General Hieu and General Creighton Abrams

General Creighton Abrams arrived in Vietnam in May 1967 as an assistant to General Westmoreland. In June 1968, General Westmoreland left Vietnam to become the Army Chief of Staff at the Pentagon, and was replaced by General Abrams in the post of U.S. Forces in Vietnam Commander.

Although General Abrams substituted search and destroy tactic of General Westmoreland with clear and hold tactic, he maintained the Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update (WIEU) that General Westmoreland had initiated. In these meetings with his high ranking general staff, mainly general officers, General Abrams discussed various issues, like tactics and strategy in the conduct of the war, the development of the Vietnamese armed forces, the pacification program, the Vietnamese military leadership, the political situations as related to the war, etc… He oftentimes injected his own opinions about some Vietnamese army branches (Airborne, Ranger, Marine, Armor, Air Force, Logistics, etc.) or units (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 18th, 21st, 22nd 23rd and 25th Divisions). He and his close associates also mentioned the names of some Vietnamese colonels and generals, such as Colonels Lung, Nhieu, Thiep, Yen, and Generals Canh, Don, Giai (Do Ke), Giai (Vu Van Giai), Khang, Khuyen, Ky, La, Lu Lan, Luong, Manh, Minh (Duong Van), Nam, Nghi, Quang, Tam, Thanh, Thang, Thinh, Thuan, Toan, Trien, Tu, Vinh Loc and Vy. The following Generals had their name mentioned more than once: Dzu, Hieu, Khiem, Lam, Minh (Nguyen Van), Phong, Phu, Than, Thieu, Tri, Truong and Vien. In particular General Truong, 1st Division and Hac Bao Company were highly praised.General Tri, however, did not score high in the eyes of the American high ranking officers if one judges by their thoughts expressed in these WIEUs.

In this article, I only discuss some quotes of General Abrams where he talked – either indirectly or directly – about General Hieu, taken from the book The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972 published in 2004 that Lewis Sorley edited.

WIEU 27 Jul 68

The 22nd ARVN’s doing about 10 percent of what it ought to be. And I’m mad at the division advisors up there because they haven’t brought that up. They’ve been down there sleeping at the switch, and letting the goddamn thing go, and being content with quarter measures.

At the time General Abrams expressed this criticism, General Hieu was at the head of 22nd Division (since June 1966) under General Lu Lan, II Corps Commander.

It appears that General Abrams was misinformed about the 22nd Division by someone who had antipathy toward General Hieu. Colonel Trinh Tieu had touched upon the heat exchange between General Hieu and the U.S. I Field Task Force when General Hieu adamantly refused to put a colonel regiment commander under the command of a captain chief of district in a pacification program as arranged by the U.S. I Field Task Force. A year prior to this incident, in a letter dated August 11, 1967, General Larsen praised the 22nd Division:

15. The 22d ARVN Infantry Division has worked closely and continuously with the US 1st Air Cavalry Division for the past ten months and has contributed measurably to the outstanding successes in Binh Dinh Province. The recognizable improvement in the ARVN combat effort and leadership are encouraging to the US commanders who work with these units.

It would make no sense for the 22nd Division to deteriorate that bad within a year under the leadership of General Hieu, going from contributing “measurably to the outstanding successes in Binh Dinh Province” to “doing about 10 percent of what it ought to be.”

WIEU 26 Jul 69

It’s [the 22nd ARVN Division] like the 173rd Airborne Brigade. They’ve [the 173rd] got rigging equipment, and they’ve got TO&E for air dropping wherever in the world the United States wants to put them, and they’re all airborne trained and they’re all ‘All the way, sir!’ and all that kind of stuff. We don’t need it! We don’t need it! Instead what they’ve got to do is get out there and cream the VCI, get out there in little units muckering around at night, helping the goddamn villagers, seeing that the goddamn rice stays in the warehouse and so on, and—Christ, there isn’t room for a parachute! The only thing you can do is use it for a picnic with the villagers or something.

And, unfortunately, the 22nd ARVN Division can’t see that. It isn’t being a great division, going out battling with regiments and battalions and so on! Goddamn it, the name of the game that’s got to be done is this other thing! And that’s what needs to be done in Binh Dinh! And that’s what the 22nd Division can’t see! And that’s what the division commander is psychologically indisposed to do! And what everybody’s got to do, instead of talking about going off to war and battling with the—Christ, they’ve been down there licking their chops waiting for the 3rd NVA to come back! Well, of course if the 3rd NVA came back they’d clean their clock. But that’s the day they’re waiting for—when the 3rd NVA comes back! Well, bullshit! The thing—you can’t do what you’re organized for, you can’t do what you’re trained for. You’ve got to go out to do what has to be done right now in this country! Everybody’s got to do it!

Two things should be pointed out regarding General Abrams’ opinion. One is that because General Abrams was an armor officer, he looked down on the combat style of the airborne folks. Two is that it seems General Hieu had his own independent mind and would not easily be swayed by American pressure.

It is interesting to compare General Abrams’ assessment with

(1) the one of General Tolson , U.S. 1st Cavalry Division, written in Air Mobility, 1961-1971:

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.

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.

and (2) the one of II Corps Military Advisors Team written in the 1969 Evaluation about the 22nd Division:

Effort: The 22d Division spent more time on combat operations than any other division in the country during the period. Time spent supporting pacification amounted to only about 10 percent of the total available battalion days. This is due to a II Corps directive which releases regular forces from pacification and employs RF and PF instead. Countrywide, the 22d Division spent the least time on security.

Results: The highest number of contacts per battalion in the Corps were made in this division, and the number of enemy KIA nearly tripled from the previous quarter.

Trends: Operational effectiveness, leadership, and combat support received have all improved. Increased assumption of pacification and territorial security responsibility by the RF/PF has enabled the 22d Division to free more of its battalions to conduct sustained mobile offensive operations. Increased US support, and its employment on combined operations have improved mobility and the ability to interdict enemy movements.

WIEU 4 Nov 69

Leadership—where that’s good, they’re good. Where it’s mediocre, they’re mediocre. Here it’s piss poor, they’re piss poor. It’s just that simple. We’ve had some very dramatic examples here of where one man has changed—one man, just the commander, and in a month and a half time you’ve got an entirely new outfit. Used to be flat on its ass, wouldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t fight. Only changed one man—transformed the whole thing.

One can assume without making mistake that General Abrams was alluding to General Hieu, because General Hieu took over the 5th Division on August 15, 1969 and when one compared it with General Hieu’s evaluation that Colonel John Hayes, 5th Division Senior Advisor reported to General Abrams on November 11, 1969:

Combat effectiveness of the 5th Infantry Division (ARVN) is improving. Since Major General Nguyen Van Hieu took command, the Division has initiated a program of carrying the war to the enemy. This initiative is a vital element which the Division has lacked. The employment of the Cavalry Regiment in an offensive role was a dramatic departure from their "Palace Guard" mission.

MG Hieu has evidenced that he is receptive and will react to meaningful suggestions. It cannot be overemphasized that he is a strong commander, and will only implement ideas which will definitely improve the combat effectiveness of the Division.

Definite progress is being made in all areas within the Division. Basically improvements can be attributed to positive leadership which has forced the maneuver units to seek and destroy the enemy.

The new Commanding General definitely removes the leadership problem formerly faced with the Division Commander.

[...] Through Dong Tien and implementation of the Commanding General's offensive tactics, Regimental Commanders are pressed to field good unit leaders.

[...] With the assumption of command by MG Nguyen Van Hieu on 14 August 1969, 5th Division units are changing from a defensive to an offensive posture.

WIEU 15 Nov 69

The other day I was out, and I got a good briefing by General Hieu, 5th ARVN. That’s the first time I’ve been to the 5th since he’s been the division commander. And I must say it was—this doesn’t have too much to do with how the division performs, but the quality of the briefing was very high, including a very frank and, I would guess, honest discussion of personnel strengths, desertions, desertions by regiment, and all this kind of stuff, including the fact that desertions are up, which—that’s not a good sing, of course, but I must say it’s a change of pace out there in the 5th Division to be leveling on things like that.

General Hieu was well-known to be excellent as a military briefer in English.

Raymond E. D'Addario, General Abrams’ Personal Security officer, wrote in an e-mail he sent to me:

I had the honor to know your Brother. He was a wonderful man, courageous as can attest to how his enemies could only resort to vile trickery to kill him. I served as the Personal Security officer for General Creighton ABRAMS. I can tell you he had great respect for your Brother and always spoke highly of his integrity, honor and valor

In fact, General Abrams had been reported about General Hieu's acts of valor in rushing out on to the battlefield to take direct command of combat troops at the risk of his own life on October 14, 1970. And General Abrams proposed to recommend the award of the Bronze Star Medal for Valor to General Hieu in a memorandum dated April 7, 1970.

Nguyen Van Tin
12 October 2005

Updated on 10.29.2005

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