LTG Tran Van Minh, Commander of the South Vietnamese Air Force

My Truth

I can only tell you my truth. It is not the truth for any other Vietnamese general or military officer. It is not the truth for any Vietnamese politician. It is not the truth for my family or for my friends. And above all else, it is not God's truth. In time we will know God's truth. In time. But all I am sure of right now is my truth -- what I saw and what I believed. This is my truth. The answer to the tragedy of the defeat of South Vietnam is simple. It can be summed up by two words: "not enough." We did not have enough supplies in the last weeks of the war. And we did not have enough soldiers. That was all. That was the whole problem. Not enough.

The American media said that we lost the war because we were corrupt. I cannot deny that there was corruption in Vietnam. There was. There was corruption in business and in politics and even in some parts of the military. But there was no corruption in the Air Force. My men believed in their country and they had faith in their officers. There was no corruption that I saw among the officers or the men.

Our problem was that we did not have enough parts and we did not have enough fuel. We were especially low on fuel at the end of the war. So we could not fly our airplanes. Our forces were grounded. The Americans, though, had computers and long lists of figures. They told us that we had enough. They decided that we had enough fuel and spare parts. They decided that on a political basis. They did not decide that on a realistic basis.

All we ever needed was supplies. Supplies to fight with. When the supplies were no longer given to us, that hurt the morale of the officers and the troops. Everybody saw the end of the supplies. They knew we would run out. And when they saw that happening they knew that we had been abandoned by our best friends. And then they lost much of their will to fight.

I never dreamed that our friends would betray us and drop us. I thought of Berlin and Korea as the examples of American resolve. And I saw how the Americans protected them. I thought that we, too, were one of the outposts of freedom in the world. Ambassador Graham Martin told me again and again that the Americans would never abandon us. He said we could count on that for sure.

What happened in the end is just what some Americans say happened. We lost the war faster than the North could win it. That is true. I supposed that President Thieu's policy of abandoning the highlands after the fall of Banmethuot was a good one. But if we had been supplied properly, then our morale would have been maintained and we could have reorganized and redeployed and fought on.

When President Thieu resigned on April 21st, I thought that was a hopeful sign. I thought that perhaps now there would be a new agreement, a new partition. Vice President Huong became president. He was an old and revered teacher. He was an honest man. But then he turned the presidency over to General Duong Van Minh. Some of us thought that maybe Minh could make a peace agreement. But we also thought that everything that was happening was just a shadow. We believed that in Vietnam we were no longer deciding anything. Everything, we believed, was being determined behind the scenes by the superpowers. The Americans and the Russians and the Chinese, we believed, had decided the fate of Vietnam. We were waiting day by day to see what they had decided somewhere in secret. We thought part of their agreement must have been for America to stop sending us supplies.

In the last days of the Republic of Vietnam I spoke with General Nguyen Cao Ky many times. And many times he asked me to lead a coup. He said, "Be very careful. The Americans are protecting President Thieu. Don't let them know your plans." Then I would see him a few days later and he would ask me, "When are you going to lead a coup? When is the coup?" I told him that I did not want to lead a coup. I asked him if he had a plan for a coup. And he said, no, he did not. He said he thought that I did. He was so cautious. He wanted me to lead a coup so that he could become the new leader of the country. But what General Ky did not understand was that my officers and my men and I were not loyal to any one man. We were loyal to our country. We were loyal to Vietnam. We all loved Vietnam. So many of my men died for Vietnam. They fought and died not for any man, but for Vietnam.

In his autobiography General Ky said that I came to his house and said that I was loyal to him whatever he did. He said that I told him that people from the American Embassy were trying to bribe me to work for them and to spy on him. None of that was true. No one ever tried to bribe me--especially no one from the American Embassy. And I never had that conversation with General Ky. It is almost funny reading it. Why did he put that in his book, anyway? Where did he get that? Maybe he was writing about someone else. He could not have been writing about me.

On April 29th, late in the morning, I got a call from the DAO saying that there was to be a meeting of the Americans and the commanding officers of the Vietnamese Air Force. I went to the DAO with several of my men. We were shown into a room. Then we were left alone for a long time. We thought Ambassador Martin or General Homer Smith (The Defense Attaché) or someone else would come in with a new plan for striking back at the North Vietnamese. But they never showed up. No one showed up until the late afternoon. After we had gone into the compound they had a guard disarm us. That had never happened before.

Then finally someone came into the room, an officer, and said, "This is the end, General Minh. A helicopter is outside waiting to take you away." We went outside to the helicopter. We were flown out to the Blue Ridge in the South China Sea.

An American Air Force colonel was on the helicopter with us. He sat next to me. He was crying on the way out. He could not even talk. But he wrote something on a slip of paper and he handed it to me. It read, "General, I am so sorry." I still have that piece of paper. I will keep it all my life. I will always remember that sad flight out to the Blue Ridge.

We Vietnamese who are Buddhists, we believe that God disposes of all things. We believe that in this life we suffer many things because in a former life we did something wrong. I believe that in some former life that I cannot remember I must have done something very wrong. That is why all of this happened to me and to my country. Sometimes we may be able to modify fate if we live right and do what our hearts tell us to do. That is what I have always tried to do. I have always tried to do what is right and to do what my heart tells me to do.

But since the fall of my country my heart has been broken. For 20 years I have felt a great emptiness and a great sadness inside me. It will never go away. Every day I feel it. Not a day passes in my life that I do not think of Vietnam.

The Seattle Times
National News : Tuesday, Sept. 2, 1997

Soldiers mourn death of Vietnam general
by Kristin Huckshorn
Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. - One by one, the old soldiers approached the flag-draped casket and paused. In an instant, the years fell away and they clicked their heels together, stood for a moment ramrod straight and snapped a farewell salute to the general they once served.

"He was my idol," said one of the soldiers, An Quoc Lai, as family and friends gathered yesterday at a funeral home in San Jose. "He was like John Wayne to me."

Tran Van Minh, a three-star general who commanded the South Vietnamese Air Force until the end of the Vietnam War, died last Wednesday of kidney failure and complications from a stroke. He was 66.

Minh was among the dozen highest-ranking officers of the former South Vietnamese military who resettled in the United States after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. But it was his wartime reputation as an honest and incorruptible leader and his postwar efforts to organize Vietnamese Air Force veterans - not his prominent rank - that drew more than 600 people from across the country to the service yesterday.

"There are many old Vietnamese generals who die in America, but people do not go to their funerals," said a former Air Force officer who did not want his name used. "Today, there are people here from Texas, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Southern California. General Minh had everyone's respect."

Yesterday, mourners bowed in prayer and then handed glowing incense sticks to Minh's son, Tran Thanh Phong. He placed them in urns on an elaborate altar laden with fruit and burning candles. Twenty Buddhist monks and nuns surrounded the alter to offer prayers and chants. Minh's body lay nearby in an open casket, draped with the red and yellow flag of South Vietnam.

An honor guard marched into the hall behind another South Vietnamese flag, and the congregation rose to haltingly sing the old national anthem.

Along one wall, 20 middle-aged men in camouflage fatigues, red felt berets and polished boots stood at attention, trying to sing along while wiping away tears.

Minh's widow, Vu Ngoc Thinh, sat to the side of the altar with her two daughters, crying quietly. "A lot of Vietnamese women take care of their husbands out of duty," said Minh's daughter, Ngoc Chan Tran. "But she was still in love with him."

The couple would have soon celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, she said.

Her father was born in the Mekong Delta, joined the military at 19 and entered the Air Force two years later. An educated man, he spoke both English and French.

Said a veteran named Thanh who did not want his last named used: "He kept politics out of the Air Force. He lived modestly and acted modestly. He set an example."

ARVN Generals