General Hieu Assassinated: Fact and Fiction

On April 8, 1975, around 8 a.m. General Hieu flew to Go Dau Ha by helicopter to meet Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi, III Corps Armored Assault Task Force Commander on military affair. At that moment in time, the President Palace was bombarded. By 9:30 a.m. he flew back to Bien Hoa. By 10:00 a.m. he held a short meeting with Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, Chief of III Corps Military Security. After the meeting, by 10:30 a.m., he was killed in his office.

Cover Up

General Toan issued a gag order forbidding every personnel and officers present at the corps headquarters that morning to discuss the incident and arranged for a cover-up that it was a suicide, subsentquently changed to a death caused by a self-inflicted wound while cleaning a pistol P.38 in the late afternoon. The death certificate puts the time of death at 7 p.m.

The family living in Saigon was only notified in the evening. Madame General Hieu and Dung, the eldest son, were taken by car to Bien Hoa. Upon returning home, 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".

In the following day press conference, the military spokesman confirmed a news report according to General Toan’s version.

In the morning of April 9, Mr. Huong, Tri and Tin, General Hieu’s father and young brothers, went to the III Corps headquarters. They were greeted by LTC Quyen, III Corps Military Police Commander, who was assigned to host the family. The family took a tour, visiting the morgue, the office and the trailer of General Hieu.

While the family 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 General Hieu’s father and let him know that he was one of his former students at the Police Training Center and promised to let him know the results of his testing soon.

As for me, Tin, I approached my brother’s body and noticed a red dot at the left-hand side, and the skull was still in one piece; upon discarding the hair at the top head area, a little bit toward the right-hand side, I noticed a red dot, but no hole, which means the bullet did not exit the head. The fact I was fortunate to have a first hand observation as such, allowed me to discern between who is telling lie and who is telling the truth when that person asserted knowing exactly what had happened: i.e, it could be a suicide or self-inflicted wound, because the bullet entered the victim’s left-hand side chin, while General Hieu was left-handed; it coul not be a P.38 mm since the skull remained intact.

Fiction

It was until 1998 only that I commenced to search and contact those who were present at III Corps headquarters on the day of General Hieu’s death. I was able to contact the following witnesses: (1) Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba, 25th Division, (2) Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, Chief of III Corps Military Security Bureau, (3) Lieutenant Colonel, Nguyen Khuyen, III Corps Military Police Commander, (4) Military Doctor Luong Khanh Chi, III Corps Medical Unit Chief, (5) Colonel Ta Thanh Long, Head of Vietnamese Delegation, member of the 4-Party and 2-Side Combined Military Committee, (6) Colonel LeVan Trang, III Corps Artillery Unit Commander, (7) Major General Dao Duy An, III Corps Deputy Commander/Territory, (8) Colonel Phan Huy Luong, Assistant to III Corps Deputy Commander/Operations, (9) Captain Do Duc, General Toan’s Attaché, (10) General Nguyen Van Toan, (11) Brigadier General Le Trung Tuong, III Corps Chief of Staff, (12) Colonel Le Trong Dam, II Corps Police Force Commander, and (13) Lieutenant Colonel Ly Ngoc Duong, M.D., General Toan’s Chief of Cabinet.

Although it was two decades ago, there are two strange point in their testimonies. One is, except in the case of Colonel Khuyen, who said General Hieu died before noon; the rest still complied to General Toan’s order and stated the death occurred in the evening. Two is every resort to fiction instead of sticking to the truth in their testimony.

Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba

Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba said he heard that General Hieu died in the evening. In June 1998, after I had read the book entitled Memoir of 25 year War authored by Brigadier General Ly Tong Ba (Commander of 25th Division), I telephoned him to inquire about my brother. I was told: he met with General Toan that afternoon; after the meeting, on his way to the helipad, he passed by General Hieu's office and heard soldiers talking about General Hieu's being killed in his office; he did not linger for more information because he had to hurry back to his units.

Colonel Nguyen Khuyen

The first person who revealed to me that General Hieu had died at noon time was Colonel Nguyen Khuyen (Head of 3 Corps Military Security) in his letter dated July 18, 1998, when he responded to my letter inquiring about my brother's death. He still remembered vividly the scenario as follows: he met with General Hieu in his office at the 3rd Corps Headquarters from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.; he drove back to his office which was located at approximately a 10 minute drive; he was about to go out for lunch with some friends who had come from Saigon to visit him, when he got the news of General Hieu's suicide.

It appears that the news of General Hieu’s death was leaking out by those present nearby the crime scene before General Toan issued the gag order. Like Colonel Khuyen states as he reached his office “his Military Security personnel reported to him a telephone call just announced that General Hieu just committed suicide.”

Besides, at the end of August 1998, while I was in Virginia researching documents about General Hieu at the National Archives, I paid a visit to Brigadier General Tran Dinh Tho (Chief of Staff, Joint General Staff). He confirmed with me that General Hieu had died at noon time, because he still recalled that day, he was about to have a late lunch due to a busy schedule when Colonel Luong called to report General Hieu's tragic death.

Nguyen Van Y (Director of Central Intelligence Agency) told me in 1986 that General Hieu had died with an empty stomach for not having the chance to eat lunch.

In May 1999, I got the opportunity to meet Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi (Commander of 3 Corps Assault Task Force) in Virginia, and in a subsequent telephone conversation in June 1999, he placed General Hieu's death at noon time, because that morning he met with General Hieu in Go Dau Ha at 8:30 a.m.; around 9:30 a.m. General Hieu flew back to Bien Hoa; a few hours later, he received the news of General Hieu's death.

Except the time issue, all other details given by Colonel Khuyen in his letter are in the domaine of fiction:

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.

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.

Colonel Ta Thanh Long

In his letter dated January 4, 1999, Colonel Ta Thanh Long (Head of Vietnamese Delegation, member of 4-Party and 2-Side Combined Military Committee) confirmed that General Hieu had died in the evening. He recounted the event as follows: he participated in a meeting presided by General Hieu at 5:30 p.m.; also present were Brigadier General An, Colonel Luong and the American Consul General of Bien Hoa; after the meeting, when Colonel Luong invited General Hieu to go to supper, he went to meet with the chairman of the International Committee Monitoring the Paris Agreement; that meeting lasted 20 minutes; afterwards he returned to his office and got the news of General Hieu's death upon his arrival.

Lieutenant Nguyen Quyen

On January 23, 1999, Lieutenant Colonel Quyen, Commander of 3 Corps Military Police, stated to me that General Hieu died sometimes after 6:30 p.m. He recalled that day, the Military Police guards under his command was chased away from the 3 Corps Headquarters by Brigadier General Le Trung Tuong accompanied by a group of soldiers in combat outfit. That evening, after taking a 6:30 p.m. shower, he passed by the Headquarters and saw General Hieu still sitting at his desk in his office. He added that when he had to assume the investigation of the crime, he was afraid for the life of the investigators under his command and had to resort to a scheme to bring in the Police group of Captain Thinh Van Phuc, and the POLWAR group of Colonel Nguyen Hung Khanh, to alleviate the responsibilities of his investigation team and the pressure coming from higher authority.

Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Toan

In the March 10, 1999 letter, General Nguyen Van Toan made mention about General Hieu’s death:

But a surprise happened on (which day I don't recall), I was returning from an airborne operation when I got the news of Major General Hieu's death in his office. I immediately flew to Major General Hieu's office and saw he had died from a pistol bullet piercing through his eye and exiting the top of his head, causing him to die right at his desk.

Hieu's death was caused by an involuntary discharge of a pistol. Hieu's loss cast sorrow in everybody and was a big loss to the Army at that time. Reminiscing the past is really painful.

Besides, it is rather strange that General Toan forgot that he had ordered everybody to said General Hieu died in the evening. He stated throughtColonel Le Khac Ly (II Corps Chief of Staff) as an intermediary, General Hieu died at noon time, while he was airborne during a military inspection.

Captain Do Duc

Through the intermediary of a friend, I was able to make contact with Captain Do Duc. In the telephone conversation, his main effort seemed to make excuse for his boss, General Toan:

That day, the atmosphere was very tense. There was a 100 percent base camp curfew. All day long, General Toan worked in his office at the 3rd Corps Headquarters. I sat on duty in the adjacent room. My room faced General Hieu's office. I recall that day General Toan did not meet with General Ly Tong Ba, 25th Division Commanding General, because whoever wanted to see General Toan had to go through me. At 5:30 p.m., General Toan had me called up his car to go back to his residence, located next to the Bien Hoa Administration Building, a mere 10-15 minute drive with a siren police military escort. After dropping off General Toan's briefcase, I went out drinking in the company of Air Force Major Luong, who had recently been transferred to the 3rd Corps from the 2nd Corps at my recommendation, and Air Force Major Cuu (still in Vietnam), who was well known as pilot of several Commanding Generals of the 3rd Corps. After 10 to 15 minutes into partying, we were told that General Toan had hastily returned to the Headquarters with his bodyguard. I dropped everything and hurried back to the Headquarters.

When I arrived, the place was already crowded with military policemen working at the scene. General Toan had ordered General Hieu's office cordoned, and so, I did not get to see the crime scene. I heard General Toan gave order to speed up the investigation process to get to the bottom of the matter. After half an hour, I accompanied him back to his residence. Later, I heard the rumor that General Hieu liked to play with guns and might have accidentally shot himself.

What I am certain of is that General Toan could not have shot General Hieu, because I was with him all day long until he went home after 5:30 p.m. He respected General Hieu very much. He always addressed him as "Anh" (Elder Brother).

If General Toan stated that he heard General Hieu's accident news while in the air, he erred due to his diminished health condition as a result of a by-pass operation. Both his two pilots, Major Luong and Major Cuu, were partying with me; he could not have been up in the air at that moment.

If General Hieu was assassinated, then the assassin had to be someone who was very familiar with the maze inside the 3rd Corps Headquarters building. Even after been there 2, 3 months, I still got lost when I had to go from one office to another one. I rarely had the opportunity to enter General Hieu's office, except when I was asked by General Toan to invite General Hieu to step over to meet with him.

It is quite unexpected that Captain Do Duc turns out to be the trigger man in General Hieu’s death. He did not lie though in asserting that General Toan did not pull the trigger!

Colonel LeVan Trang

n May 1999, I was introduced to Colonel Le Van Trang (Commander of 3 Corps Artillery Unit) in Virginia. He told me that General Hieu had died in the evening. He recalled the event as follows: at 5:30 p.m., he had a brief meeting with General Hieu; Brigadier General An and Colonel Luong were also present; they planned for the next day's activities; after approximately 20 minutes, General Hieu ended the meeting; he and Brigadier General An returned to their home to have supper; General Hieu and Colonel Luong were making arrangements to have supper at the Officers' canteen when he departed; while he was taking a shower, he was told that Colonel Luong called him on the phone; when he returned the phone call, Colonel Luong announced the news of General Hieu's death.

Major General Dao Duy An

In June 1999, I was able to contact Brigadier General Dao Duy An (3 Corps Deputy Commander in charge of Territory) by phone. He told me that General Hieu had died in the evening. His recollection of the event was as follows: at 5:30 p.m. of that day, he spoke privately with General Hieu in an unofficial meeting (with no other people present); afterwards, he returned to his family for supper, and was aware that General Hieu was about to head back - on his own (without Colonel Luong 's invitation) to his "trailer" where he was supposed to have his supper; not long afterwards, while supper was not ready yet, he received a phone call from Colonel Luong advising him General Hieu was just been shot; upon arriving at the Headquarters he saw General Toan was already there and General Hieu was dead sitting at his desk. That night, the Headquarters was plunged into total darkness, with all lights out. General Toan gave order to a Major to transport General Hieu's body on a red cross jeep to the hospital, without the benefit of the care and concern of any other officers.

Colonel Phan Huy Luong

Colonel Phan Huy Luong

In the beginning of July 1999, after several months of inquiring, I was finally given Colonel Phan Huy Luong's (Deputy Chief of Staff in charge of Operations) phone number. In our phone conversation, he provided the following details: around 5 or 5:30 p.m., General Hieu, Brigadier General Le Trung Tuong (3 Corps Chief Of Staff) and Colonel Luong, as a daily routine, chatted unofficially in the Chief Of Staff's office while awaiting for supper time; Colonel Luong invited General Hieu to go to supper; General Hieu went back to this office to pick up something; a moment later, a gun shot was heard in the Deputy Commander's Office; some Military Police soldiers ran in and came out to announce the news of General Hieu being shot; a moment later General Toan appeared; Colonel Luong said he was too upset by the tragic event to pay attention to what happened afterwards. He stated that he did not make any phone calls to anybody to communicate the news. He also added that to these days, he still did not know the results of the investigation, nor if the bullet had been found or not. He also let me know that Doctor Chi, the medical examiner, had died...

Brigadier General Le Trung Tuong

On May 26, 2002, I received the following letter from Brigadier General Le Trung Tuong. The letter was sent from Saigon:

Hieu was a person who liked to tinker with pistols. He was a national champion pistol shooter when he was in I Corps. He always modified the trigger device of his pistols, in order to gain discharge's speed in practices as well as in competitions.

I remember the day the unexpected event occurred as you already knew, Hieu upon returning from a mission came into my office to invite me to have dinner together. At that moment I was too busy with paper works and told him that after I finished reading the officials documents I would go to his office to invite him to go to dinner. He went back to his office, which was located about 30 meters away.

After about 15 minutes, a gun shot was heard, Hieu's staff members came over to my office to announce that a gun shot was heard coming out of Hieu's office. I immediately gave order to call the Judicial Military Police to come to open the door to investigate. After a few minutes, the Judicial Military Police arrived; they opened the door and saw Hieu lying nearby his desk with a pistol. The bullet went through his head, the gun shot wound was too serious and caused him to die on the spot ... Next the Judicial Military Police and the Security Police draw up the report. From that day to April 30, the situation in III Corps remained very critical until the day South Vietnam collapsed, the Army disbanded, some people left the country; as for me, at the last moment I was incarcerated for 13 years in the re-education camps.

Colonel Le Trong Dam

Around August 2004, Colonel Le Trong Dam told me by phone: Khoảng tháng 8, năm 204, Đại Tá Lê Trọng Đàm nói qua điện thoại: on the day General Hieu died he was present at III Corps Headquarters and returned to Saigon the same morning. That evening, Lieutenant Colonel Duong, MD phoned him to break the news of General Hieu’s death. When I mentioned that Colonel Khuyen placed General Hieu’s death at noon time, he categorically stated that Colonel Khuyen was wrong for he still lingered at III Corps Headquarters until 2:00 p.m.

The phone conversation lasted quite long, about 45 minutes; however he only alluded to General Hieu’s briefly as such. He recounted knowing General Hieu the days he was still a captain working under General Nguyen Van Manh who was a mayor holding the position of G3 Chief at the Joint General Staff in Cho Quan, and he happened to be General Manh’s brother-in-law. He revealed further that the day he escaped out of Nha Trang, he paid a visit to General Toan at III Corps Headquarters, and General Hieu hugged him warmly and exclaimed: “Glad you made out.” He spent the remaining time of our conversation talking about what he knew about General Toan and the close relationship he enjoyed with General Toan since childhood.

Lieutenant Colonel Ly Ngoc Duong

On August 31, 2004, LTC Ly Ngoc Duong, M.D., General Toan’s chief of staff, told me by phone:

I still recall vividly the events happening on the day of General Hieu’s death. It was a hectic day because that morning the Presidential Palace was bombed and I was busy with the drafting of a radio announcement to be delivered by General Toan regarding the bombing to reassure the public.

Around 6:30 p.m., General Toan walked into my office to announce he was leaving and going to his residence located in Bien Hoa. I gathered my papers in view to finish the drafting of the said document and joined him in his car to go back to his residence; Captain Do Du, his attaché was riding also in the car.

On my way out, I saw General Dao Duy An hurrying up to go home in his jeep which sped up in roar. I heard General Hieu inviting General Le Trung Tuong to go to dinner together, to which General Tuong responded: “Let me take a shower first.” There was a private bathroom installed in the Chief of Staff’s office. General Hieu returned to his office to wait for General Tuong.

At General Toan’s residence, while I was setting up equipment to record General Toan’s announcement in the room next to General Toan’s bedroom, the phone rang. I picked up the phone, at the other end of the phone line, General Tuong said: “Hieu is dead.” I answered: “What did you say? Please repeat.” “General Hieu is dead.” I ran into General Toan's bedroom to break the news. General Toan was still untying his shoes.

We hurried back to the Headquarters. Captain Do Duc accompanied us in the car.

In entering General Hieu’s office, I cautioned General Toan not to touch anything so as not to leave his finger prints. I saw General Hieu sitting on his chair, his head slumping on the desk, his left arm resting on the desk, his right arm dangling above floor, and a pistol lying next to his hand on the floor. I noticed that the bullet went from his neck … uh … uh … uh…no, it was not so, let me say it again, from the right hand side jaw to the left hand side temple. General Toan did not come near, he stood with an arm leaning on the door frame, and I witnessed him crying. That was the second time I saw him cry; the first time, when we were in II Corps, and the third time on board of Midway ship on 4/29/1975.

The III Corps physician was called in to examine General Hieu and officially pronounced him death.

A Police Forensic team came to investigate, found the bullet on the ceiling and matched it with the pistol lying next to General Hieu’s body. And a Police Forensic Major using the method of black powder stated that General Hieu’s right hand has trace of gunpowder and smoke could be smelled at the tip of the pistol. These were proofs that the death was caused by an accidental self-inflicted wounded.

Someone stipulated that General Hieu committed suicide when the military situation became hopeless on the battlefield. I did not think so because General Hieu was a devoted catholic and also a capable General. He could take on any challenge on the battlefield. If there were more generals as competent as him, perhaps we would have to run over here.

I suppose you are well aware that General Hieu liked to tinkle with pistols. That fateful morning, the Engineering Unit returned a pistol that General Hieu had asked to repair a faulty trigger mechanism. One day, General Hieu took me into his trailer home to show off his collection of various types of pistols.

Because my feelings toward General Hieu were as such, as you rekindle the old days, I still remember vividly and am unable to contain my emotions.

Military Doctor Luong Khanh Chi

In August 2004, when I was able to contact Doctor Chi, the physician who examined General Hieu’s body and who officially declared his death, I was told by his family members that he was suffering from a stroke that occurred a few years ago and it had affected his memory. That was why when I introduced myself to him on the phone as a brother of General Hieu, he sounded puzzled and asked, “Who is General Hieu?” Therefore I was unable to get any information from regarding General Hieu’s death. However, a family member told me that prior to his medical predicament, when asked, he responded that he had submitted a forensic report to the Joint General Staff in which, based on the bullet’s path, he had concluded that the death was caused by an accidental self-inflicted wounded.

Fact

The thirteen fictional testimonies were faught of contradictions and so lead to more confusion. It was only by May 2015 that General Hieu’s death was clarified with a revelation coming from an American intelligence source.

Around February 1975, Richard Peters, American Consul General at Bien Hoa, gave to General Hieu a Cross pen equipped wit an electronic sensor listening device for protection.

General Hieu always carried this pen on his chest pocket shirt.

On April 8, 1975, the permanent monitor of signal emitted by this electronic device pen, the American intelligence team was able to know that around 10:30 a.m., General Hieu entered his office at the III Corps headquarters, followed by Captain Do Duc, General Toan’s attache with a third-degree black-belt Taekwondo. Suddenly Do Duc got closed to the back and delivered a chopping blow at the back of neck causing a temporary immobilization, then used a small Browning P6.35 mm caliber pistol to shoot at the left hand side of the chin. Not long afterwards, the monitoring team of the hotline between III Corps headquarters and the Presidential Palace intercepted a telephone call made by General Toan to President Thieu. Toan reported in French: “Mission accomplie.”

The American intelligence source was also able to identify the P6.35 mm as belonging to General Toan who lent it to Do Duc to carry out the assassination. Furthermore, the American intelligence source learned later on that Thieu’s secret service swapped Toan’s pistol with another similar one when Toan went to the President Palace for a meeting and had to leave his weapon outside the meeting room. Thieu’s secret service did not trust that Toan’s ability in terms of keeping the secret. Toan’s was unaware of the switching of pistols.

Assassination’s Motives

The motive for killing General Hieu does not lay in General Toan who might have shoot General Hieu after a heated dispute on tactical matter, or in corrupt gang wanting to get rid of an obstacle, but in President Thieu suspecting General Hieu of colluding with the Americans to foment a coup against him.

When announcing the news of General Hieu’s death, some press media wondered: “It was not known whether Hieu's death was connected with the Tuesday morning bombing of the Presidential palace of Nguyen Van Thieu.” (UPI) When the Presidential Palace was bombed, Thieu initially panicked into thinking it was the starting signal of a coup. At that moment, General Hieu happened to be present at Go Dau Ha with III Corps Armored Assault Task Force of Brigadier General Hieu. It seems President Thieu wa s afraid that General Hieu was about to instigate a coup and ordered General Toan to assassinate General Hieu.

Nguyen Van Tin
14 February 2016

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- Shroud over General Hieu's Mysterious Death Unveiled
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