Who Wanted General Hieu Dead?
(Theories on General Hieu's death)

To this date, General Hieu's death is still shrouded in mystery. As a result, it has generated many theories, one more plausible than the other: suicide, accidental pistol discharge, assassination conspiracy triggered by military, personal and/or collective revenge, or political motivations. These theories, no matter how far-fetched, are assembled here with the sole intention of putting them into one place for easy review. The pain-taking task of analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating for the purpose of reaching a conclusion to determine who the culprit was is left to the discretion of the readers.

General Hieu's himself

1. Colonel Nguyen Khuyen wrote: "I was preparing to have dinner with some friends who had come down from Saigon to visit me, when the Security Office called to let me know that General Hieu killed himself with a pistol in his office. I was dazed and surprised because it was just unbelievable. I just departed with him 15 minutes ago, after the meeting. I found him to be jovial as usual, there was no sign whatsoever of a despondent man."

2. A UPI's reporter dispatched: "The deputy commander of South Vietnamese troops defending the Saigon area was found shot to death Tuesday night following an argument with his superior over tactics. Military sources said he apparently committed suicide. The sources said Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Hieu was found with a bullet wound in his mouth at his III Corps office at the edge of Bien Hoa airbase, 14 miles northeast of Saigon."

3. Alan Dawson wrote: "The deputy commander of the III Corps area around Saigon, two-star General Nguyen Van Hieu, was dead. The story was he had committed suicide at his Bien Hoa office after arguing with his boss, three-star General Nguyen Van Toan, about defense of the capital area." (55 Days - The Fall of South Vietnam, 1975)

4. John Prados wrote: "In 1975 Hieu was deputy commander of the ARVN military region which included Saigon; he committed suicide when the collapse of South Vietnam became apparent." (The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, 1995)

Nobody: it was just an unfortunate self-inflicted accident

1. Colonel Nguyen Khuyen wrote: "According to Lieutenant Colonel Quyen, Head of the Military Police unit of the 3rd Corps, this was a self-inflicted death caused by the happy trigger of a pistol. There was no proof that General Hieu was assassinated or killed himself. I agreed to this observation stated by the Military Police because based on information we had on General Hieu, he liked to play with pistols. He had won championship in pistol shooting. Not too long prior to that, somebody gave him as a gift a pistol, of a rare type. He cherished this pistol but what bothered him was that it was trigger happy. He had given it to be repaired by the Supply Command unit 3 times in the past. This information was provided to me by Colonel Khang, Head of the Supply Command unit."

2. General Nguyen Van Toan wrote: "A surprise happened on (which day I don't recall), I was returning from an airborne operation When I got the news of Major General Hieu's death in his office. I immediately flew to Major General Hieu's office and saw he had died from a pistol bullet piercing through his eye and exiting the top of his head, causing him to die right at his desk. Hieu's death was caused by an involuntary discharge of a pistol."

3. General Hoang Xuan Lam wrote: "The Major General died due to a pistol accident at the 3rd Corps Headquarters after he had presided over an operational meeting."

4. General Lam Quang Thi said: "After our graduation, I had the opportunities to meet frequently with Hieu when we were both Major serving at Corps I: he as Chief of G3 General Staff, and I as Chief of Artillery Unit. Every weekend, we practiced pistol shooting. He was much better than me because he put much effort in grooving his pistol to gain quickness. Maybe that was what later on caused his death?"

Corrupt Generals Ring

1. In Blind Design (1995) General Hoang Van Lac included the names of Generals Nguyen Van Thieu, Dang Van Quang, Tran Thien Khiem, Cao Van Vien and Dong Van Khuyen among the corrupted generals ring that had General Hieu killed:

When Huong was assigned Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Committee, assisted by Brigadier General Nguyen Van Hieu, Thieu agreed with Huong to review Vien's files. Huong told me in a private family dinner in Vinh Long that he had suggested to Thieu to review Vien's files, and also Quang's files, in the near future. I explained to Huong that even if Vien was demoted, he would have been replaced by Quang, but not by Tri. Furthermore, it was very difficult for Thieu and Huong to dismiss Vien. Since there was not enough evidence of Vien's lack of performance and loyalty, and Vien was wise enough not to let Thieu have much evidence. Under Vien's care and protection, Khuyen was ready to sacrifice his life for Vien. Khuyen, on the other hand, was supported by MACV because he always and totally agreed with his American advisor to fulfill his job in supplies management, transportation, storage, and other logistic supports important for successful military operations.

Huong began to focus his investigation on Quang but Thieu made every effort to cover up for Quang to protect himself as his and Quang's dealings were the same. General Hieu compiled and completed the document on Quang and became frustrated. He asked to return to the Army.

Huong was disappointed and gave up persecuting the high ruling officials and, instead, focused on less important civil servants.


General Nguyen Van Hieu, Deputy Commander of Military 3, and former assistant to the Vice President in charge of anti-corruption, also died a suspicious death. Hieu was young, enthusiastic, capable and honest, and the news media speculated that his death was the work of the corrupted generals.

2. Pham Le Hiep wrote:

I would like to give my personal opinion about General Hieu's death. He was killed because he had investigated a corruption scheme of General Toan. The chain of this corruption scheme was headed by Mr. and Mrs. Thieu's family. Consequently, it was only natural that General Toan ordered General Hieu killed to cover up his scheme.

3. Ky Phong wrote:

Major Gen Nguyen Van Hieu commanded the 22nd Infantry Div in 1964, when he was a colonel. The rumor had that he was assassinated by General Dang Van Quang's underlings when he was about to report general Quang's corruption activities in 1974.

4. In the end of March 1975, when Thieu was heavily pressured from different sides into resigning his Presidency, and his replacement would be Vice President Tran Van Huong, the corrupted generals in power - which also included Thieu - were fearful that their fate might end up like General Nguyen Van Vy's, in the Military Savings Fund's affair in 1972, because they knew for certain that Huong would assign General Hieu to be the next Chairman of Joint General Staff. At that point, the thick pile of dossiers pertaining to high-ranking officers' corruption that Thieu had stuffed away would be eventually reopened. Therefore, they had to find a way to pre-empt General Hieu's action.

General Nguyen Van Toan or General Dong Van Khuyen

Pham Le Hiep wrote:

Let me offer another hypothesis concerning General Hieu. He might be killed by General Toan's or General Khuyen's order because he had a counterattack plan at Xuan Loc. If this plan was applied and succeeded, South Vietnam could have prolonged the war a few more years. During these years, Thieu might be able to make alliance with Chinese Communists or with France to create a new political stand for South Vietnam, which might constitute a disadvantage for the North Vietnam Communist or the United States. Consequently, North Vietnam or the United States had to stop that plan. General Toan (who traded rice and cinnamon with the Communists and was very friendly with the Americans) or General Khuyen (an infiltrated Communist) were those who had ordered your brother killed. Another source told me: "Vice President Tran Van Huong had instructed General Hieu to investigate President Thieu's corruption acts. When Thieu brought General Toan in as 3 Corps Commanding General, Thieu instructed Toan to have General Hieu killed. If General Hieu was indeed accidentally killed when he was cleaning his pistol, then the bullet should have entered his abdomen or thigh."

General Tran Thien Khiem

Pham Le Hiep wrote:

I would like to advance one more theory concerning General Hieu's death. In 1974, Thieu and Khiem clashed with each other regarding the 1975 election matters. The reason was that when Thieu appointed Khiem to be the Prime Minister in replacement of Nguyen Van Loc (Ky's ally), he made the promise that Khiem would replace him in the position of President in 1975. After a few years in powers, Thieu became attached to his seat and made amendment in the Constitution which allowed him to enter the election a second time. Khiem was infuriated by this move and passed on documents pertaining to Mr. and Mrs. Thieu's corruptions to father Tran Huu Thanh, a catholic priest. Thieu retaliated by dismissing several public servants closed to Khiem.

In January 1975, before the attack of Phuoc Long, Thieu was contemplating what to do with the pressing advices coming from his two counselors, Ted Serong (Australian) and Vanuxem (French, a U.S.'s secret agent). Serong advised Thieu to withdraw troops from Military Region I & II and redeploy them then request aid from another country (see the entire document on retreat in "Give me 10 more years" at the LB Johnson Library). Meanwhile, Vanuxem advised Thieu to strike a deal with France. During that period, Vietnamese embassies in Asia and Australia were approached by Chinese Communist operatives with a proposition to enter into a diplomatic understanding with China. If Thieu agreed, China would cut aid to North Vietnam and cut the North Vietnamese 5,000 km fuel pipe line reaching all the way to Loc Ninh. Thieu, relying on letters from Nixon who had guaranteed the United States would recommit militarily, refused all military and diplomatic solutions other than to continue to seek additional military aid from the Unites States.

When Ban Me Thuot fell, Thieu applied the redeployment of I Corps and II Corps troops. II Corps troops retreated along Route 7b were annihilated by the VC. I Corps troops were isolated and resorted to retreat by sea and sustained heavy loss. III Corps and IV Corps became the defense lines of the Republic of Vietnam. At that time, if III Corps was able to contain the advance of the Communist, Thieu would be able to turn to France or Australia for assistance. He could also ask Chinese Communist to intervene after the establishment of diplomatic relation between the two countries. If that could be accomplished, Thieu would last a few more years. Khiem would not stand for that eventuality. Therefore, General Hieu with his general counter offensive plan in the 3rd Military Region ought to be eliminated. Who gave that order? Could it be Khiem (who was very friendly with the Americans)? How were Lieutenant Colonel Quyen and the Military Police involved in this matter? Why couldn't the Military Security come up with a positive result of the investigation?

General Nguyen Van Toan

1. When the UPI's reporter and Alan Dawson stated that General Hieu, Deputy Commander died after a heated argument on tactics with General Toan, the 3rd Corps Commanding General, both certainly hinted that General Toan himself shot or had ordered General Hieu shot.

2. Denis Warner wrote in Certain History - How Hanoi won the war (1978): "According to General Dung, his murderer was the Thieu loyalist and Hieu's immediate superior, the commander of Military Region 3, General Nguyen Van Toan."

3. Hoang Khoi Phong wrote in Day N+...: "General Toan's lackeys have already dispatched General Hieu, another honest General, to his final resting destination in company of General Thanh."

4. The majority in the military circle pointed to General Toan as the one who pulled the trigger on General Hieu.

5. The former 3rd (Tran Hung Dao) Class of the Dalat Military Academy, in a class reunion in California, confronted General Toan on this issue. General Toan's response was he did not do it.

6. General Toan wrote in his letter addressed to General Hieu's brother: "A surprise happened on (which day I don't recall), I was returning from an airborne operation When I got the news of Major General Hieu's death in his office."

7. General Ly Tong Ba told General Hieu's brother that General Toan could not have been the one who shot his brother because at the occurrence of General Hieu's death in his office, General Toan was having a meeting with him in another room in the 3rd Corps Headquarters.

8. Captain Do Duc, General Toan's attaché, testified: that day, General Toan remained in his office all day long; he left the office and went home around 5:30 p.m; a moment later, General Hieu's was found dead.

9. Colonel Le Van Trang said that in a trip to California, he was told by Lieutenant Colonel Quyen that, in his own opinion, it was General Toan who had shot General Hieu.

President Nguyen Van Thieu

1. The UPI reporter wrote: "It was not known whether Hieu's death was connected with the Tuesday morning bombing of the Presidential palace of Nguyen Van Thieu."

2. Denis Warner wrote in Certain History - How Hanoi won the war (1978):

For the next two weeks there were repeated rumors of a coup. Late one night I was phoned in my room at the Continental by a staff officer on the Joint General Staff who told me that the coup was in process and that I could safely write that Ky would take over before morning. My contact was so absolutely reliable that I got out of bed and started to write the story. Then, after second thoughts (or a cowardly unwillingness to face the troops in the streets without a curfew pass), I tore it up and went back to bed. Which was just as well.

Ky had, indeed, made plans for a coup, using the air force, paratroops, and special forces. He held his hand at the last minute only because he believed Ambassador Martin had agreed to put pressure on Thieu to resign. Whether General Hieu, the deputy commander of Military Region 3 (the Saigon front) was involved in the coup plans I do not know, but on the evening of 7 April he was shot and killed at his desk in Bien Hoa. According to General Dung, his murderer was the Thieu loyalist and Hieu's immediate superior, the commander of Military Region 3, General Nguyen Van Toan.

Precisely at 8:22 a.m. the following morning, when the rue Catinat was full of bustle, an arrow-like F5E fighter, piloted by Lieutenant Nguyen Thanh Trung, of the South Vietnamese Air Force, streaked over the city and down toward the presidential palace.

3. General Pham Van Dong said: "Vice President Tran Van Huong had instructed General Hieu to investigate President Thieu's corruption. When Thieu assigned General Toan III Corps Commander, he gave order to General Toan to kill General Hieu."

4. It was well known that President Thieu was dead scared of a coup d'etat. General Vinh Loc wrote that President Thieu who was even fearful of his own reflection and shadow trembled at the thought of Paratroopers and Armor units attempting a coup. General Tran Van Don said that Thieu was fearful that if a coup occurred he would be killed like President Diem. General Le Quang Luong recounted how Thieu split the Paratroopers Division into three pieces when he pulled it out of the 1st Corps, because he was afraid of the possibility of a coup. If Thieu was willing to sacrifice the men of this most elite troops unit, if he was ready to give up a whole nation in exchange of the safeguard of his President's seat, then why would he hesitate to dispense of General Hieu's life once he suspected that General Hieu's might be fomenting a coup against him. "General Tran Van Don described Thieu as "méchant" (lapsing at that point into French), a word that has a meaning somewhere between nasty and evil (The Fall of South Vietnam. Statements by Vietnamese Military and Civilian Leaders, by Stephen T. Hosmer, Brian M. Jenkins, and Konard Kellen).

5. At the occasion of a national assembly of former political prisoners in California, one person approached General Toan and inquired his opinion concerning the death of General Hieu, who often brushed with dead amidst battlefields but then died by an involuntary discharge of his pistol, General Toan responded, "President Thieu is now dead, let bygones be bygones."

6. A soldier's opinion - First of all, allow me to introduce myself, I am a soldier serving at 5th Recon Company of 5th Infantry Division during General Tran Quoc Lich's command and later during Brigadier General Le Nguyen Vy as Division Commander. Recently I had the opportunity to read your articles in generalhieu.com. Prior to the demise of Saigon, I had only heard from people older than me that General Hieu was a competent general in the Army. Later, through opinions of many who had worked with him or who knew of him, everybody agreed that General Hieu was a military genius. A man of integrity, a great personality, a dedicated patriot. And for that reason, his death was a great loss to the country. But his mysterious death remains a mystery to your family as well as to everybody else. Therefore I understand the amount of times and efforts you have spent in gathering evidences to uncover the truth of his death. By way of this writing, I wish to contribute somehow to the effort of your family and to those who sympathize with General Hieu.

In reviewing the documents that you had collected and the testimonies of high ranking officers of III Corps at that time (allow me not name names here in order to waste time) I respectfully submit the following ideas:

1/ Regarding the theory that General Hieu committed suicide: unconvincing because he was a catholic; furthermore, during that time, he was performing normal activities.

2/ Regarding the theory that the pistol accidentally discharged itself: unconvincing because General Hieu was a marksmanship and an expert in small arms. According to Dang Van Nham, in the course of cleaning pistols, there are three safety checks; therefore it is inconceivable that General Hieu could have inadvertently discharged his pistol and caused his own death.

3/ Regarding the theory that he was assassinated: most likely. But then who was/were the assassin/s?

In this case, there are three groups of suspects that we need to analyze.

a/ The Americans: Around this period, the Americans had already considered the war in VN terminated. They did not have anymore time to interfere into the internal affairs of VN. Therefore we must discard this group.

b/ The Communists: After the seize of Ban Me Thuot and Phuoc Long in which the Americans did not intervene and did not continue the flow of military aid to South Vietnam, the fate of the Republic of Vietnam was coming to an end. They did not care much about secondary things. Therefore, the theory that the communists assassinated General Hieu should be discarded.

c/ Nguyen Van Thieu and the corrupt gang: As we already knew General Hieu was appointed head of the anticorruption bureau by Vice President Tran Van Huong. In that capacity he had uncovered corruption enterprises that resulted in the dismissal of two general officers and 6 colonels who were Thieu's underlings. For that reason, in Thieu's eyes General Hieu was to be discarded at the most appropriate time. At this point, I would like to remind the corruption affair at Long An, also known as the Long An's siren affair which inadvertently discovered by two sergeants who were performing their duties; they thought a military convoy was on its way to operate a coup d'état and reported it to Colonel Le Van Nam who gave order to stop the convoy. Instead of investigate to reach the bottom of the affair, Thieu ordered Colonel Nam to be dismissed and the military policemen belonging to the 6th MP battalion to appear before a court martial with death sentence which was later permuted to imprisonment for life. For a fortuitous case as such and yet Thieu wanted to have people killed; needed to say, how unnerved he could have become facing the audacity with which General Hieu dismantled one of his corruption conduit (according to Dang Van Nham's source). When General Thuan replaced General Minh, he requested Thieu to appoint General Hieu as III Corps Deputy Commander. In my opinion, that was only a ploy and not because a recognition of General Hieu's competence, because that was only a sinecure position. The main purpose was to prepare for the appropriate time to cut down General Hieu.

In your articles about the death of General Hieu, I saw two salient points: the time of death and the discrepancies in the testimonies of those who were present at the crime scene. To me these two elements were not the key points; the main point was the location of his death.

The people who orchestrated the dissimulation of General Hieu's death committed a great error in indirectly confirming that General Hieu died at III Corps Headquarters. Certainly nobody could deny this fact. III Corps Headquarters was not an open market where everybody can go in and out at will, except those who had authorization, in particular at the moment when war was approaching the capital of Saigon.

After using the method of elimination, only the third group of suspects remains: Nguyen Van Thieu and the corruption gang, who had the motive to assassinate General Hieu.

Therefore I dare conclude that General Hieu was assassinated by Nguyen Van Thieu who gave the order to General Toan. General Toan did not carry out the order personally but rather made the arrangement for an assassin who was a member of the corruption gang. The assassination was afterwards covered up with a script that it was a self-inflicted wounded while cleaning a pistol. But the location where General Hieu died was all that mattered. The cover up attempt was fundamentally flawed. (Duy Phuong)

Nguyen Van Tin
October 06, 1999

Updated on 10.15.2003