The Selection of 1/8th Battalion Commander

When he arrived at the 5th Division on August 14, 1969, General Hieu was glad to see that the 1/8th Battalion was lead by an outstanding commander, Major Chau Minh Kien.

Chau Minh Kien graduated Class 19 of the Dalat Military Academy at the end of 1964, and was the fastest in ranking advancement among his classmates, being promoted twice in the battlefield: Captain in 1968 then Major in August 1969.

Upon graduation, he was commissioned to serve at the 5th Division (General Tran Thanh Phong, Divisional Commander) and was assigned Executive Officer of 9th Company (Lieutenant Nguyen Ky Suong, Class 16, Company Leader), 3/8th Battalion (Captain Ly Duc Quan, Class 10. Battalion Commander). In 1968, Captain Kien was given the command of 1/8th Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Le Nguyen Vy, 8th Regiment Commander, and Major General Pham Quoc Thuan, 5th Division Commander. Unfortunately, Major Kien was killed in action on September 14, 1969 Ė and was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel Ė just one month after General Hieuís arrival at the 5th Division.

General Hieu noticed the combat resolve of 1/8th Battalion suffered enormously following the sudden death of its charismatic leader. Then, when it sustained a heavy toll under the leadership of LTC Kienís replacement in a battle that took place in November 1969, General Hieu sensed the urgency of finding a new Battalion Commander that would restore the reputation of this battalion.

A look at the group of current battalion executive officers in the division, General Hieuís eyes were caught by the sight of an officer with a rather short height, an alert couple of eyes, and a broad forehead named Tran Van Thuong. In reviewing the individual military records submitted by the Personnel Bureau, General Hieu noted the following salient facts:

- Graduate of Class 17/VNMA in 1963;

- Recipient of Gallantry Medal in the Loi Phong Operation in May 1965, while he was the 2nd Company Leader, 1/8th Battalion, under Commanding General Tran Thanh Phong;

- Following a dangerous retreat operation, he dared to criticize General Phong in the headquarters office, and was sparred of being thrown into jail by the intervention of Major Nguyen Van Cua, 1/8th Battalion Commander, who came into his defense;

- In 1966, while the 1/8th Battalion X.O., he was ordered by General Thuan to undergo a 20 day confinement arrest for menacing a civilian, and was transferred to 9th Regiment located at a remote area near the border (the truth of the matter in this incident was that he had innocently stepped into a money-making channel orchestrated by the 5th Division Chief of Staff who then put him on his blacklist);

- Subsequently, he rotated six times in the position of battalion executive officer in six different battalions and was kept at the same ranking of lieutenant, while all other battalions X.O. wore the ranking of Captain;

- Whenever a hot spot flared up, he was heli-lifted onto the battlefield in full action; when things quieted down, he was reverted to this previous assignment.

The reading of the records leads General Hieu to the conclusion that he was in the presence of a hidden jewel buried deep into the sand, which ought to be put into good use, and he decided to entrust Captain Thuong with the leadership of the 1/8th Battalion in December 1969. He felt justified in his personnel selection when he read the following evaluation dated February 02, 1970 submitted by Colonel John Hayes, Senior Advisor regarding Battalion Commander Tran Van Thuong and 1/8th Battalion:

Cpt. Thuong is an above-average commander. He replaced LTC Kien, who is recognized as a true hero of the ARVN. In the difficult position of replacing such an outstanding commander, Cpt. Thuong has displayed aggressiveness and above-average ability to stimulate and maintain morale and control, direct and influence those under him.

The battalion was considered to be the best in III Corps until LTC Kien was killed. Following his death. it regressed temporarily but is back in contention as the best battalion in the regiment. It was combat tested during period 4-25 June in An Son area against Dong Nai Regt which resulted in 75 VC KIA and 34 VC CIA. It was further tested in the initial stages of the Dong Tien Program in the Trapezoid area and accounted for numerous kills. The battalion is progressing.

With the outstanding leadership of Battalion Commander Tran Van Thuong and of Regiment Commander Bui Thach Dzan, who replaced Colonel Le Nguyen Vy in March 1970, General Hieu employed the 1/8th Battalion and the 8th Regiment respectively as the head-lance and the javelin of the 5th Division, as shown typically in the Snoul Battle.

Nguyen Van Tin
24 July 2004