Tender Loving Care

Right since the days at the Dalat Military School, all military cadets cherished Hieu because of his kindness and his readiness in offering a helping hand to everybody, regardless of ranking, be it general officers or everyday soldiers, rich or poor, competent or ignorant, good or bad. He had immense generosity and patience toward any situation. He maintained his poise and sympathy no matter how slow and awkward the person he was dealing with could be. Cadet Quan Minh Giau experienced this unique trait of General Hieu when Hieu was teaching him how to ride a motor bicycle:

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 Enteray's tea plantation by motorcycle 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, and I rode behind him! On our way, 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 strenuous, but then we made it to our destination and came back sound and safe. During our entire trip, Hieu demonstrated joviality and patience; never did he express any complaint and impatience because of my clumsiness.

What struck 1st Lieutenant Nguyen Ngoc Nhuan in Lieutenant Hieu, his roommate at the Joint General Staff bachelor officers’ quarter at Cho Quan in the year of 1953, that he was a kind, virtuous and affable Officer, beneficial toward his comrades (Military Career, page 59).

Although extremely attentive in knowing immediately who needed his help, General Hieu was very delicate in not showing an invasive or pushy hand, but rather his support was all gentleness and tact so as not to trigger any feeling of uneasiness in the recipient of his generosity; furthermore, his help was very measured, no more no less, appropriate to each situation and he disappeared immediately as soon as the person he was providing assistance became self-sufficient and did not need his help anymore. He possessed the patience of a mother dealing with the awkwardness of an infant, or a special education specialist teaching a mentally disabled child.

While commanding large units, General Hieu still paid attention to the welfare of each individual soldier and his family. He had the firm belief that for the soldier to concentrate in combat, he ought to ascertain that his wife and children were well taken care of by the Division in the rear, in terms of childbirth, medicine, doctors, schooling and job training. Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Anh Ton, who served under General Hieu as a press attaché at the 22nd Division, recounted:

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 sufficient 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 height, 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 know 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 build 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 dwellings 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 the 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 the 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 in order to improve the combat resolve of a soldier, two needs had to be met: one is to arm him with adequate weapons and ammunition; two is to provide a secure life condition to his spouses and children.

General Hieu valued his soldiers’ life more than his own. In the withdrawal of 8th Task Force out of Snoul, because the enemy anti-aircraft firepower was so intense, when he had to fly in to the command post-camp to deliver direct withdrawal instructions, instead of accompanied by his general staff comprising G2, G3, G4 and G5 heads as the general practice, General Hieu left behind everyone in the rear and flew in solo with the helicopter crew into the battlefield.

Not only did General Hieu was attentive to the needs of his direct subordinates; he also cared to help those who sought his favors through the intervention of his subordinates, like the three typical following instances.

Lieutenant Colonel Nghiem Ke recounted that when he was serving under Colonel Hieu, 22nd Infantry Division, as chief of Engineer Unit, he had a brother who was an armor officer. His parents worried about the life of his brother because his units used to foray into the villages in pursuit of the enemy, and his vehicle could be easily hit by B.40 anti-tank rocket. They asked him to approach Colonel Hieu to have him assigned to a safer arrear position. At first, LTC Nghiem was uneasy in asking a favor from his boss. Therefore, he was entirely caught by surprise when things happened very smoothly. Colonel Hieu needed only to inquire how long his brother had served in a combat position. When the answer came back with six years, Colonel Hieu immediately sent a letter to the Joint General Staff with a request for a transfer from a combat to a desk position, which was approved speedily.

Captain Ai recounted that when he just came out of Thu Duc Military School, he was recommended by his father to General Hieu, who was at the time III Corps Deputy Commander. His father used to work with Colonel Hieu in II Corps in the years 1964-1965. General Hieu pulled him aside and told him: “Try to serve in a combat position for at least six months. After that, I will see if I can request that you be transferred to work in the operational center:” And General Hieu kept his promise.

The same Captain Ai recounted further that when III Forward Command Post of General Nguyen Vinh Nghi was overrun by the North Communists in Phan Rang, he was working at III Corps Operational Center in Bien Hoa. Major Hung, a friend of his, radioed back requesting to be rescued by a helicopter, which was at the critical situation the only way to escape. Captain Ai was unable to dig out a helicopter. At the last resort, he tried his luck by entering General Hieu’s office and explained to the General his friend’s predicament. He was quite surprised when General Hieu told him to take his helicopter out to fetch his friend!

Nguyen Van Tin
04 October 2005

general hieu