Interview Of Richard Peters

Twenty-six years after the loss of my country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Richard Peters, the former American Consul General of Bien Hoa, in Virginia on November 11, 2001.

When did you come to meet with General Hieu?

When I was assigned Consul General at the Consulate General in Bien Hoa at the beginning of 1974.

How often did you meet General Hieu?

Quite often. At least once a week socially. General Hieu and I got quite along because we had common intellectual interests. Like reading books. I once lent him The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, published in 1972. After he read it, he was quite depressed because of the pessimistic views presented by its author regarding his predictions of the outcomes of the Vietnam war.

I had no family with me at that time, and General Hieu's family was in Saigon. I often invited him for dinner, because I had an excellent Vietnamese cook who liked to prepare for us delicious dishes. We played western chess. He taught me Chinese chess. Sometimes we played the two types of chess one after the other. He always won! He also took me once to the firing range to shoot rifle and pistol. He always hit the mark.

Did General Hieu ask you to take care of his family if something happened to him?

No, he did not.

Did you know anything about his death?

The first report I got about his death said it was suicide. Other theories came out later. Because of the need to take urgent care of multiple problems raised by the rapid advance of the NVA, I did not have time to investigate General Hieu's death in person.

Was there any premonition of General Hieu's death?

I did not see any premonition. I did not sense any animosity between General Toan and General Hieu. If there were any disagreements between the two, I have the impression General Hieu, out of a sense of discipline, would abide by General Toan's command.

Did you give hints to General Hieu that the United States was leaving?

Up to the moment of General Hieu’s death, there were no decisions about abandoning South Vietnam yet. General Weyand’s fact-finding delegation sent by President Ford left Vietnam on April 4, 1975, and General Weyand had yet to present his recommendations to the President, which he did on April 9, I believe.

The American troops had been pulling out since 1971 and were gone by 1973, and the Vietnamization of the war was fully implemented by then with the ARVN assuming all the fightings. The advantages of the NVA were that they could attack either through the DMZ into the 1st Corps, or Low Laos into the 2nd Corps, or Cambodia into the 3rd Corps; thus, they had the element of surprise. The ARVN could counter this military condition with mobility by moving troops rapidly to the point of attack and with the power of fires by using heavy artillery and tanks. However, when the U.S. Government cut motor gas and artillery ammunition provided to ARVN by about half, the ARVN was severely handicapped.

Did General Hieu brief General Weyand when he came to the 3rd Corps?

I don’t know since I did not arrange General Weyand’s schedule. General Weyand did talk to some Vietnamese in Long Binh before he came to the 3rd Corps, and I did speak to General Weyand personally.

Did General Hieu discuss with you his military plans in defending Saigon?

No. Officially, I met with General Toan almost daily to discuss military matters in the 3rd Corps. My after-hour encounters with General Hieu were on a social level. I tried not to touch upon military issues with him on social occasions. General Hieu might, from time to time, mention territories gains or losses of military units. But that was about all.

General Hieu died on April 8, 1975. Xuan Loc Battle began on April 9. Did General Hieu reveal to you his plan for that battle?

The ARVN did put up a formidable fight at that battle and was able to stop the advance of the NVA at that front. General Le Minh Dao of the 18th Division struck me as General Hieu, competent and incorruptible, but not as intellectual and as religious as General Hieu. General Hieu was, indeed, an impressive individual... But, to answer your question, he did not discuss with me his military plans in general or this battle in particular.

I would like to seize this opportunity to thank you, on behalf of my brother General Hieu, for helping in the evacuation of his family.

Nguyen Van Tin
12 November 2001