Virtuous And Religious Traits in General Hieu

Very few people knew General Hieu was a great warrior, but the majority who have heard of General Hieu knew he was an incorruptible General. In this article, we will see that his integrity is only one of many other virtuous and religious traits of General Hieu.

Let's collect first some testimonies regarding these traits of General Hieu.

Colonel Trinh Tieu stamped the following title on his article about General Hieu: Portrait of a General perfect in both competency and virtue.

Tran Ngoc Nhuan remembered Lieutenant Nguyen Van Hieu: "He was a nice, virtuous and affable Officer, extremely helpful toward his comrades"(Military Career, page 59).

Colonel Nguyen Khuyen admitted: "He was indeed a competent general and especially incorruptible. The image of a general young, handsome and yet simply dressed, even-tempered and unpretentious forever remains in my memory. (Letter Stating The Fact).

Colonel John G. Hayes, Senior Advisor of 5th Division, while evaluating the Commanding General, was compelled to notice that: "He was quite religious and patriotic, and demanded high standards of conduct and discipline." (Evaluation Report dated 7 February 1970).

Colonel Robert Lott, Deputy Senior Advisor of 5th Division, noted that the most salient trait in General Hieu was his christian personality: "General Hieu was a brave and able soldier; however, in these conversations he defined himself to me to be much more - a christian gentleman." (Letter dated 12/04/2003)

Colonel Quan Minh Giau wrote: "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. Sometimes at lunch breaks, he stopped by my desk or I stepped into his office to talk about family, society, military operations... One of such times he told me: "Je fais tout mon possible pour me rapprocher d'un saint, mais je n'y parviens pas" (I do my utmost effort to come close to a saint, but have not been successful at it). Since the days at Dalat Military Academy, I had noticed that Hieu was a man of ideal, that day I understood his ideal lied in the spiritual stratosphere, aiming at a spiritual perfection in life in order to come nearer to God. Such ideal was the motivation in all of his actions."

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Anh Ton wrote: "In life, each one of us determines his or her own way of life. In the Generalís case, he always placed the following two maxims in French on his desk as a compass for this life:

Un travail bien fait est la joie du coeur.
Une priŤre bien accomplie est la paix de lí‚me.

which means:
A task well done brings joy to oneís heart.
A prayer well said brings peace to oneís soul."

Proofs of virtuous and religious traits in General Hieu are numerous. Besides the incident of the Military Supply Unit's condensed milk cans narrated by Colonel Trinh Tieu, I would like to mention a few other examples.

Colonel Le Khac Ly, Chief of Staff of the 22nd Division under the Command of General Hieu in the years of 1966-1969, observed that General Hieu lived like an ascetic monk. He used to eat in the officers' canteen. One day, Colonel Ly sat opposite to General Hieu in the dining room. He felt his heart sunk when he suddenly noticed a dead fly floating in General Hieu's bowl of soup! As the Chief of Staff, he was responsible for the canteen's management. While his whole body froze in panic, he witnessed with amazement General Hieu calmly plucked the dead fly out with his chopsticks and put it down on the table, then continued to eat and consume his bowl of soup as if nothing had happened! Without uttering a complaint or a reproach...

Colonel Ly also recounted that he never saw General Hieu scold any of the servants working in his household, even when, due to their negligence, his children fell down and injured a knee or a head. On those occasions, General Hieu just ran over to pick up his child and went on tending to the injury, not expressing any displeasure or showing signs of impatience.

Soldiers serving at the headquarters of the 22nd Division noticed that their Commanding General had the following habit: each time he returned from the battlefields, as soon as his helicopter touched ground, the first thing he did was to visit the chapel and kneel down to thank God for preserving his life.

Also during the period he was Commanding General of the 22nd Division, one Sunday, while he was attending mass, the pastor approached him and invited him to go up to the podium and address a few words to the congregation. The parishioners listened with amazement. General Hieu delivered an impromptu sermon that scored far better than what they used to hear from their pastor, with all the appropriate biblical quotes, from the New as well as the Old Testament (in particular, references taken from the epistles of St Paul, his baptismal patron; he always signed his name: P[aul] Hieu).

Few are aware that General Hieu used to visit the leprosarium in Di Linh. He was one of the sponsors of this leprosarium. On April 12, 1972, General Hieu, on behalf of Vice President Tran Van Huong entered the room of Monsignor Jean Cassaigne, its French founder and director who was dying from leprosy, to offer him the National Order of Vietnam Third Class medal. General Hieu was also present at the bedside to provide comfort to his friend during his final hours.

Colonel Ta Thanh Long, one of General Hieu's Dalat Military Academy classmate, who was the Head of the Vietnamese Delegation in the Four-Party Two-Side Committee that monitored the Paris Agreement prior to the loss of Saigon, recounted that after the transfer of the 5th Division command - to Colonel Le Van Hung- ceremony, in June 1971, he approached General Hieu and invited him to go partying with a group of Colonels and Generals, which included General Lam Quang Tho, the Commanding General of the 18th Division (he was also, shortly afterward, dismissed by General Minh from the 18th Division), General Hieu excused himself with the pretext he had to attend to some personal affairs. After the party, Colonel Long went home. When he reached Ben Cat, he saw General Hieu's car parked on the side of the road. He approached the car and saw General Hieu and his driver, each one eating a loaf of bread with a ripe banana in one hand! Colonel Long yielded out loud: "Why do you have to act like this! You don't have to show-off your integrity!" General Hieu just smiled back.

General Hieu possessed these virtuous and religious traits due to the influence of his mother who was herself very religious and also due to the influence of the Jesuits when he attended their Aurore University in Shanghai. He immersed himself in the Jesuits' spirituality and exerted himself with Jesuits' spiritual exercises. Both of these spirituality and spiritual exercises were designed by St Ignacio de Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuit Order, aiming at producing disciplined and valiant militants for the Jesuit Order in particular, and for the Catholic Church in general.

It is not difficult to find a competent General. It is somehow more difficult to find a virtuous General. It is extremely rare to encounter a General who is both competent and virtuous. But you can only find one General who is "perfect in both competency and virtue" as described by Colonel Trinh Tieu. Colonel Nguyen Khuyen confided that, during all the years he served in the Military Security, he had read numerous reports concerning high-ranking officers' and generals' misdeeds, corruptions and abuses of power during that period, but he had never come across any report that talked badly about General Hieu. Colonel Ta Thanh Long, echoing the traditional Vietnamese beliefs, recognized that in General Hieu's case, "He lived as a General, and after his death, he became a Sacred Entity."

Nguyen Van Tin
12 January 1999.

Updated on 08.19.2005