Austin 23 October 1999.
I am Quan Minh Giau, former ARVN Colonel, and would like to offer a few
lines of thoughts about General Nguyen Van Hieu, a classmate that I knew,
loved and respected. I came to know General Hieu for spending sometimes
together in the same brigade at the Dalat National Military Academy and later for serving together in G3 staff at the Joint General Staff.
Among cadets, Hieu was rather taciturn, affable and jovial, known never to use foul language and argumentative. All of his actions, even the ordinary ones, had a touch of perfection. I had the impression that beneath his taciturnity, along with his affability and a scholarly appearance lied an unspoken strong and determined soul, turned toward a lofty ideal.
If small actions reveal to a certain degree an individual character, then I
still remember a couple among the myriad of Hieu's behaviors during his training
period. Frequently, on weekends there were inspections of quarters, uniforms,
equipment, weapons of each cadet. The inspector officer was Captain De Taine,
commander of the cadets' Division. In an inspection, Hieu's pair of boots were used
by Captain De Taine as a model of boots polishing. In reality, any cadet's
pair of boots were polished thoroughly atop, but if the sole was closely
examined, the majority had traces of dirt around nails' ends. But Hieu's pair
of boots was spotless and sparkling upside down!
During the inspection, the commanders of the Academy also paid much
attention to cleanliness around living quarters and especially around public
bathrooms. When it was the time for Hieu's team's to be responsible, I noticed that Hieu
volunteered to assume the heaviest job, that of cleaning the cement floor
using a huge piece of cloth attached to a T-form stick. First pour water,
second sweep and brush, finally dry clean. Before the time of inspection, if
somebody came in to wash his hands and spilled water onto the floor, Hieu
would wipe it clean without a word.
Toward close or casual friends, Hieu equally showed affability and
patience. On one weekend, we were allowed to leave our military camp. Hieu
invited me to visit Entreray's tea plantation by motorbicycle rented in downtown Dalat. In all honesty, I did not know how to ride a
motorcycle; I did try once and fell miserably, but when Hieu invited and
promised to teach me how, I was eager to go. And so, we rented each one a
Peugeot motorcycle, turned on the engines, and Hieu instructed me how to
change gears, turned on the accelerator etc...and he rode slowly ahead of me,
I rode behind him! On our ways, when we engaged in some elevated roads, I
killed the engine quite a few times! Hieu slowed down and signaled to me when
to change gear number 2, number 3, and when to change gear back to number 1.
It was quite laborious, but then we made to our destination and came back
sound and safe. During all our ride, Hieu demonstrated joviality and patience,
never did he express any complaint and impatience because of my clumsiness.
Time passed by rapidly, the day after the graduation, newly graduated
officers departed to different avenues to serve the country, I retained a few
soul-mate classmates in my memory, and among them, Hieu occupied a special
After the splitting of the country into two parts, I was transferred to G3
staff at the Joint General Staff, in charge of the General Research section;
not long afterward, Hieu was also transferred here as Deputy Head. I was
overjoyed by our reunion. The first thing I noticed was he remained the same
in his behavior and attitude, as in the old days. During the period we worked
together at G3, I noticed that Hieu was very intelligent and diligent, sharp
and quick in making decisions in strategy matters. Every staff member held him
in high esteem. Sometimes at lunch break, he stopped by my desk or I stepped
into his office to chat about family, society, military operations... One time he told me: "Je fais tout mon possible pour me rapprocher d'un
saint, mais je n'y parviens pas" (I do my utmost effort to come close to a
saint, but have not been successful at it). Since the days at Dalat Military
Academy, I had noticed that Hieu was a man of ideal, that day I understood his
ideal lied in the spiritual stratosphere, aiming at a spiritual perfection in
life in order to come nearer to God. Such an ideal was the motivation in all of
After his service at G3/JGS, Hieu was transferred to another assignment. I
did not hear from him until I heard he was holding the Command of a Division.
The last time I got to meet General Hieu was when he stopped by the Joint
General Staff for some businesses.
Then to everybody's astonishment, Hieu unexpectedly departed permanently. I
attended his funeral at the Military Cemetery, in my head swirled a multitude of
questions about his sudden departure, to this day there are still no
satisfactory answers. But I am certain of one thing: Hieu is with God, whom he
has always longed to be near through a life aimed at perfect sainthood and
infinite happiness reserved to all who had the goodwill to respond to our
Savior's call. Where Hieu is living now, I am certain that he continues to
intercede for his loved ones and he would also not forget his classmates who
had the same ideal of serving their beloved country.
Quan Minh Giau