A Simple General

General Hieu was an exceptional individual in many aspects, and yet he was very simple. Since he entered the Dalat Military Academy until he became a two-star General, he always considered himself foremost a soldier and never wished to be treated more than a private first class: he enjoyed soldiers’ rations, he lived on soldiers’ paychecks, he polished his own boots, he cleaned toilets, he preferred to be at the wheel when driving, etc…

III Corps Deputy Commander

General Hieu stayed in permanence at the 18th Division's Command Post. The two of us slept in the same room on two side by side beds. I noticed Hieu was an avid reader, always carrying along with him two or three books in English. He was very congenial and shared the same spartan food with us. One morning I saw him stopped one sergeant of the 18th Division who volunteered to polish his boots to take them away and seized the brush to do it himself. (General Le Minh Dao)

The only occasion I met General Hieu was when he and his entourage officers were waiting for an airplane at an airport in Highlands. I went up to meet him, happy to see a friend whom I had admired and loved. Because of my inferior ranking, I addressed him according to the protocol, "My General", he immediately stopped me and requested that we resorted to "I - you". I dared not appear that familiar in front of his entourage officers and kept on showing deference which made him burst out with laugh. (Colonel Dinh Van Chung)

I greatly admire General Hieu. He was very competent, perhaps the most competent among ARVN generals, and yet very humble. The day I was appointed General Toan’s Chief of Cabinet, he stopped by my office. I did not sit behind by desk to receive him. We sat on sofas at the guest area and he did not treat me as a subordinate of a lower rank, but as friends. He talked about his military career, his multi-language abilities, his official visits to several foreign countries… He exuded an air of graceful confidence that was firm but not at all cocky. Everybody took notice of his modesty. The female operator at the telephone switchboard of III Corps headquarters praised that General Hieu remained always sweet; he never raised his voice on the phone line like most of the others high ranking officers when the phone lines were not clear, which was the general norm on military phone lines. (Lieutenant Colonel Ly Ngoc Duong)

5th Infantry Division Commander

The image of a General young, handsome but simply dressed, calm, friendly and unpretentious is still vivid in my memory. (Colonel Nguyen Khuyen )

One night General Hieu wandered leisurely toward the soldiers quarters and approached a poker game site. One player, not knowing his commander was standing next to him in the dark, chased him away: ”You! Go play somewhere else. Since you showed up your face, I lost my luck." General Hieu quietly walked away! (A soldier recounted this episode to Madam General Pham Quoc Thuan)

After the transfer of the 5th Division command to Colonel Le Van Hung ceremony, in June 1971, I 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, General Hieu excused himself with the pretext he had to attend to some personal affairs. After the party, I went home. When I reached Ben Cat, he saw General Hieu's car parked on the side of the road. I 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 Ta Thanh Long)

As the Secretary General of Supervisory Office, I met weekly with General Hieu, Special Assistant of Anti-corruption, because Vice-President Huong wanted to avoid overlapping efforts among the two agencies in the investigation of governmental entities: the Vice-President Office would not touch cases already taken up by the Supervisory Bureau, and vice versa. General Hieu’s reputation preceded him at the Vice-President Office, in particular I had heard someone witnessed the following incredible scene: in a cross-border operation into Kampuchea, General Hieu, 5th Infantry Division, stripped out of his uniform, wearing only a T-shirt and a pair of knickers, jumped down onto the muddy road to lend a hand to the soldiers in pulling out a bogged down military vehicle. (Le Dinh Lam)

I have a son, Major Tran Ba, who was KIA in the Snoul Battle. My daughter-in-law, together with other KIA officiers' wives, among them were also the 8th Regiment Deputy Commander's wife, went to 5th Division HQ to express their sorrow to General Hieu and Colonel Dzan. They lamented, they pulled the sleeves, they seized the collar, they pulled shirt flap-end out of the belt, they thumped on the chest of General Hieu, who stayed still until their sufferings subsided and they let go of him. (Major Tran Lien)

22nd Infantry Division Commander

I remember one day, after work, the driver drove him back to his residence located in Qui Nhon city (the 22nd Division headquarters was located at Ba Gi, 10 km away from the city). When the jeep reached half way, General Hieu looked back and saw a box of condensed milk cans of the Military Supply Unit. He asked the driver: "whose box of milk cans is this?" The driver replied: “Sir, madam general asked me to buy them for the children." General Hieu remained pensive for a while then asked: “Each month, how many cans does the Military Supply Unit sell to your family?" "Sir, a soldier is allowed to buy 6 cans a month." General Hieu said: “Turn the jeep around and drive back to the division headquarters and give the box back to the Military Supply Unit and take only 6 cans, because I am also a soldier just like you. (Colonel Trinh Tieu)

General Hieu always took his meals with us in the Officers' Canteen and I used to seat next to him at the table. One day, I was shocked when I spotted a dead fly floating in his bowl of soup. I panicked because as Chief of Staff, I was in charge of supervising the canteen's staff. While I did not know how to react to this horrible scene, I witnessed with amazement General Hieu calmly used his chopsticks to pluck the dead fly out and put it aside on the table next to the bowl and continued to consume the content of his bowl of soup as if nothing had happened, without uttering a word of displeasure or reprimand. (Colonel Le Khac Ly)

In 1966 Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu, 22nd Infantry Commander appointed me his press media officer. Pertaining to his simplicity, I recall one time I accompanied General Hieu on one of his missions by helicopter. When we came back to the headquarters, it was passed one o'clock. We went to the dining hall to be told there were no more foods. General Hieu took the news gleefully and went back to the headquarters to take his siesta. Half and hour later, the telephone rang to invite General Hieu to return to get his dinner. He tagged me along. At the dining hall we were served with a dish of omelets and some boiled vegetable. Since we were very hungry, we ate with great appetite. (Nguyen Nho)

Military Cadet

We all cherished Hieu, because of his friendly and very humble character, although he was a young man with a high level of academic background. (Nguyen Van Toan)

If small actions reveal to a certain degree an individual character, then I still remember a couple among myriad of Hieu's behaviors during his training period. Frequently, on weekends there were inspections of quarters, uniforms, equipments, weapons of each cadet. The inspector officer was Captain De Taine, commander of cadets Division. In an inspection, Hieu's pair of boots was used by Captain De Taine as a model of boots polishing. In reality, any cadet's pair of boots was polished thoroughly atop, but if the sole was closely examined, the majority had traces of dirt around nails' ends. But Hieu's pair of boots was spotless and sparkling upside down!

During the inspection, the commanders of the Academy also paid much attention to cleanliness around living quarters and especially around public bathrooms. When came Hieu's team to be responsible, I noticed that Hieu volunteered to assume the most heavy job, that of cleaning the cement floor using a huge piece of cloth attached to a T-form stick. First pour water, second sweep and brush, finally dry clean. Before the time of inspection, if somebody came in to wash his hands and spilled water onto the floor, Hieu would wipe clean without a word.

Toward close or casual friends, Hieu equally showed affability and patience. (Quan Minh Giau)

Nguyen Van Tin
16 January 2005

general hieu