Story about my Brother, General Hieu
22nd Infantry Division
On June 28, 1966, my brother was assigned as 22nd Infantry Division Commander and remained at this position for a little more than three years.
Colonel Le Khac Ly narrates:
After I graduated from the US Army College of Command and General Staff, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I reported to General Vinh Loc at the 2nd Corps Headquarters in Pleiku. While I was waiting in the anti-chambre, Colonel Hieu exited General Vinh Loc' s office. He shook my hand and said: "The General can see you now." When I shook General Vinh Loc's hand, I caused him to scream aloud, not because I had squeezed his hand too hard, but because he had a medical condition which caused him excruciating pain at the lightest touch. He informed me that he had just appointed Colonel Hieu Commanding General of the 22nd Division and Colonel Hieu had specifically requested that I be nominated to assist him as his Chief of Staff.
Lê Khắc Lý
General Hieu lived like an ascetic monk which made me suspect wrongly that he was a defrocked monk. Let me give you a typical instance: he 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.
In the same vein of thoughts, I have never witnessed General Hieu reprimand any domestics that served in his house. If his children fell down and hurt themselves, be it a minor knee bruise or a major head injury, due to their negligence in supervising his kids, he would just run over to pick up the injured child and go on tending to the injury without reprimanding them, or that one time when his second boy has suffered a hip injury that resulted in a permanent limp for the rest of his life.
General Hieu was a genuine uncorrupted General. I once told reporters that most of the high-ranking officers had the appearance of integrity only. I provided them with irrefutable proofs, and upon returning to their offices, they added General Hieu's name as the fifth General , but not the least, among the list of most honest Generals (Thang, Thanh, Chinh and Truong).
Many Generals put up a show when they acted honest. In contrast, General Hieu always acted with utter discretion. A typical example was, even to this day nobody knows about: One nice day, Lieutenant Hien, commander of the Divisional Headquarters Guard Company, delivered a refrigerator and a TV set to the Commanding General's residence as an intentional bribe. Madame the General was more than happy to receive these two expensive items that the family was not able to afford on its own. That evening, when her husband came home from work, she showed them off to him. General Hieu remained silent and did not show his displeasure. The next morning, he had Lieutenant Hien come into his office for a private woodshed session. He said: "I know that you could not possibly afford to buy those two expensive items with your meager salary. Did you use the company's fund for that purpose? I advise you to take back the refrigerator and the TV set and restitute the money to the company's fund." Besides the General, Lieutenant Hien and myself, nobody else knew about the incident. At the next regular promotion, Lieutenant Hien was not negatively affected by what had happened.
General Hieu excelled in many different areas, even in mahjong. One night, personnel of the General Staff relaxed in a tent, after a hard-working day during an out-of-field operation. A Lieutenant Colonel friend of mine taught me how to play mahjong. General Hieu was passing by and saw us played. However, he did not say a word and proceeded to the open sky shower quarters to take his bath. On his way out, he approached our table, made himself comfortable, and proceeded to show us several astute moves of this complex game. He then stood up and said: "It is good to know how to play mahjong, but be aware of becoming addicted to it: it could ruin one's life."
I admire two Generals the most. The first one is General Do Cao Tri, because he was fearless. To anyone who would express apprehension for his life when he ventured into the midst of battlefields, General Tri would respond: "At the battlefield, one should walk erected. If the bullets hit you, you become a hero in the public's eyes. If the bullets miss you, you still would be considered a hero in the public's eyes."
The second is General Hieu because he fought with high class. Another General who fought with intelligence was General Lu Lan, but at a lower level than General Hieu's though
General Hieu made the life of his Chief of Staff become easy by simplifying his tasks. He always carried a small notepad in his shirt pocket. Whenever he gave orders out in the battlefields, he always jotted them down on his notepad. Upon returning to the Headquarters, he called me in and advised me about his recent orders, based on his notes and had me send out written confirmation of the operational orders to the field commanders. In doing so, he avoided the situation in which "the trumpet sounds toward one direction, and the drum signals to the opposite direction." Many Generals loved to give out indiscriminate orders out in the battlefields to satisfy their hunger of powers. Once back to the Headquarters, they went straight home to have dinner and go to sleep without advising their Chief of Staff regarding their orders to the field Commanders. When these Commanders received the written operational orders, they called up the General Staff confused: "What is this? Your orders contradict the Commanding General's orders!"
It is without saying that General Hieu excelled in strategy, but he was also excellent as a tactician. Upon taking command of the 22nd Division, he confided in me: "My real role is not the one of a tactical commander, but rather of a strategist within an international general staff command." He was just modest in his statement. He learned very quickly, and in no time, he became an accomplished Commanding General of a tactical division.
Colonel Trinh Tieu narrates:
Major General Nguyen Van Hieu, who inherited a good foundation from his father, was one of the best among the elite former military cadets, class 3 of the Dalat Military Academy. His whole life was dedicated to the country and to the army. His life was a honest one since the day he was a low level officer until the day he reached the rank of general. I had the privilege to serve under his command at the 22nd Infantry Division from 1966 to 1968. His only enjoyment in his free-time was to practice pistol shooting. On weekends, he used to invite officers of the general staff to join with him in colt shooting competition. No one was as good as he was.
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."
LTC Nghiem Ke, Engineer unit Commander of 22nd Division, narrates:
Colonel Hieu coached me in pistol marksmanship: how to hold the pistol, how to breathe, how to pull the trigger. In a competition with shooters of the American Army, I won the first award.
LTC Nguyen Anh Ton narrates:
A person can be assessed on two aspects: competence and virtue. On the matter of competence, being a subordinate, I do not feel qualify to formulate a judgment toward a superior and would defer this task to more qualified persons. As of virtue, I will offer some anecdotes, although ordinary, but nevertheless significant in the General’s spiritual life.
Nguyễn Anh Tôn
In life, each one of us determines his or her own way of life. In the General’s case, he always placed the following two maxims in French on his desk as a compass for this life:
Un travail bien fait est la joie du coeur.
Une prière bien accomplie est la paix de l’âme.
A task well done brings joy to one’s heart.
A prayer well said brings peace to one’s soul.
By way of these two maxims, the General had leaded a life of simplicity, honesty and charity.
1- A Life of Simplicity
While at the helm of 22nd Infantry Division, each morning at 6:00 am, he set out to work from Qui Nhon to Ba Gi. When his car crossed Cau Doi Bridge, at the outskirt of Qui Nhon, he took out a sandwich from his briefcase and started eating. When his car reached Ba Gi Bridge was when he finished off his sandwich. Upon entering his office, he drank a cup of tea and commenced his day of work. On days he stayed overnight at the division headquarters, early in the morning, he asked a staff member to buy him a sandwich for his breakfast.
In the afternoon, after finishing his work and before leaving his office, he used to take out his two personal pistols and cleaned them himself. He never asked his military attaché or any other soldier to do this chore for him.
2- A Life of Honesty
One day, his chauffeur bought and carried home a case of condensed milk from the military supply bureau. On the way back home, the General noticed the case of condensed milk. He asked the chauffer: - Where does the condensed mile come from? – Sir, I bought it at the military supply bureau for madam. – Is each family allowed to buy one case of condensed milk? – No, sir, each family is only allowed to by six cans of condensed milk. – If we buy a whole case, there would be not enough to sell to the family of the soldiers. Take the case back and buy only the amount of cans allocated to a family. The chauffeur was obliged to return the extra amount of cans, while he went back to his office to wait for the car.
The following anecdote also talks about his honesty. One day, the spouse of the Colonel Senior Advisor of the Division came from the United States to visit her husband. The couple invited the General and his spouse for dinner. In return, madam the General invited them to their house for dinner. That day, the leader of 22nd company at the headquarters paid a visit to the General’s residence. He noticed that the meal was rather frugal and bought some more foods to enrich the dinner. The General saw it; he thanked the captain and instructed him to bring back the foods to his family.
3- A Life of Charity
He was very concerned and caring toward his soldiers. I used to accompany the General in his battlefield inspections. One day, he flew to a mountainous area west of Binh De Pass at the junction of Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai borders to inspect a Vietnamese-American joint operation. His helicopter landed down to visit a company belonging to 4/40th Battalion which were searching the enemy on the top of a hill. After shaking hand with the Lieutenant, leader of the company, and inquiring about the situation of the area, he approached a soldier positioned nearby to ask how he was doing. After that question, he asked him further: What did you eat at noon? The soldier pulled out from his backpack a loaf of packed rice and a can of salty crushed peanuts. He then turned to First Lieutenant Long, his military attaché: Once back at the headquarters, remind me of soldiers’ rations. At the headquarters, he instructed G4 bureau to supplying rations to units in operation.
Another day, I accompanied the General in a visit to same unit at its rear camp. At that unit, there was a Sergeant going by the name of Thien, a native of Quang Nam with a giant stature, whose feet’s size was unusually big and the military supply did not carry a boot’s size that fit his feet. Consequently, he had to content to wear a pair of rubber sandals which really did not go with his military outfit. I did not how the General learned about his predicament, because as soon as he arrived at the camp, the first thing he asked was to see the Sergeant. Then he gave the order to take the money from a special fund to buy a pair of boots built to fit American soldiers’ size at the flea market. From there on, our Sergeant proudly paraded around, feeling he was an adequate soldier from head to toe!
The General also focused on the welfare of his soldiers’ families. When he saw that there were no funds to built housing for the soldiers’ families, he coordinated with his American advisor to request the American units garrisoned in the area to contribute building materials to build housing for the 22nd Infantry Division soldiers’ families.
A housing complex reserved for soldiers’ families belonging to 40th Regiment was built at the elevated land area of De Duc, north of Bong Son, Hoai Nhan District, Binh Dinh Province. It comprised hundreds of houses, equipped with kitchen, dining quarter, bathroom and had an adequate utility system. Another housing complex reserved for soldiers’ families belonging to 41st Regiment was built at Phu My, also had hundreds of houses similar to the ones belonging to 40th Regiment. At Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen Province was another housing complex for soldiers’ families belonging to 47th Regiment.
In particular at the Division’s headquarters, the General gave ordered to 22nd Engineer Battalion to build a primary school. He also instructed the Psychological Warfare Group to coordinate with the Primary Superintendence of Bind Dinh Province to provide teachers for the soldiers’ children.
A clinic and a maternity facility reserved for soldiers’ families were built with all the amenities. 22nd Military Medical Battalion provided doctors, nurses and medicines to provide health and maternity cares for soldiers’ spouses and children.
Furthermore, he also had a vocation training facility built. Many classes teaching tailoring lead to job security for the soldiers’ spouses and children.
The General used to dine with his staff in the officers’ mess. One day, he said that in order to improve the combat resolve of a soldier, two needs had to be met: one is to arm him with adequate weapons and ammunitions; two is to provide a secure life condition to his spouses and children.
In summary, General Nguyen Van Hieu was a genuine and devoted catholic. He was caring husband and father, gentile and parsimonious in words. Off military duty hours, he was a family man and practicing catholic. He was a leader, a brother, a fellow combatant whose life is simple, honest and caring. He was a shining model to his family and colleagues.
LTC Nguyen Nho narrates:
In 1966 Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu, 22nd Infantry Commander appointed me his press media officer. I worked with him for about a year then was transferred to the Dalat Military Academy. One must say that MG Hieu was very virtuous, kind and taciturn. He never skipped Sunday's mass and communion. Because I did not stay long with him, and besides I was only a First Lieutenant still limited in knowledge, I regretably do not recall General Hieu's well-mounted battles. But I did notice that since General Hieu assumed the command of the 22nd Infantry Division, the pacification program made great progress in the 22nd tactical zone. Each morning I went down to G3 to gather information, especially regarding pacification program, I discovered that we gained control of more and more villages.
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.
In terms of battle, my brother had performed three noticeable ones: Dai Bang 800, Tam Quan and Deo Phu Cu.
Colonel Trinh Tieu narrates:
On the subject of joint operations with allies' units, I still remember operation Eagles Claw 800 in the beginning of 1967. In accordance with General Westmoreland's and General Cao Van Vien's plan, all Vietnamese, American and Korean units must implement operation Search and Destroy in 1967. Binh Dinh Province was the largest province, with 12 districts, the most populated province in South Vietnam (approximately 1 million habitants) and was the province most infected with Viet Cong. From 1945 to 1954, Binh Dinh was the capital of Communist Region 5 (the French army had never set foot in this region). During over 9 years under the communist control, many joined the Communist Party, others rallied up to the North, and consequently almost every family had some ties with the Communist.
Operation Eagles Claw 800
On the subject of joint operations with allies' units, I still remember operation Eagles Claw 800 in the beginning of 1967. In accordance with General Westmoreland's and General Cao Van Vien's plan, all Vietnamese, American and Korean units must implement operation Search and Destroy in 1967. Binh Dinh Province was the largest province, with 12 districts, the most populated province in South Vietnam (approximately 1 million habitants) and was the province most infected with Viet Cong. From 1945 to 1954, Binh Dinh was the capital of Communist Region 5 (the French army had never set foot in this region). During over 9 years under the communist control, many joined the Communist Party, others rallied up to the North, consequently almost every family had some ties with the Communist.
In this area, the Communists had the NVA 3 Yellow Stars Division, the renown Division of Communist Region 5, a Governor and Command Post composed of numerous local battalions, and innumerable guerillas. According to the planning maps of operation Eagles Claw 800, the four northern districts: Tam Quan, Bong Son, Phu My and Phu Cat the most populated areas, were assigned to 22nd Division with the mission to search and destroy and also to pacify the areas. The southern areas were: Qui Nhon, Tuy Phuoc, Phu Phong and Van Canh were operational areas of Korean White Tiger Division, and the four western districts: An Khe, Vinh Thanh, An Lao and Hoai An, treacherous and mountainous areas were designated as operational areas of the American 1st Cavalry Division, because this Division was equipped with plenty of helicopters and Air Force fire powers, and thus was the spear-headed force in the planning of the 3 Vietnamese, American and Korean General Staffs. The American 1st Cavalry Division was to operate in its operational area the first 3 days, then came the turn of the Vietnamese 22nd Division and the Korean White Tiger Division to operate in their respective operational area.
During the first 3 days, with ample helicopter supports, the American 1st Cavalry Division poured their units into the most secured areas of the Communists in Hoai An and Vinh Thanh districts, destroyed and burned up numerous rice storages of the Communists, the well protected rear service areas of Region 5 and of the 3 Yellow Stars Division. The American soldiers were very aggressive in their search and destroy the enemy, but the Communists were very clever in avoiding any contacts with the Americans because they knew the American units were very strong.
At 11:00 p.m. on day D+3, the Major General of the American 1st Cavalry Division's helicopter landed down at the 22nd Division headquarters. He went in to meet and confer with General Hieu. He requested that General Hieu abandon the attack into the direction West of district Phu My area and coordinated with the 1st Cavalry Division to attack into An Lao where he was convinced the 3 Yellow Stars Division had its units gathered. General Hieu called me in to confirm this intelligence information. I briefed General Hieu and the Commanding General of the 1st Cavalry Division that I had encountered a Viet Cong guerilla who resided in the mountainous areas west of Phu My district. I had spent a lot of money to feed this guerilla's family. A few days ago, he informed me that numerous units of the 3 Yellow Stars Division rallied at the boundary areas between Phu My and Hoai An districts. Based on previous confirmed information provided by this guerilla, I determined that he was believable. I reported to General Hieu and to the American General that a few regiments of the 3 Yellow Stars Division was hiding in the operational area above mentioned.
The American 1st Cavalry Division Commanding General said: "Today, I had a company of Rangers heli-lifted into that area to search and destroy the enemy, but no contact was made. I knew I did wrong in so doing because I stepped in the operational area of the 22nd Division, but because of my eagerness to destroy the enemy, I was forced to do so." He asked me: "Major (I was head of G2 Intelligence unit of the 22nd Division at that time), are you certain that the enemy is present in that area where the operation will be conducted?" I responded: "Major General, the Communists were extremely careful in avoiding to make contact with the American units because they were afraid of your fire-powers. I am convinced the 22nd Division will make contact with the 3 Yellow Stars Division at this target." General Hieu politely told the American General: "In the plan discussed by the three Vietnamese, American, Korean Divisions, our Division will go into our operational area tomorrow, we should not change our plan too early."
Based on intelligence information provided by G2, General Hieu ordered Lieutenant Colonel Bui Trach Dzan, Commander of 41st Regiment to only use 2 infantry Battalions and the Regiment Command Post unit to enter the operational area early in the morning and when the units reached the area around 3:00 p.m., to have the units settled down, have the soldiers take their supper and dig extremely solid defensive fox holes. This area was infested with Viet Cong informants. Knowing perfectly that these informants would signal to the Communists to attack our units when they knew the number of our units committed in the operational area, General Hieu made a plan to counter attack them with the force of armored cavalry. General Hieu hid one Infantry Battalion and one Armored Cavalry Regiment at a distance of 10 km away from the operational area, out of enemy sight.
At 2:00 a.m., Lieutenant Colonel Bui Trach Dzan radioed back to the headquarters that the enemy began attacking his units. General Hieu gave the order to the Armored Cavalry Regiment and the reserved Battalion to speed into the targeted area and to go behind the enemy line, to encircle the enemy, preventing the enemy from withdrawing and to destroy the enemy. The American 1st Cavalry, found out that we came into contact with the enemy, sent up helicopters to provide lightning support. Artillery of both Vietnamese and American Divisions fired continuously in support. Luminous rockets launched by the American 1st Cavalry were so bright that night became as clear as day. The Communists' night attack planning was sapped. Thirty minutes later, the Armored Cavalry Regiment and the reserved Battalion arrived at the scene on time, encircled the enemy and killed a lot of them. At 5:00 a.m. the Communists had to leak their wounds, disperse and withdraw into the jungle, leaving behind 300 KIA lying all over the place, numerous weapons and ammunition scattered all over the operational area.
General Hieu landed down by helicopter to inspect the battlefield. Fifteen minutes later, the Commanding General of the American 1st Cavalry Division also landed down at the operational area. Seeing that our units had achieved victory over the 3 Yellow Stars Division with glory, the American Major General came to see me, happily shook my hand and congratulated several times on the luring tactic achieved by the 22nd Division and on the exactitude of intelligence gathering achieved by its G2.
General John J. Tolson writes in Airmobility 1961-1971, VII - The Peak Year, 1967:
The large PERSHING area of operation was left with only one thin brigade during this period. I was glad we had spent so much time working with the 22d Army of the Republic of Vietnam Division on airmobile tactics, since the 22d, under the able leadership of Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu, would have to bear the major burden in Binh Dinh Province for a time.
Operation Pershing continues
During the long period of the Binh Dinh operations, the 1st Cavalry Division had developed a special rapport with the regiments of the 22d Army of the Republic of Vietnam Infantry Division. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam regiments were assigned distinct areas of operation contiguous to the 1st Cavalry brigade areas and, teamed with 1st Cavalry helicopters; they became well versed in the intricacies of airmobile assaults. During Operation PERSHING over 29 joint operations were conducted with the 22d Army of the Republic of Vietnam Infantry Division. The 40th Regiment of this division played a major part in the Battle of Tam Quan.
Back in May 1967, the Division's capabilities had been greatly enhanced by the attachment of three companies from the 816th National Police Field Force. Introduction of the National Police Field Force into the PERSHING area of operations brought a new weapon to bear on the Viet Cong infrastructure. Now, the Division could conduct cordon and search operations of hamlets and villages with greatly increased effectiveness. The National Police Field Force squads were very important to 1st Cavalry operations in the Binh Dinh Province.
The Battle of Tam Quan, 6 December to 20 December 1967, which was one of the largest battles during Operation PERSHING, was a good example of the "piling on" tactics which had been so successful in the early airmobile reactions to the enemy. The battle began with the fortuitous discovery of an enemy radio antenna by a scout team near the town of Tam Quan and a small force was inserted at 1630 hours on 6 December. Although the original enemy contact had been late in the day, the 1st Brigade reacted by "piling on" with a battalion of infantry and elements of the 1st Battalion, 50th Mechanized Infantry. On the following day, elements of the 40th Army of the Republic of Vietnam Regiment joined the fight and distinguished themselves by their aggressive manner. Throughout the battle, which was characterized by massive use of artillery, tactical air support, and air assaults by both the U.S. and Army of the Republic of Vietnam troops, the allied force held the initiative. There were frequent vicious hand-to-hand battles in the trenches and bunkers. The division used its mechanized forces to fix the enemy and drive him from his fortified positions. The airmobile units hit him when he tried to move. The enemy lost 650 men during this fierce engagement.
Captain Phan Nhat Nam narrates:
General Hieu took over the command of 22nd Infantry Division in June 1966, and by the end of the year (November), the newly appointed Commander scored a battle victory at Phu Cu Pass (Phu My District). At that time, we, the attached unit (3rd Airborne Task Force-Pnn) established a blockage position on the mountain side, and witnessed our friendly unit (42nd Regiment/22nd Division) joining force with the armored squadron of M113s in sweeping the enemy from National Route 1 into the mountains. The battle unfolded just like a military WWII documentary film. Infantrymen in front line formation followed M113 armored vehicles launched fierce assaults, after a salvo of artillery firing, just like Middle Age’s knights charging in combat. Airborne Task Force Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Khoa Nam observed the battle from the mountain side with binocular. Although he was a man parsimonious in words, he had to utter his admiration: “Colonel Hieu conducts his troops like a seasoned “armor officer” and combatants of 22nd Division fought as elegantly as our paratroopers.” Those were sincere words from a combatant complimenting another combatant on the battlefield.
On November 1, 1967, my brother was promoted to Brigadier General.
On February 25, 1968, General Lu Lan was assigned to replace General Vinh Loc as II Corps Commander.
II Corps Allied Headquarters
Colonel Trinh Tieu narrates:
General Hieu's working style drew admiration and respect from soldiers at all levels at the 22nd Infantry Division, and everybody was proud to serve under his command. Toward those under his command, he was magnanimous, intelligent, nonpartisan, incorruptible, accepting bribery from no one. Toward American and allies units, he commanded extreme respect and admiration for his dedication to the country and to the army. In order to defend the sovereignty of the ARVN, General Hieu had to stand up against the American Commanding Lieutenant General of the 1st Field Task Force stationed in Nhatrang, who ordered the 22nd Division to put an infantry regiment commanded by a colonel under the disposition (OPCON) of a captain commander of a district in the Pacification and Development Program. This issue led to a complicated and heated argument, and General Lu Lan, the Commanding General of 2nd Corps had to step in to mediate both sides.
In 1966, American and allies units disembarked at Qui Nhon. In Binh Dinh Province there were 3 divisions: American 1st Cavalry Division in An Khe, Korean Tiger Division in Van Canh, and Vietnamese 22nd Division in Ba Gi. At the early stage, the three Vietnamese, American and Korean general staffs frequently visited each other.
Major General of the Korean Tiger Division was very arrogant. He considered himself as a competent general because he had graduated from the US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. One day, he visited the 22nd Division. During the conversation, he constantly prided himself for graduating from that prestigious institution. The Korean Army had very few people capable of attending this college. He asked Major General Hieu how many ARVN officers had undergone this training. Major General Hieu courteously responded: He did not know how many in the ARVN, but in the 22nd Division, himself and Lieutenant Colonel Le Khac Ly, the chief of staff had graduated from that institution. The Korean Major General of the Tiger Division opened wide his eyes with surprise and from there on he started to respect Major General Hieu and his general staff.
Captain Tran Hoai Thu writes:
I reported to 405 Recon unit when General Hieu was division commander (8/1967). And my unit was very dear to him. Because we were very close to him, and achieved dangerous tasks he assigned to
us with confidence. Each time our unit conquered an objective, his helicopter immediately came down to give us comfort and encouragement. On 9 May 1968, our unit was ambushed on Ky Son's hilltop, we suffered very heavy casualties, with 4 officers KIA, including an American advisor, right that afternoon, General Hieu's helicopter landed down and he bent his head on a stone for half an hour. And for the entire following week, he ordered the flag to be hung half pole. I carry with me his image, his love for his soldiers, his humanity so that I can be proud for being his subordinate. He gave to each one of us a very beautiful knife, because he very much appreciated us.
He writes further about how my brother hand-picked the company commander of the recon unit:
For almost a month, the unit was entirely confined in its base camp. Not because the critical military situation required it, but because of the death of its commander, lieutenant Au Hoang Minh. He had been shot by a lieutenant belonging to the Special Forces right on the dancing floor of Moonlight saloon in Qui Nhon. His death had stunned the entire unit. First Lieutenant Duc, nicknamed Stiff Mustache Duc, the Company's acting Executive Officer, had sworn to revenge. The battle, instead of being waged at the forefront, now was occurring at the rear end. American and Vietnamese Military Police units patrolled incessantly. Both the Special Forces units and the Scout Rangers units were quarantined. The military authorities had forbidden soldiers of both units to enter the city. Lieutenant Minh was renowned to be a formidable warrior of the 22nd Infantry Division. He originated from Airborne.
Lieutenant Minh's death had caused the whole town agog. People talked about the cavalier, arrogant and belligerent attitudes of a few combat units' commanders. Each time they came into town, they towed along bodyguards armed to the teeth. When they entered into saloons, ballrooms, everybody stayed away with fear. Then this group of soldiers sized up that group of soldiers, then came shooting and brawling, just like in far western movies.
The death of the commander of the 405th Scout Rangers unit had caused concerns to the 22nd Division Commanding General, Brigadier General Nguyen Van Hieu, who had to deal with the task of selecting a new commander for the unit. As commander of a Division, commanding 3 regiments, and the entire areas covering the districts of Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Phu Bon, Pleiku, Kontum, he shouldn't have to bother with such a small unit. But then he did put his heart into this matter.
The reputation of Scout Rangers had become notorious since the day the Joint General Staff created 6 self contained Scout Rangers units to meet the particular conditions of mountainous battlegrounds. Initially, the majority of these units were made of central Montagnard and northern Montagnard (Nung) tribes' fighters, then they were reinforced with additional so called "delta dwellers" Vietnamese soldiers. They were of a special breed; they performed recon missions and executed commando raids. They wore soft hats in lieu of helmets, armed with light weaponries. He was proud of their courageous combat spirit as attested by many lightning foray attacks into enemy sanctuaries of Tam Bien, destroying rear service areas, or by many rescue missions of besieged friends' units. Their main task was the role of a reserve unit and to protect the Division's headquarters. During the period he was assuming the command post, they did not allow any enemy mortars to land down within the Division's headquarters areas.
He understood they were frustrated by the death of their commander, and as a consequence, discipline had diminished. He did not want the company to engage into the same path a second time. How could he select an individual with good leadership skills capable of leading a unit still shimmering with hates and revenges. How could he find an officer capable of loving his men, and not tainted by arrogance and bellicosity.
One morning, he suddenly noticed a young lieutenant wearing an airborne insignia on his chest. He was an air liaison officer of the Divisional Operational Center. He saw in him a poised individual with good strategical knowledge and ample tactical experience, and with a good command of foreign language, capable of performing a military briefing in English with fluency. This latter trait caused him to be prouder while sitting next to the American advisor. That day he discreetly ordered the General Personnel bureau to give him the file of this air liaison officer. The General Personnel bureau let him know that he graduated the 18th Class of the Dalat Military Academy, and was evicted from the Airborne unit. His name was lieutenant Nguyen dinh Tra under whose command I had the privilege to serve for almost four years and a half until the day he became captain, then afterwards was assigned the command of a battalion.
In addition, some American veterans still remembered General Hieu as following:
* We often flew the Commander of the 22nd ARVN Division to and from joint planning conferences with the ROK forces. The call sign of our helicopter was Pelican 844. If my recollection is correct the Commander had visited a house next to the American PX in Qui Nhon and I seem to recall him having a young Lt for an aide and there were children playing in front of the residence often. I assumed that he had lived there or that there might have been family there. In fact he often met with the CO of the Tiger Division and we often flew him. I believe there were several occasions where we took him to Tuy Hoa just South of Qui Nhon where the Republic of Korea 9th Marine Rgt was based. It has been a long time since I have been in Vietnam. However, my best memory of him is that he was a very proud man who was respected by his troops. (Jason Kaatz, 161st Assault Helicopter Company, 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion)
* I do remember meeting him at a staff briefing of some sort. He was certainly spellbinding. My recollection is that he was observing, listening, with only a question or two to offer for clarification. (Robert Reilly, Engineer Liaison Officer, US 4th Infantry Division)
* I fought with General Hieu when I was in the First Cavalry Division in 1967 and 1968. I commanded a platoon of CH-47 helicopters and I remember this Eagle Claw battle well and the coordination with Vietnamese and Korean units. We fought on The Bong Son Plain and into the An Lao Valley. I am greatly disappointed that I never met General Hieu. The First Cavalry Commander I knew very well. When he commanded the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker Alabama, I arranged and taught class on aerial artillery adjustment which General Tolson asked me to prepare. When he and then Colonel Putnam went to Viet Nam, they asked that I go with them. This Universe is a big place but it is small enough that I served beside such a hero. (Carle "Gene" Dunn, LTC (retired), US 1st Cavalry Division)
* I served with the 174th Assault Helicopter Company and had participated in four operations conducted by General Hieu at the time he was Commander of the 22nd Infantry Division. I did not know him well. Remember, he was a general and I was just a major at the time. I can say, without reservation, that I had a great amount of respect for him. He took on some tough assignments and the proof of his dedication and commitment was that he always met with success. (Jim Shrader, Major, US 174th Assault Helicopter Company)
Rewarding Majors Payne and Shrader of the 174th Assault Helicopter Company
On May 30, 1969, my brother was selected as officer general aide-de-camp of President Thieu in the Vietnamese governmental delegation visiting Taiwan.
On August 9, 1969 my brother was promoted to Major General.
Three days later, General Tri brought my brother to hold the command of 5th Infantry Division.
Nguyen Van Tin
16 January 2015