(Following is a letter received from Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, Head of the 3rd Corps Military Security unit)
San Jose, 18 July 1998
I just received your letter dated yesterday inquiring about the death of former Major General Nguyen Van Hieu, Deputy Commander of the 3rd Corps/ 3rd Military Sector. The event happened nearly a quarter of a century, but I still remember vividly its development as following:
At that time Major General Hieu was holding the position of Deputy Commander of the 3rd Corps. He cumulatively held the position of Chairman of the "Anti-Corruption Committee of the 3rd Corps". I still recall that morning I had a meeting with General Hieu at 10:00a.m. in his office. The meeting lasted until around 12:00 noon then ended. I went back to my office, which was not too far away from the Command headquarters, about only 10 minutes drive. I was preparing to have lunch with some friends who had come down from Saigon to visit me, when the Security Office called to let me know that General Hieu killed himself with a pistol in his office. I was dazed and surprised because it was just unbelievable. I just departed with him 15 minutes ago, after the meeting. I found him to be jovial as usual, and there was no sign whatsoever of a despondent man.
I apologized to my friends from Saigon and hurried to drive back to the Command headquarters. When I arrived the Red-Cross ambulance had taken General Hieu's body to the hospital. I did not know what to do but to go in to see Colonel Phan Huy Luong who was the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Corps.
According to Colonel Luong's account, around 12 o'clock noon everybody near General Hieu's office heard the sound of a pistol in his office. Colonel Luong ran in and saw General Hieu lying immobile in his armchair next to the desk. A blood streamed effusively down his face and chest. A bullet had pierced his forehead and went straight up to the brain. The bullet found force to reach up to the ceiling, and perforated it.
As it was shown by the fact, the bullet terminated immediately General Hieu's life. In other words, he died immediately, without feeling any pain. He held in his hand a pistol. There was no one present in his office at that time.
The first thing Colonel Luong did was to call in the Doctor of the 3rd Corps to come and try to see if it was still possible to rescue him and then to advise the Military Police unit of the 3rd Corps. Colonel Luong took precaution to have General Hieu's office cordoned, not to admit anybody in before the Military Police could record the crime scene and start the investigation process.
When I entered General Hieu's office I saw some M.P.'s sketching the crime scene. One M.P. climbed up a ladder to look for the pistol bullet which had reached up there. Blood and pieces of brain splattered on the wall! There was no sign of struggling.
Because this matter was in the hands of the M.P.'s, I therefore only heard the results of the investigation. According to Lieutenant Colonel Quyen, head of the Military Police unit of the 3rd Corps, this was a self-inflicted death caused by the happy trigger of a pistol. There was no proof that General Hieu was assassinated or killed himself.
I agreed with this observation stated by the Military Police because based on information we had on General Hieu, he liked to play with pistols. He had won championship in pistol shooting. Not too long prior to that, somebody gave him as a gift a pistol, of a rare type. He cherished this pistol but what bothered him was that it was trigger happy. He had given it to be repaired by the Supply Command unit 3 times in the past. This information was provided to me by Colonel Khang, Head of the Supply Command unit.
Furthermore, a few weeks later, the Central Military Security Office sent me articles narrating rumors that General Hieu was eliminated by a group of corrupt individuals because they were afraid he would reveal their underground activities. Some newspapers even eluded that his dead was masterminded by General Toan. General Toan was at that time Commander of the 3rd Corps. He recently replaced General Du Quoc Dong who had resigned for health reason.
According to the results of my own investigation, these public rumors were baseless. They were not backed up by any evidence or witness that would lead to the conclusion General Hieu was eliminated by a group of corrupt elements.
Around that time, rumors of that type was proliferating. For example, not long before that there was a rumor that claimed General Do Cao Tri was killed by an explosive device planted by the Americans on his helicopter to eliminate him. This was a baseless rumor but it was believed by many people! According to the investigation, it was only caused by a mechanical glitch. Why should the Americans kill him! They respected and made full use of competent Generals of his caliber.
General Hieu was a competent and incorruptible General. Everybody from high up to low down respected and loved him. His death was a big loss to the Army, especially at a moment when the Army was in need of competent Generals to save and maintain the country.
I had the privilege to serve under General Hieu's command for some time. He was really a competent General and especially an incorruptible one. The image of a General young, handsome but simply dressed, calm, friendly and unpretentious is still vivid in my memory.
Above was what I know about General Hieu. Perhaps I had disappointed you because I provided you with information that was not in accordance with information that you had received or expected to hear from me. But I can assert to you one thing: what I write here is conforming to my understanding of the truth about General Hieu's death. I do not gain anything by lying or covering up for someone.
My address and telephone were written on the envelope. If you have some questions or doubts that you think I can help to clarify, please don't hesitate to call me or write to me. I already retired and am relatively free.