The Mysterious Death Of General Hieu

General Hieu's death was full of mysteries. At that time, "Cinnamon Warlord" Nguyen Van Toan was 3rd Corps/3rd Military Region Commander. General Nguyen Van Hieu was the Deputy Commander in charge of Operations, together with General Dao Duy An, the Deputy Commander in charge of Territories. Besides, General Hieu was also holding the position of Special Assistant to Vice President Tran Van Huong, in charge of anti-corruption. General Hieu's office in the 3 Corps headquarters, which used to be the American advisors' office, was adjacent to General Nguyen Van Toan's office. The two offices were connected by a door. At that time, the American advisors had left.

That day, I don't recall exactly which day, but I am certain it was in the evening, after office hours, around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m., the tragic news of General Hieu being shot dead right in his 3rd Corps Headquarters office was released as a sensational news which immediately startled the general opinion. I immediately contacted different offices to seek confirmation of the news, and to make arrangements to go to the 3 Corps Headquarters. At that time I had the opportunity to witness on the spot Lieutenant Colonel Huyen, 3rd Military Police Battalion Commander of the 3rd Corps/3rd Military Region, giving orders to Lieutenant An, head of operations, and to Captain Nam to urgently assemble their men in order to go to Bien Hoa to investigate General Hieu's assassination. To this days, I still visualize Lieutenant Colonel Huyen haranguing his military police troops, comprising about 20 officers, NCO and soldiers. He declared with eagerness:

- "Damn it, Toan is corrupt. He just shot General Hieu. We must immediately go the 3 Corps Headquarters to arrest him!"

I observed the group of military police officers and soldiers and noticed anxiety and hesitancy in their faces, although everybody was ready to follow Lieutenant Colonel Huyen to go the 3 Corps Headquarters and perform their duty. On our way, a MP officer whispered into my ears:

- "Toan is corrupt, but he is the president's crony. Besides, he hold the 3rd Corps command, any wrong move from our part might cause him to have us shot...He yields the authority of shooting on the spot and report later!"

When Lieutenant Colonel Huyen's troops arrived, I saw the investigative team of the Police Command was already present at the crime scene. One must know that Major General Nguyen Khac Binh, the National Police Commander and Head of the Central Intelligence Agency was originated from My Tho, and a relative of first lady Nguyen Thi Kim Anh, President Nguyen Van Thieu's spouse. Furthermore, I also saw the presence of the Military Security investigative team, under the command of Colonel Khuyen, 3rd Corps Military Security Director, and Lieutenant Colonel Chi, his deputy, who was also in charge of the 3rd Military Region's Military Security. Meanwhile, General Toan had vanished.

General Hieu's personal guard, a First Sergeant, gave the following account to the combined investigation committee: That day, he noticed that it was long passed 4:30 p.m., and yet General Hieu still had not emerged from his office. He opened the office's door and stepped in to remind his boss. But to his surprise, he saw General Hieu long dead. His body, covered with blood, was still at a sitting position, with the head tilted to one side of the armchair which was closed to the wall. A bullet pierced General Hieu's chest, causing him to die instantaneously.

I was told that this personal guard was very trusted by General Hieu, who had followed him since the day he was the 5th Division Commander, stationed in Binh Duong, Phu Loi, and even later, when the 5th Division was in An Khe, the former headquarters of the US 1st Cavalry Division. At that time he was a sergeant. He was given by General Hieu a watch as a souvenir.

I was familiar with the arrangements in the office of the 3 Corps Commander. Because during Lieutenant General Le Nguyen Khang's and Lieutenant General Do Cao Tri's times as 3 Corps Commanders, I had ample opportunities to enter that office to chat with them. But I did not have the opportunity to enter the office of the American advisors working at the 3 Corps, and was thus somehow curious this time. I noticed that the walls were leather-covered over a layer of insulation, which maintained cool air and served as sound-proof paneling. The offices of the two generals, which reflected contrast in physical appearance, character and personality, was totally connected and was only separated by a small door. Even in the eventuality the two generals would have shot at each other with M-16 rifles, nobody from outside would have noticed anything. And in this case, we faced with a pre-meditated assassination scenario.

I heard the rumors that probably General Hieu accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol. Because he used to clean his own pistol. I was aware that General Hieu liked in particular the P.38, an American made, 5-bullet, short barreled, roulette pistol, manufactured by Smith & Wesson that he used to carry at his waist. This type of pistol was very simple, that did not easily discharge by itself. Because one must take out the bullets in order to clean it. And General Hieu was an army general who obviously must be familiar with all kinds of weapons. This type of pistol was used by jet pilots and was different from Colt 9 or Colt 12 used by the army, which could discharged by themselves quite easily.

Besides, there was also an opinion that contended that Nguyen Van Toan, the "Cinnamon Warlord", had gained the reputation in corruption. An now he had to sit next to General Hieu, who was in charge of anti-corruption. It was like putting together the sun next to the moon, or a dog next to a cat, which inevitably would lead to tragedy.

Dang Van Nham
Bi Mat Hau Truong Chinh Tri Mien Nam 1954-1975 - Quyen I (1999)
1954-1975 Behind-The-Scene Political Secrets of South Vietnam - Book I (1999)

News updated - 5/6/2015 :

At 10:45 a.m., when my brother entered his III Corps Deputy Commander's office, the assassin jumped over from behind, delivered a chopping blow at the back of neck causing a temporary immobilization, then used a small Browing P6.35 mm caliber pistol to shoot at the chin. The bullet pierced the chin, traveled up to the brain and lodged inside the skull without exiting the head.

The assassin was General Toan's bodyguard, Captain Đ̃ Đức, a third-degree black-belt Taekwondo.

After the killing, General Toan called President Thieu and reported back to him: "Mission accomplie". (see Shroud over General Hieu's Mysterious Death Unveiled)