It was at the eve of 1974 Tet that I met Major General Nguyen Van Hieu, III Corps Deputy Commander for the first time when I accompanied the Bien Hoa Province Chief to present Tet wishes to him. His first words put me off guards somehow: I am in no way involved in the administrative domain for you as a Deputy Province Chief to pay me a visit for the occasion of Tet? He said it with a smile, I knew he was kidding and I responded mildly: It is because I admire your honesty reputation that I come to present my Tet wishes. That was the unique time I paid a visit to him, because in Tet of 1975, due to multiple offensives launched by the VC, huge waves of refugees poured into Bien Hoa; and the refugees’ resettlement task left me no time to pay him a visit to present my Tet wishes that year.
At the time there were rumors of conflicts at the corps headquarters, I was also subjected to threat coming from the corrupt gangs. Therefore, when I heard the news he was harmed, I was concerned for my own safety. When I heard a high ranking officer of the Military Security relating to the Province Chief about a self-inflicted wound accident, I was in disbelief, because I also owned a short barreled revolver equipped with 5 bullets. This type of revolver was very simple, nothing that a dismantling procedure could lead to an accident. Afterward, somebody said that the General was given a Walther revolver; he dismantled it for examination and caused an involuntary gun discharged. This theory was also baseless. Whoever likes to play with guns knows well the dismantling process: first, the bullet case should be taken out; next, the compulsory step to ensure safety is to point the gun upward and pull the arm engagement twice to ascertain there are no bullets left in the gun barrel. I am a gun amateur yet I had gain that fundamental know how; don’t forget he was a general officer who liked to accumulate a wide range of short guns. Consequently any theory advocating a self-inflicted wounded death caused by inadvertence is not convincing.
Now the issue of assassination is also complex. The Commander’s office was laid out as following: at the entrance door was a small desk; on the desk were two trays; one was labeled: Mũ/ Hat; the other was labeled Vũ khí/ Weapon; which meant that any officer entering the office must leave behind his hat and guns. In front of the office’s door, there were the aid de camp officer and at least two bodyguards on permanent duty; normally the number was four bodyguards. Therefore how high was the ranking of the assassin in order to allow him to enter the office without having to leave out hat and guns to carry out his act? The case of shooting from outside the window is also baseless: it had to be a high ranking officer in charge of security to be allowed to linger nearby the Commander’s office area.
I should have written the above because they are only my own personal thingkings, but upon seeing the topic, The Day Major Hieu was assassinate, I decided to contribute some thoughts to express my sympathy with a general officer who reputed incorruptible in the army and yet was unjustly eliminated!
Lương An Cảnh
Seizing the opportunity, I would like to present a few points I knew about General Tri and General Hieu to the public opinion. The deaths of both Generals remain shrouded in secrecy to these days, and do not have a satisfactory explanation. However there are some coincidental points in retrospect. Any general officer who held a position in III Corps ought to have absolute trust of the current president, because each time there was a coup of counter coup, the main force had to belong to III Corps. At their death time, both General Tri and General Hieu were at III Corps: General Tri was Commander and General Hieu was Deputy Commander. Before their death, both was closely related to and had intimate words or gestures with Vice President Tran Van Huong.
Before his death, General Hieu was appointed chief investigator of anti-corruption committee by Vice President Huong. Suddenly there was news that General Hieu died in his office because he inadvertently discharged his pistol. When this news came out, the majority in the military milieu was in disbelief, because he was seasoned general officer and not a newly recruited soldier to commit such a silly mistake. General Hieu’s residence was located in Chi Hoa’s officers’ compound. We went in there to perform the funeral ceremony at his house. Afterwards we went ahead to the cemetery and wait for the arrival of the van transporting the gasket. Upon veering into the cemetery, we saw a three car convoy: the lead car was Military Police’s, followed by a black sedan harboring a general ensign, and backed up by a Dodge truck equipped with heavy automatic guns and full of escorted soldiers. When the gasket arrived, the ceremony proceeded. While the generals in grand parade attires were reading eulogies and expressing condolences with the family, a helicopter suddenly landed nearby the Statue of Sorrow. General Nguyen Van Toan, III Corps Commander, in combat fatigue and wearing an armor unit beret stepped out of the helicopter, entered the black sedan and lead by the Military Police in full siren blast, entered the ceremony area. The generals present raised their hands in salute, he responded in kind, looked around, nobody knew what he was thinking or felt isolated and remained mute. He returned promptly to hie car. The Military Police jeep resumed its siren blast and conducted him back to the helicopter, despite the cemetery was utterly deserted and devoid of traffic. He mounted the helicopter, and the small convoy returned to Bien Hoa without him. Everybody looked at each other in disbelief in witnessing such an inopportune display of power.
In the particular case of General Tri, after the helicopter’s accident, the public opinion inculpated the involvement of the Americans, which is still an unresolved issue. In 1996, General Cao Van Vien, former Chairman of the ARVN Joint General Staff, was resting in convalescence in Long Island. A visitor approached him and raised some questions about past incidents that still remain […]
The story is as follows: One day, when he was about to depart after a day work, an American General, Advisor at the Joint General Staff, entered suddenly his office and asked him if he had heard the news? He responded no, and was told that President Thieu let General Tri knew that he assigned him to the post of Chairman of the Joint General Staff in his replacement. General Vien said that was a good thing, as he desired since he had submitted his resignation various time but the President had not gave his approval yet. One day, General Tri met Vice President Huong in his office and in a course of a discussion told him: “If you ever need me for anything, just let me know. I will back you up hundred percent.” Afterwards, the decision for the position of Chairman of Joint General Staff vanished, replaced by the news that General Tri was assigned to the command of IV Corps. General Tri checked the news and found that it was true. He immediately went to see President Thieu. He said: “You promised the position of Chairman of the Joint General Staff and now dispatch me to IV Corps. In that case I prefer to remain at III Corps.” President Thieu did say a word. Afterwards, during a flight to supervise the battlefield, General Tri was killed in a helicopter’s accident.