Thoughts about General Nguyen Van Hieu

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Fellow Combattants,

Three weeks ago, I received two phone calls; the first one from Lieutenant Colonel Nghiem Ke, a colleague of mine; and the second one from Huy Phuong, someone I was put in contact for the first time. Both asked me to express my thoughts concerning General Nguyen Van Hieu, at today’s book presentation on the General.

Since I had served under the General, especially as a Press Attaché at the 22nd Infantry Division headquarters for two years, I have acquiesced to present to you the personality of the General as I have known him.

A person can be assessed in two aspects: competence and virtue. On the matter of competence, being a subordinate, I do not feel qualified 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 significant in the General’s spiritual life.

In life, each one of us determines his or her 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.

which means:

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 led 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, on 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 chauffeur: - 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 the 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 food 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 was searching the enemy on the top of a hill. After shaking hands 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 the G4 bureau to supply rations to units in operation.

Another day, I accompanied the General in a visit to the same unit at its rear camp. At that unit, a Sergeant was 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 that 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 the 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 care 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 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.

Those are some of my anecdotes and impressions. I presented to you as a contribution in assessing the virtue of General Nguyen Van Hieu

Thank you for your attention and God bless.

Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Anh Ton
23 April 2005

(Speech pronounced at the book presentation in San Jose)

general hieu