Story about my Brother, General Hieu

Chapter II
Officer Cadet, Dalat Military Academy

My brother flew to Dalat to attend the Class 3/Tran Hung Dao that started on October 1, 1950. At that time, he experienced the same feelings of the youth of his age. Former officer cadet Nguyen Van Men wrote:

While waiting to board the airplane for Dalat, I met Hieu and several other friends. We discussed our upcoming adventure. Everybody was worried but after listening to him and to others who reasoned plausibly about the uncertain future of our country, everybody agreed that the new solution (Bao Dai) might bring in a better future than the present and nobody expected that there would be a military victory, but that a political solution would unify all non-communist national parties who would equally benefit from the outcome.

At Cam Ly airport, my brother encountered some other officer cadets coming Central, Southern, Northern parts of Vietnam, among them was former cadet Lu Mong Lan:

The first time I met Hieu was at Cam Ly airport when we both joined the Army. He came from Hanoi, and I came from Hue. At that period, due to limited availability of means in communication, people from the North, the Center and the South did not have opportunities to interact with one another. Therefore the establishment of the Military Academy in Dalat allowed young men from the three regions of the country to come together. I noticed Hieu when I heard him speak with a strange accent as if he was a foreigner. I liked him right at the moment of our first encounter because he appeared very friendly and humble.

The 3rd Class session commenced in October 1950 with 4 Brigades. Each Brigade was composed of 6 Cadets: 2 Northerners, 2 "Centerners" and 2 Southerners. Therefore, the initial 1st Brigade comprised: Nguyen Van Hieu and Nguyen Ngoc Oanh (North); Vo Dinh and Lu Mong Lan (Center); Huynh Van Louis and Duong Marcel (South).

Oánh, Lữ Lan, Hieu

It was only three months later that cadets of the 5th and 6th Brigades entered the Military Academy, then were subsequently integrated with the other 4 Brigades.

1st Brigade/3rd Class (cadet Hieu was standing second at the left end of last row)

The following are the feelings of my brother's classmates.

- Former officer cadet Pham Van Tien:

As for Hieu, I can say that he was a high-class soldier with an excellent academic background, courageous and honest. I hope that there will be more young men inside and outside the country who will possess the same qualities as him.

- Former officer cadet Dinh Van Chung:

Hieu and I were assigned to different Brigades and thus had different activities. When one Brigade went away for combat exercises, other Brigades stayed home to study, to practice at the firing range or to do chores. It was only at night that we met each other. Hieu was the one I admired the most. He was very earnest; whenever I looked through his window, I saw him at his desk studying and writing. He was very jovial and delightful. Whoever met him for the first time would like him immediately. He was very straightforward with his comrades and assumed his responsibilities with perfection. He had the appearance of a professor, Vietnamese, and French instructors equally respected and liked him. When he assumed the duty of "Sergeant of the week", with the responsibilities of checking the food's preparation in the kitchen on behalf of the cadets, of distributing letters to the cadets, of accompanying instructors on quarters inspection tours, or of resolving multitude miscellaneous problems, he performed them all with the highest conscientious mind. The Military Academy had molded him into an officer, worthy of that name, both physically and mentally.

- Former officer cadet Nguyen Van Toan:

We were not very close, but like the other classmates, we all cherished Hieu, because of his friendly and very humble character, although he was a young man with a high level of academic background.

- Former officer cadet Lu Mong Lan:

Hieu did very well academically. In the final exam, there were 80 challenging questions in math. Everybody bit his pencil, except Hieu who sailed through the mathematic huddles with ease. He also excelled in track and field, especially in sprint meets. On the weekend which preceded the graduation day, we cadets were drenched by a sudden rain while strolling the streets of Dalat city. Afterward, Hieu caught a cold and coughed incessantly. Nevertheless, he still participated in the 100m dash meet. He collapsed at the finishing line and had to be carried out on stretch into the hospital. That was how he was struck by tuberculosis.

- Former officer cadet Quan Minh Giau:

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 determined and robust 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 Hieu's team's time to be responsible, I noticed that Hieu volunteered to assume the most onerous job, that of cleaning the cement floor using a massive 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 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, 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 meticulous, but then we made it to our destination and came back sound and safe. During all our ride, Hieu demonstrated upbeat and patience; never did he express any complaint and impatience because of my clumsiness.

My brother graduated second out of a class of 135 and received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant on July 30, 1951. The valedictorian was officer cadet Bui Dzinh.

Graduation Ceremony (07/01/1951 presided by Emperor Bao Dai)

My father, after returning from attending the graduation ceremony of my brother, told me:"A French instructor said that your brother graduated with the highest grade of his class, but was not designated as its valedictorian because this honor was reserved to a graduate of Center Vietnam origin, same as His Majesty Bao Dai who was presented at the ceremony." As for former cadet Dinh Van Chung, he wrote, "I can never forget that day when the whole cadets' Brigade was dressed in white uniform, discarding the "alpha" badge to be replaced by the brand-new First Lieutenant's epaulet and kneeling in front of the National Altar to be sworn in. In Hieu's case, as the valedictorian, he represented his class in shooting four arrows to four different directions, symbolizing the liberated spirit of the youth that would engage us in all four avenues of life, then drew his sword high up to swear in. High up on the National Altar were inscribed these words: "Nation - Honor - Responsibility," that's the motto every officer of the Military Academy must follow faithfully," then in the subsequent letter, "A few days ago I sent you a short article on General Hieu. In that article, I might have erred regarding Hieu being the valedictorian of Dalat 3rd Class. Please check, and if there was an error I apologize; it had been already 50 years. The person that I might have mistaken was Bui Dzinh who scored very close to Hieu. Again please forgive me if there was any mistake."

Video clips
- Khoa 3 Tran Hung Dao/Vo Bi Dalat
- Tran Hung Dao Class of Dalat Military Academy

For his classmates, Hieu is remembered mostly as: likable, competent both academically and militarily, discreet, friendly, altruist and virtuous.

Nguyen Van Tin
5 January 2015