Department of State
DATE : November 7, 1974
1. General Hieu assumed the position of Deputy Commander of III Corps, responsible for ARVN forces stationed in III Corps, on December 3, 1973. Hieu has a reputation for being an excellent staff officer. Prior to his appointment to III Corps, General Hieu was assigned to the Vice President’s office holding the rank of Deputy Minister, and was in charge of the anti-corruption campaign.
2. Nguyen Van Hieu was born on June 23, 1929 in Tientsin, Hopei Province, China. His father, Nguyen Van Huong, was born in Bac Ninh, North Vietnam on September 26, 1903 and his mother, Nguyen Thi Nghiem was born in Ha Dong, North Vietnam on December 12, 1910. Hieu’s father went to China as a youth with his family. He was educated in Shanghai and spent his career with the French Sûreté in the French Administered Quarter of Shanghai from 1933 to 1944. From 1949 to 1954, he was the Director General of National Police in North Vietnam. With the communist take-over in the North, the family moved south where Hieu’s father became the Director General of the National Police in the south in 1954. (It is not known how long he retained that post.) His father, at least as of mid-1970, was living in Saigon and is reportedly a wealthy businessman, having an interest in the IBA, an export-import firm. Hieu has two other brothers, Nguyen Van Tri and Nguyen Van Tin. He also has one sister, Nguyen Thi Hoa, who was born in 1943. Hieu’s mother died in Shanghai in 1945.
3. Hieu received his education in Shanghai, attending the Collège Français de Shanghai. He received his Certificat d’Etudes Primaireand his Baccalauréat en mathématiques in 1948. He then entered the Université l’Aurore de Shanghai where he studied in the Science Department until 1949 when he and his family fled China.
4. Hieu joined the army on October 1, 1950 and attended the 3rd Class of the National Military Academy at Dalat. He graduated second out of a class of 135 and receives his commission as a 2nd lieutenant on July 30, 1951. Hieu’s classmates included the following:
5. Hieu was not assigned to a combat unit upon commissioning but instead became a member of the staff of the Ministry of National Defense where his excellent command of the French, English and Chinese languages was utilized. Hieu remained at the MOND until September 30, 1952 when he was assigned to the High Command, again in a staff position, in the 3rd Military Region (at the time, the 3rd MR consisted of North Vietnam). He was promoted to 1st lieutenant on July 1, 1953, and remained in North Vietnam until May 16, 1954. At that time, he was relocated south. Upon his return to the south, Hieu was assigned to the Operations Section of the Headquarters of the ARVN in Saigon. He was promoted to captain on April 1, 1955 and to major some two years later on October 15, 1957.
6. On February 16, 1958, Hieu was assigned as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations in I Corps. The Corps Commander was LTG Tran Van Don. In August of that year, Hieu received an evaluation from an American Advisor(*). It is apparent from the report that Hieu had, during the six months he had been in I Corps, left a very favorable impression on the American Advisory Group in Danang. Hieu was highly recommended for attendance at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; lauded for his administrative abilities; for his skillful and proper utilization of personnel; and for his superior attitude toward receiving and accepting advice from US advisors. The advisor concluded his report by stating: “He is a man who possesses potential for highest rank in the Vietnamese Army. He should be sent to a CONUS school as soon as possible, preferably Ft. Leavenworth. He should be assigned to field command jobs to give him more command experience. This officer, properly handled and developed, could well become a future competent if not eminent general officer in the Vietnamese Army. His attitude toward the United States is strong, and his language fluency would be an invaluable asset to Allied operations.”
7. A little more than a year later, on October 6, 1959, Hieu received another evaluation which echoed his earlier one. He was again highly recommended for attendance at the Command and General Staff School. Hieu recently told a senior US official in MR-3 that he was denied promotion for an extended period because he believed it inappropriate as a military officer to join Diem’s Can Lao Party even though he was importuned to do so. This probably explains being passed over many times for Leavenworth. Hieu received his permanent promotion to major on October 26, 1961.
8. On December 7, 1962, Don was relieved by MG Le Van Nghiem, and on December 16, 1962, Hieu entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He completed the school on May 10, 1965 and returned to Vietnam. He was again assigned to I Corps, which was still under the command of MG Le Van Nghiem.
Association with Do Cao Tri
9. On August 13, 1963, Hieu was appointed Chief of Staff of the 1st Infantry Division. The Commander of the Division at that time was Do Cao Tri, who had attained the rank of BG. Tri became the Commander of I Corps/MR-1 a few days later, but apparently also retained command of the 1st Division for a new commander of the Division was not named until December 12, 1963 when Tri became the Commander of II Corps/MR-2.
10. As Chief of Staff of the 1st Division, Hieu was the senior officer in command of the troops at Hue during the overthrow of Diem in 1963. By his account, Tri kept him in the dark about the coup until after it was in progress. Hieu, whose career was by then becoming more and more identified with that of Tri’s, was moved from I Corps to II Corps on January 1, 1964 and became the Chief of Staff for II Corps. He remained in that position until September 7, 1964 when he became the Commander of the 22nd Division. Tri was relieved of his duties on September 15, 1964 (see Saigon A-121, June 10, 1974 for details) and Hieu was transferred back to his former position as Chief of Staff for II Corps on October 24, 1964. He remained there for nearly two years, serving under MG Nguyen Huu Co until June 1965 and then under LTG Vinh Loc.
11. On June 28, 1966, Hieu was transferred back to the 22nd Division as its Commander. He remained with the 22nd Division for a little more than three years, receiving his promotion to BG on November 1, 1967. In September 1968, Hieu was again rated by an American advisor. The advisor stated that Hieu was a highly intelligent individual, likeable and easy to work with. He further stated that “He is a popular leader, but at times is extremely conservative in his tactical planning and execution.”
Fifth Division Command and American Criticism
12. On August 9, 1969, Hieu was promoted to major general and two days later became the Commander of the 5th Division. LTG Do Cao Tri, the III Corps Commander was responsible for Hieu’s assignment. On August 19, 1969 he was again rated by an American advisor(1) who stated: “General Hieu is an extremely competent officer who enjoys an excellent military reputation in his own army and with American senior officers. I am not knowledgeable of his financial status but believe him to be honest and dependent solely upon his army pay for support. Militarily sound and experienced, he must be described as a highly competent and effective commander.” These sentiments were repeated in May 1970.
13. Hieu and the 5th Division were shortly involved in greatly expanded operations, a situation Hieu did not like because he believed the 5th Division was not yet ready for such an active combat role. By August 1970, at least one American advisor began to voice strong opposition to General Hieu’s conduct of the 5th Division. The Deputy Senior Advisor (2), III Corps, a BG, stated: “General Hieu’s pessimistic and contrary views, voiced freely and publicly, have colored the attitudes of many of his subordinate commanders and made them less responsive to efforts to get on with the Đồng Tiến program. It is hoped that time, which fortunately the Cambodian campaign has provided, and a growing realization that the 5th ARVN Division can perform its new and expanded mission, will modify General Hieu’s outlook. If not, he should be relieved of command.” This was to be the first of several reports which suggested the removal of General Hieu. Within a month and a half, two additional, critical reports on Hieu were filed by both the outgoing (3) and incoming(4) senior advisors to the 5th Division, the latter having been on the scene for slightly more than a month.
14. General Tri, while acknowledging that Hieu did not entirely approve of the cross-border operations and especially those which called for the 5th Division to operate in the Snoul, Cambodia area, did not immediately move to relieve Hieu. By December 1970, however, there were rumors that General Tri was going along with American desires and was looking for a replacement for Hieu. Before Tri could act, if indeed that was his intention, he was killed in a helicopter crash on February 23, 1971. His successor, LTG Nguyen Van Minh, was also susceptible to American desires and Hieu’s tenure in III Corps was limited.
15. In May 1971, General Hieu found his forces in the Snoul area facing an increasingly serious enemy threat. He requested permission to withdraw from Cambodia, but General Minh refused to grant him permission until the two 5th Division regiments were faced by a two-division enemy force. The two regiments were mauled in their withdrawal from Cambodia and General Hieu was blamed for the disaster. At American behest, and with General Minh’s active consent, Hieu was removed from command of the 5th Division on June 9, 1971.
16. Hieu’s dismissal, as reported by an Embassy officer on June 17, 1971, was a cause célèbre, primarily because of Hieu’s well-known reputation for personal integrity and for his strong personal interest in the welfare of his troops.
17. Hieu, although removed from command, was not in disgrace and on June 14, 1971 was appointed as the Deputy Commander of I Corps, under his former classmate LTG Hoang Xuan Lam. Hieu did not remain in I Corps long for in January he went to Taiwan to inspect the Chinese army political warfare organization. Prior to leaving Vietnam, Hieu told an Embassy officer that upon his return to Vietnam on January 25, 1972, he would have to choose between two positions: the head of the Dalat Military Academy; or as a Special Assistant to the Vice President in charge of the Government’s new anti-corruption campaign.
18. Hieu returned to Vietnam and nearly a month later, on February 20, 1972, became the Special Assistant, Vice President Tran Van Huong. When Hieu left I Corps to take up his new position, he appeared eager to confront what he called “the most pressing problem facing the Republic of Vietnam”, but he also was realistic about the scope of the anti-corruption committee. He stated that it would be extremely difficult to prove malfeasance or corruption charges against prominent individuals as things then stood. The committee would, therefore, have to set its sights on lesser ranking individuals initially to build up a reputation for accuracy and legality. In May 1972, Hieu told Embassy officers that the anti-corruption campaign was getting nowhere and that the cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister were not cooperating with him. Hieu stated that his staff consisted of himself and one aide which was totally inadequate.
19. Hieu did have one highly successful investigation, that being the case of the Soldier’s Mutual Assistance and Savings Fund (SMASF). On July 14, 1972, Hieu appeared on television and reported the results of the investigation into the financial activities of SMASF. He named the Minister of Defense, LTG Nguyen Van Vy and retired LTG Le Van Kim as participants in the irregular financial activities. Vy was dismissed by President Thieu. While Hieu was pleased with this success he subsequently noted that there had been all too few successful cases and that one of the primary reasons for that was the lack of real support from the President.
An Unexpected Transfer
20. On December 3, 1973, Hieu was transferred to his present position, that of Deputy Commander of III Corps. His transfer came as a surprise to many, including General Hieu. Hieu has performed well in Bien Hoa, where he is well liked and widely respected.
Family, Finances and Prospects
21. Hieu is married to Pham Thi Thu Huong who was born in Hanoi, North Vietnam on October 23, 1936. Like her husband, Mrs. Hieu is a practicing Catholic. The Hieu’s have five children, the eldest being a son, Nguyen Van Dung, who was born on June 15, 1955. On June 12, 1956 another son, Nguyen Van Cam, was born. Their two daughters, Nguyen Thi Anh Thu and Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, were born on March 24, 1958 and December 26, 1959 respectively. The fifth child, Nguyen Van Hoang, a boy, was born on May 5, 1965.
22. Hieu has an excellent reputation and has never been accused of corruption. His family is wealthy and he undoubtedly supplements his salary from family holdings. He is well-read and is fluent in English, French and Chinese.
23. It is not known who his mentor is, but it may be Tran Van Don. In February 1972, Don, who was a LTG and is currently a Deputy Prime Minister, stated to the Consul in Danang that Hieu was one of the most capable generals in ARVN and “the most honest general in the Army today”. The latter assessment is broadly held and frequently voiced by ARVN officers. Don further stated that he would take Hieu over virtually any ARVN general he knew. Barring a severe military setback, it is likely, therefore, that Hieu will remain in highly responsible positions for the foreseeable future.
24. Americans working with him in MR-3 find him friendly and cooperative. In Bien Hoa, he lives in a trailer at MR-3 Hq and spends most nights there only occasionally taking an overnight leave to be with his family in Saigon. He frequently visits in the home of Bien Hoa Consulate General senior officers for long evenings of discussion or chess games (he is a master of Chinese Chess, and plays “Western” chess well). He played shortstop on his high school softball team in Shanghai, but apart from pistol and rifle target shooting does not seem to play any sport now. He often borrows books on world affairs from his American friends. He has made a detailed study of Red Army defeat of German invasion forces in Russia in World War II and obviously admires the Russian performance. While candid, courteous, and friendly with American officials in MR-3, a certain reserve and circumspection, perhaps a part of a Mandarin sense of dignity and position, is always discernible.
EXEMPT BY DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION W. J. LEHMANN
(*) Major Wagner, Marine Corps
(1) Colonel John Hayes
(2) General D.P. McAuliffe
(3) Colonel John Hayes
(4) Colonel Raymond Kampe