by the perpetrators to greet General Hieu's widow who was on her way to Bien Hoa. He was given a "carrot" in his right hand; in his left hand, a "stick". If he performed well so that the family resigned to the fact without raising too many questions, he will be rewarded with a promotion to the rank of Colonel; otherwise, not only would he lose his position, bad things would happen to his family.
And so, from that moment on, when asked, Lieutenant Colonel Quyen was forced to step over his conscience and answered: the official result of the investigation was "accidentally self-inflicted gun shot." To that answer, one could only put aside the dossier: such was the authoritative judgment rendered by the almighty Military Police!
Normally, the result of an investigation would require minimum two to three weeks to be officially released. In this instance, why was it released so soon by Lieutenant Colonel Quyen?
As a matter of fact, because of the critical military situation (the battle of Xuan Loc had exploded, Viet Cong sappers had started to attack right at the heart of Bien Hoa), the perpetrators had a pretext to delay the investigation process. When the country collapsed on 29 April 1975, the investigation was still unfinished.
* Everyone present near General Hieu's office when the crime occurred who had heard or had seen something, were all given a "carrot" and a "stick" similar to Lieutenant Colonel Quyen.
* The perpetrators secretly carried back General Hieu's body to his office, after carefully giving it a bathe, and sat him down on his armchair by the desk.
* General Hieu's widow was led by Lieutenant Colonel Quyen into his office to witness her husband's death.
Upon returning to Saigon that night, she told her father-in-law:"They killed my husband somewhere else then brought his body back into his office: I did not notice any blood, just a red tiny peck of blood at his left chin."
*The next day, General Hieu's father and his two younger brothers went to the 3rd Corps Headquarters. They were given a tour by our unwilling movie director Quyen, sandwiched by two secret agents from Thieu's Palace: to the morgue where General Hieu's body was laid, to his office, to his "trailer". Our movie director consistently avoid all questions pertaining to the reason of our visit, instead he talked non-stop about everything else, such as he had participated in a coup with General Nguyen Chanh Thi in the past!
* While we lingered where General Hieu's body was laid, an investigating team dispatched by the General Police Headquarters walked in. A police Major opened a metal box containing investigative tools, took out a bottle of black powder, using a brush to cover General Hieu's hands with black powder. The purpose was to determine if the pistol was shot in the victim's own hand, in that case there would be residue of gunpowder on it. After performing his duty, the police Major approached my father and let him know that he was one of his former students when my father was Director of the Police Training Center and promised to let him know the results of his testing soon.
The perpetrators wanted the public to believe this is a "civilian" case that had nothing to do with the "military" by bringing in a civilian agency!
To this date, General Hieu's was assassinated more than 20 years ago, the truth surrounding his death still remained unclear because those who knew the story continued to keep silence. I pray that those persons (Colonel Luong, Lieutenant Colonel Quyen, the police Major who performed the gun-powder testing, the 3rd Corps Physician, etc.) would courageously break their silence to let the Army know where is the truth, not for the sake of vengeance, but to cleanse General Hieu's reputation - he did not die for a just cause, but died while toying with a pistol and foolishly shot himself - and to alleviate the uneasiness felt by his family and the whole Army.
Nguyen Van Tin
(25 August 1998)