I am Quan Minh Giau, former ARVN Colonel, and would like to offer a few lines of thoughts about General Nguyen Van Hieu, a classmate that I knew, loved and respected. I came to know General Hieu for spending sometimes together in the same brigade at the Dalat National Military Academy and later for serving together in G3 staff at the Joint General Staff.
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 strong and determined 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 the time for Hieu's team's to be responsible, I noticed that Hieu volunteered to assume the heaviest job, that of cleaning the cement floor using a huge 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 ways, 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 laborious, but then we made to our destination and came back sound and safe. During all our ride, Hieu demonstrated joviality and patience, never did he express any complaint and impatience because of my clumsiness.
Time passed by rapidly, the day after the graduation, newly graduated officers departed to different avenues to serve the country, I retained a few soul-mate classmates in my memory, and among them, Hieu occupied a special spot.
After the splitting of the country into two parts, I was transferred to G3 staff at the Joint General Staff, in charge of the General Research section; not long afterward, Hieu was also transferred here as Deputy Head. I was overjoyed by our reunion. The first thing I noticed was he remained the same in his behavior and attitude, as in the old days. During the period we worked together at G3, I noticed that Hieu was very intelligent and diligent, sharp and quick in making decisions in strategy matters. Every staff member held him in high esteem. Sometimes at lunch break, he stopped by my desk or I stepped into his office to chat about family, society, military operations... One time he told me: "Je fais tout mon possible pour me rapprocher d'un saint, mais je n'y parviens pas" (I do my utmost effort to come close to a saint, but have not been successful at it). Since the days at Dalat Military Academy, I had noticed that Hieu was a man of ideal, that day I understood his ideal lied in the spiritual stratosphere, aiming at a spiritual perfection in life in order to come nearer to God. Such an ideal was the motivation in all of his actions.
After his service at G3/JGS, Hieu was transferred to another assignment. I did not hear from him until I heard he was holding the Command of a Division. The last time I got to meet General Hieu was when he stopped by the Joint General Staff for some businesses.
Then to everybody's astonishment, Hieu unexpectedly departed permanently. I attended his funeral at the Military Cemetery, in my head swirled a multitude of questions about his sudden departure, to this day there are still no satisfactory answers. But I am certain of one thing: Hieu is with God, whom he has always longed to be near through a life aimed at perfect sainthood and infinite happiness reserved to all who had the goodwill to respond to our Savior's call. Where Hieu is living now, I am certain that he continues to intercede for his loved ones and he would also not forget his classmates who had the same ideal of serving their beloved country.
Quan Minh Giau