"Well, Govan, if we must die, let us die like men."
Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne
Joined: 08 Mar 2007
|Posted: Post subject: THE SUICIDES ON APRIL 30, 1975
|THE SUICIDES ON APRIL 30, 1975
(Most of the following information is taken from the above website, but since I have additional remarks, and some commentary is missing, I have copied and pasted where appropriate, then added verbiage. I have not corrected some bad translations, since they are still understandable. My remarks are within parentheses ending with BT.)
(It is difficult to understand why the following men, some of whom had been fighting the Communists for 25 years beginning with the French, would choose suicide in light of the fact that they all still had a chance of getting away safely. Maybe the answer is in the question I just posed. After 25 years, they realized that their mission had failed, and preferred to die rather than live with the memory. I knew a pilot that had a routine mission assigned on the morning of May 1st in My Tho, but while in the air heard of the fall, and flew to Thailand. My friend , Cuong, recently told me that another reason is that this was expected of leaders who had failed. BT)
1. ( Saigon Police Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Long marched to the Marine Monument [seen partially above] in downtown Saigon, saluted, stated "It is finished," then committed suicide, a single shot to the head with a .45. BT)
2. Major Dang Si Vinh
He moved in our neighborhood sometime in early 1974. His family - wife and seven children - soon earned sympathy from people along the paved alley of a Saigon suburb where most inhabitants were in lower middle class. His eldest son was about thirty years old and a first lieutenant in the Army Medical branch after graduated pharmacist from the Medical School. The youngest was a 15-year-old pretty girl.
It would have been a happy family if Saigon had not fallen to the hands of the Communist North Vietnam army. That was what people in the neighborhood said about the middle-aged RVN Army Major Dang Si Vinh, who was holding a job in the National Police Headquarters in Saigon.
At about 2:00 PM on April 30, 1975, almost two hours after RVN President Duong Van Minh surrendered to the Communists, people near by heard several pistol reports from his home. After hesitating for safety, his neighbors got into his home to find Major Vinh, his wife and his seven children lying each on a single mattress, all dead, each by one .45 caliber bullet that gushed pools of blood from the horrible holes at their temples.
On a long dining table, decent meals had been served and eaten as if in an usual and peaceful dinner. There were nine small glasses, all had traces of a pink powder left at their bottoms. Apparently, Maj. Vinh and his relatives had taken the drug - probably sleeping pills - before Vinh gave each a finishing stroke with his .45 pistol.
In an open small safe he left some hundreds of thousands South Vietnam piasters, rated about 500 dollars at the time, an indication of his poor circumstances as an army major. On the note along with the money, Vinh wrote:
"Forgive us. Because our family would not live under the Communist regime, we have to end our lives this way that might be bothering you. Please inform my only sibling, a sister named ... at... and use this money to help her bury us anywhere. "
"Dang Si Vinh."
The fall of Saigon drove many people into not only suicide but serious mental disorder as well. Ten years later, some physicians said that at least one thousand people around the Saigon area suffered incurable insanity on that day of the Black April.
Maj. Vinh was one among many others who committed suicide on and after April 30, 1975. Those who committed suicide were mostly officers, politicians, government officials, and young NCOs were estimated at several hundreds. But only some famous cases were fully recorded.
3. Major General Pham Van Phu (1928-1975)
Commander, II Corps/Military Region 2. General Phu was born in Ha Dong, North Vietnam. He graduated the Dalat Military Academy, Class 8. In 1954, Phu was a company officer in the 5th Parachutist Battalion of the Army of the State of Vietnam, fighting beside the French in Dien Bien Phu.
In the RVN Army, Phu had been commander of the RVN Special Force, the 2nd Infantry Division, Quang Trung Training Center, before taking the command of the II Corps/Military Region II in Pleiku. His troops suffered heavy losses on the way of withdrawal to the coastal areas in April 1975.
General Phu committed suicide on 30 April 1975 in Saigon.
(When Phu got assurances from an American officer that his family would be evacuated, he saluted, did an about face, marched out the door and committed suicide in the same manner as Colonel Long above. Phu was captured by the Communists at Dien Bien Phu, and broken during his imprisonment. Thieu came under fire for appointing him to such a high position considering this factor, but would not back down. The retreat from the Central Highlands was a disaster. On paper it looked good, and if performed properly, might have given Thieu what he was after which was a smaller area of the South to cover, as he knew he could not keep control of all of it with little money. [Thank you congress] First of all, the commanding general there refused Thieu's order to begin the evacuation, and Thieu had to fly personally to Pleiku to give the order himself. They attempted to evacuate all the citizens of Pleiku which would have been a most difficult undertaking for the best army the world had ever seen. At first everything went according to plan, as the units covered the flanks, rear, and engineers blowing the bridges as they progressed, but it turned into a stampede. I have a heartbreaking piece from a newspaper at that time written by a Vietnamese reporter who was covering the evacuation. He mentions all the soldiers that gave their life for Vietnam, particularly mentioning the South Koreans, who by the way, never took hostile fire from a village but once, as they then leveled it. BT)
4. Major General Nguyen Khoa Nam (1927-1975)
Major general, commander IV Corps and Military Region 4. General Nam was born in Quang Nam province. He was drafted and graduated from Thu Duc Reserve Officers School, Class 3 in 1953.
General Nam was highly respected by his subordinates, his equals, even his superiors, as well as the people in his region ever since he commanded the 7th Infantry Division. His spirit of discipline made him a good example to his soldiers.
At 11:30 PM, 30 April 1975, General Nam killed himself after saying farewell to his staff and talking by telephone with General Le Van Hung, who had ended his life earlier.
(Thu Duc was outside of Saigon, and I lived there in an old French villa for a year. After the Communists took over, they imprisoned approximately 100 junior officers in one of the buildings there. After a while, the men took a vote, and decided they would no longer put up with the indoctrination, so they barricaded the doors from within, and set the place on fire. All perished. I am sure there are countless other stories that we will never hear. The best estimate is that the Communists liquidated 80,000 Southerners. BT)
5. Brigadier General Tran Van Hai (1925-1975)
Brigadier general, commander, 7th Infantry Division at Dong Tam, near My Tho.
General Hai was born in Phong Dinh province (Can Tho). He graduated from the Dalat Military Academy, Class 7, 1951. Hai was renown of being incorruptible, outspoken and brave. In 1968, he was commanding the Ranger Branch Command, directly supervising the Ranger's raid to clear the enemy force that infiltrated into the business quarter of Cho Lon area.
(This was TET '68. A friend of mine, Bill Lemon, was caught in Cholon when the Communists came. They were going door to door, street by street searching all the houses. After the second day, it was apparent that they would get to where he was staying the next day. Now picture this: George weighed 300 pounds, but his wife made him a white top with black pants like women wear there especially when they are selling wares, put a conical hat on his head, and he was able to walk a few blocks to where a man, who had been contacted by telephone, met him in a jeep, and got him away safely under a hail of fire! BT)
He was then assigned National Police Chief. In 1970 he was commander, Special Tactical Area 44... before commanding the 7th Division.
He won the adoration of everyone who once worked with him, as he was renown of being incorruptible. At midnight, 30 April 1975, he committed suicide at the Division Headquarters, Dong Tam Army Base.
6. Brigadier General Le Van Hung (1933-1975)
Brigadier General, deputy commander of the IV Corps/Military Region 4 at Can Tho. Hung was born in Gia Dinh province near Saigon.
In 1954, he was drafted and received training in the Thu Duc Reserve Officers School, Class 5, graduated second-lieutenant in January 1955. In January 1959, First Lieutenant Hung was the 32nd Infantry Regiment S-2 when the Viet Cong conducted a surprise attack at the regiment base camp in Trang Sup, Tay Ninh province, and took away a large number of weapons. As the duty officer of the regiment headquarters, he bravely commanded the reconnaissance platoon, the only soldiers present in the barracks, to resist and to protect the other parts of the headquarters and other materials and equipment from being destroyed or lost.
In 1961 he was appointed Chief of Police Department of Vinh Binh province, and later a battalion commander when he was a captain in 1964. In 1967, he became the commander, 31st Infantry Regiment. Then he was assigned province chief of Phong Dinh (Can Tho). June 1971, Hung was given the command of the 5th Infantry Division and promoted brigadier general in 1 March 1972. He proved to be a talented and brave infantry commander in the bloody battle of An Loc during the Summer 1972 Campaign. He held firmly the city of An Loc under the enemy fierce attacks that lasted 2 months.
Until his death, Hung had successively been assistant commander, III Corps/Military Region 3; commander, 21st Infantry Division; and deputy commander, IV Corps/Military Region 4.
At 8:30 PM, 30 April 1975, his troops still kept the city of Can Tho under control. A delegation of the city people came to see him and convinced him - as he was the deputy commander - that his ARVN forces should not fight to death as they certainly would, because the people were sure that the Communists would spare nobody in Can Tho in order to win. They would not hesitate to shell Can Tho into rubble. General Le Van Hung and the commander, General Nguyen Khoa Nam, dropped their intention to fight to the last bullet. Hung then said farewell to his men, his wife and children before he killed himself by a .45 pistol. It was 8:45 PM, 30 April 1975.
(I have spent a lot of time in Can Tho, and after reading of Tu Duc again, I thought of TET '68 in that, though reported as a defeat for our side in the newspapers, it was actually a horrific defeat for the Communists. The Viet Cong were virtually annihilated, and North Vietnam thought that the war was lost, because in addition to the defeat, they had met an icy reception in the cities which was quite the opposite of what they were expecting. However, they changed their minds later due to the antiwar political situation in the states. After TET '68, I could drive from Tu Duc six days a week to Pho Loi leaving at five in the morning when it was dark with never a problem. The few Viet Cong left resorted to stealing chickens at night which quite often left them dead by the side of the road in the mornings. From then on the North Vietnamese main army had to shoulder the burden. I had many good pictures including the one of the pyramid of dead Viet Cong that I alluded to in the TET '68 Bien Hoa posting, but everything was lost by the US postal service when I mailed them back from Saigon. BT)
7. Colonel Ho Ngoc Can (1940-1975)
He was one who elected to commit suicide by fighting to death.
Ho Ngoc Can was admitted in the RVN Junior Military Academy when he was 14 years old. After graduation, he served 4 years as an instructor sergeant in the same academy. In 1961, he attended the Officer Candidates Course at the Dong De NCO Academy and was the distinguished graduate of the course in 1962.
After commissioned, Can served the Ranger Corps as a platoon leader. He was promoted to captain in 1965, to major in 1968, to lieutenant colonel in 1971, and to full colonel in 1974. He was successfully commanding the 1/33 Battalion (21st Infantry Division), the 15th Regiment (9th Inf. Div.). In 1974, Can was appointed province chief of Chuong Thien Province, Vietnam deep south area.
On April 30, 1975, he refused to surrender to the enemy. Along with his troops, Can was fighting with all his might, holding the provincial headquarters until 11:00 PM on May 1, when his forces were out of ammunition. In the last minutes, he ordered the soldiers to leave the headquarters for safety while he and a faithful Popular Force militiaman covered them with a machine gun.
He fell into the hands of the Communist force after he failed an attempt to kill himself. He told the enemy that he wouldn't surrender, and asked them to let him salute the RVN colors with his uniform on before the execution.
Can was publicly executed by the Communist firing squad after a quick summary trial at a Communist cheaply staged court martial.
8. Brigadier General Le Nguyen Vy (1933-1975)
Brigadier general, commander, 5th Infantry Division at Lai Khe. General Vy was born in Son Tay province, North Vietnam. He graduated from the officers candidate course in the Regional Military School, Military Region II at Phu Bai near Hue, Class 1951.
After receiving the order to surrender, General Vy committed suicide by a pistol at 11:00 AM, 30 April 1975 at the division headquarters in Lai Khe.[b]
Many more officers had committed suicide during the last days of the war. Colonel Le Cau, commander of the 47th Regiment and Colonel Nguyen Huu Thong, commander of the 42nd Regiment, both from the 22nd Division took their own lives instead of surrendering. Colonel Ho Ngoc Can, commander of the 15th Regiment 9th Infantry Division refused to surrender to the enemy.
He and his men fought until the end and he was captured before he could kill himself. He asked to salute his flag the last time before being executed by a communist firing squad. Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Thong saluted the Soldier statue in central downtown Saigon before pulling the trigger on himself. Around 2 p.m. on April 30, after a decent meal Major Dang Si Vinh had his wife and seven children drink some medicine before killing them and himself. His last note: “Forgive us. We do not want to live under a communist regime…” Former Prime Minister Tran Chanh Thanh fearing a fall into the hands of the communists he had deserted before 1954 ended his life by taking poison.
This was a mass tu sat where at least five generals, four colonels, one major and a politician took their own lives in various places throughout South Vietnam.
Tran Van Ba belongs to an illustrious pedigree of southern Vietnamese nationalists. His great uncle Bui Quang Chieu—the founder of the Saigon Constitutionalist Party—was assassinated along with his four sons and a daughter in 1945 by the communists. His father Tran Van Van, a member of the South Vietnamese National Assembly, was also assassinated in 1966. Smuggled to France one month after his father’s death, Ba became President of the Vietnamese Students Association from 1972 to 1980 and denounced Hanoi’s “summary executions, military expansionism to Cambodia and Laos, and inducing the exodus of the boat people.” He returned to Vietnam in 1980 to continue the fight for freedom and democracy in his own homeland. He was jailed in 1984 and executed on false charges of treason in January 1985 despite international protests—including those of France President Valery Giscard d’ Estaign, Simone Veil and Laurent Fabius (21).
The 2007 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom was posthumously awarded to Mr. Ba at the embassy of Hungary in D.C. on November 15, 2007. A memorial has been erected to Mr. Ba in Liege, Belgium and a street dedicated to him in Falls Church, VA by the Vietnamese community (22).
By returning to Vietnam to fight communism, Ba knew he could be taken prisoner, jailed and possibly executed. He went ahead anyway.
During the anti-communist war, 300,000 South Vietnamese soldiers had lost their lives to defend South Vietnam against the Hanoi government. They were great, courageous men who had dedicated their lives to their country. When the latter sank, some killed themselves rather than surrendering. Instead of flying out, they preferred to die in their old Vietnam. The U.S. offered to fly Generals Nam and Hung out of the country, but they refused, accepting to die instead among their soldiers. General Le Minh Dao, the commander of the Xuan Loc region—the last bastion of resistance against the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War—also declined to be air lifted by the U.S. in April 1975: he ended up being confined in a concentration camp for the next 18 years during which he almost lost his life. There was no greater dedication and self-sacrifice than this.
These people had a very high sense of responsibility and morality. They were ashamed of handing over the troops under their command to the enemy or to turn themselves in. They felt they were betraying “not their emperor, but a sovereign state that had ceased to exist long before, whose ideals they, as military officers, still respected (23).” Although South Vietnam had lost the war, the fact that five generals and scores of colonels and other officers and civilians took their own lives at the end of the war showed that there was something bigger and larger than defeat or victory. There was pride and belief that what they were fighting for—freedom and dignity of human life—was worth more than life itself. By sacrificing themselves, they implied that life without freedom was not worth living. By dying, they made a mockery of communism, a theory they fought against and died to resist it.
Westerners do not believe in taking their own lives when they lost the ultimate battle, although it is a known fact that ship captains would go down with their sinking ships. South Vietnamese Captain Nguyen Van Tha indeed went down with his destroyer HQ10 during the Spratly Islands (Truong Sa) battle against the Chinese in 1974. Easterners, on the other hand, were willing to die following crucial battle losses in order to preserve their honor. They did not want to surrender, to be caught and have to go through the shame of being held prisoner. By taking their own life, they still felt they had the control of their lives or had redeemed their honor.
One soldier preferred to die with his glory intact. The other was willing to suffer from the humiliation of defeat. There is no intention to belittle those who had surrendered. They did it for various reasons: to save their troops or the civilian population; or because the commander-in-chief, President Duong Van Minh ordered them to surrender.
Each man chose his version of glory, each man his pain and suffering. There is no right or wrong solution to the problem. Each person was the master of his own life. What is unique about the Vietnamese (at least the South Vietnamese) culture is that over many centuries, tu sat has been a part of their tradition. The Japanese share a similar tradition. Great numbers of officers, soldiers, and even civilians killed themselves when faced with defeat and the prospect of capture. They felt a man with honor would not allow himself to be captured by his enemy. Only hara kiri could erase shame, express ultimate devotion, or register protest (24)
It should be noted that South Vietnam has been in existence since 1600 (25) while communism has been present only during the last seven decades. While southern nationalists believed in tu sat, northern leaders who demanded that soldiers sacrificed themselves for the Party, did not. Although General Vo Nguyen Giap who had sacrificed—in Vietnam we use the word nuong or roast—tens of thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers during the Tet attack and lost many more during the 1972 Eastern Tide attack had been demoted from his position of Commander of the People’s Army, he still held on to power and did not believe in killing himself.
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