II Corps Chief of Staff

(I had more than one conversation with Captain Nguyen Minh Am. He worked with Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, in 1965-1966. Following are notes that I have jotted down on how he reminisces Colonel Hieu).

I graduated with the 18th Class of the Reserved Officers Military School of Thu Duc with the grade of Aspirant Lieutenant. On June 1, 1965, I was already present at II Corps in Pleiku. I was brought in to meet with Colonel Hieu, the II Corps Chief of Staff. When I entered his office, Colonel Hieu was on the phone with someone. He asked me to sit down and wait for a while. Upon terminating his phone conversation, he turned to me and asked which was my strongest subject in the military school. I responded, I excelled in map reading. He pointed to the map on the wall and asked me to pinpoint the location of a unit. Although I was experiencing turmoil inside me for having to perform before a colonel, I was able to determine the "section" of the location and thus recited accurately 8 out of 10 numbers of the coordinates. The outcome of the brief quiz was my assignment to work at G3, where excellent skills in map reading were required.

I did not particularly like to work at G3 for many reasons. The first reason was that in this position, it was not easy to have an on-the-side job, as it was with other units. The second reason was the weighty responsibility of the post: the lives of soldiers in military operations depended on the accurate performance of the people working at G3. The third reason was the fact that the Military Security Unit imposed close monitoring on individuals working a G3 to prevent spies from infiltrating the Center of Operation. The fourth reason was that Colonel Hieu was intransigent toward his subordinates. All mistakes, be it small or big, were immediately detected by him. However, he never raised his voice, but he merely corrected with a mild, although stern voice. For example, while riding on a C&C helicopter, he asked me if the down below area was populated by the civilians, our troops, or the Viet Cong. I mistakenly determined it was a Viet Cong controlled area. He told me I needed to review the operational map because if he ordered an artillery strike, it would kill our troops. The fifth reason was that working with Colonel Hieu was not a fast promotion track, as Colonel Hieu did not recommend promotions like some other commanders with a penchant for favoritism irresponsibly. However, when I needed a couple of days of absence, he would grant me an extended absence of a couple of weeks.

Colonel Hieu possessed an extraordinary memory. He knew by rote the coordinates of each unit in his areas without having to refer to a map. For example ,in one instance I wrongly determined the coordinates of a location, he told me I needed to reconsider them because if he ordered an artillery strike, it would hit an armored unit in operation at that location. Aware of this fact, units in operation would not dare to cheat on their positions. In one instance, Colonel Hieu asked a unit which was ordered to attack an enemy hide-out if it had reached the destination; he got an affirmative response by the unit commander who, because he was afraid to confront the enemy, had lied. Colonel Hieu asked him to confirm his position once more because if he ordered an artillery strike, it would hit his unit and not the enemy. Our unit commander hastily requested more time to reach a more accurate location report.

Colonel Hieu taught us that while preparing for an attack, it was not sufficient to know the identity of the enemy units involved, it was imperative to know the favorite tactics of the unit commander, like "diversionary attack at the east but real attack at the west" or "putting up a siege around an outpost and ambushing the relief column troops". And to plan a military operation accordingly. Therefore Colonel Hieu always ordered that his G2 intelligence office obtained the identities of the enemy units as well as the profile of its unit commanders.

Each morning Colonel Hieu met briefly with each office of the general staff, G1, G2, G3,... to listen to reports of each office head and to give orders for the day. At the end of each session, he always provided a Q&A time, which usually was not necessary because he was very concise and clear in his orders.

The American advisors greatly admired Colonel Hieu. They wondered where he had acquired all his extensive knowledge and recognized he was far better than them.

General Vinh Loc much respected Colonel Hieu. When encountering difficulties, he used to refer to "Uncle Hieu" to seek resolutions of the matters.

I met General Hieu again - he was then 22d Infantry Division Commander in Qui Nhon in 1969 - when I was assigned to attend the first Company Commander training session organized by the 22nd Infantry Division. General Hieu came to inspect the Training Center located in Phu Tai. He immediately spotted me among the trainees; he accosted me and chatted briefly with me since I would not dare to initiate the first move.

Captain Nguyen Minh Am
13 October 2002

Updated on 10/19/2002