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Interview with Nguyen Huu Hanh, 1981

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Summary
General Nguyen Huu Hanh, an ARVN commander during the last days of the Vietnam War discusses the events of April 28, 1975 when Duong Van Minh assumed power and the confusion that followed. Nguyen Huu Hanh also recalls the meeting between a former French colonel who was pro-American and Duong Van Minh. Shortly after this event Nguyen Huu Hanh assisted in the announcement that there would be a transfer of power to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam. Nguyen Huu Hanh also discusses the fall of Saigon and the arrival of the NLF at Independence Palace shortly after the transfer of power.
Topics
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, Vietnam War, 1961-1975, Diplomacy, Vietnam--Politics and government, South Vietnam (Provisional Revolutionary Government, 1969-1976)
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Transcript

Final days of the South

SR 2098
GEN. NGUYEN HUU HANH
709 TAKE 1
Clapstick
Interview with General Nguyen Huu Hanh, ARVN Commander during the last days.
Interviewer:
When you assumed your command you were given the order by General Minh that you should keep your troops stationary and that you should not deploy them. At that time did Mr. Minh have any hope for a negotiation or any concrete plan to do anything at all?
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
During the ten years he acted as president, Nguyen Van Thieu deployed over one million troops and police and over one million self defense forces who were well armed. And yet they could not maintain security in Saigon. After the Weyland defense perimeter was broken through on April 21st and Xuan Loc was occupied, Nguyen Van Thieu handed over power to Tran Van Huong although Tran Van Huong had declared that he would fight the Communists until the end. But in the end, in my opinion, the American government realized that Tran Van Huong could in no way deal with the situation.
For this reason, they searched for someone to replace Tran Van Huong, which was a natural mistake for the American to make in this southern part of Vietnam. When Mr. Duong Van Minh assumed power at 1700 hours on April 28th, Nguyen Thanh Trung led a formation of airplanes to bomb Tan Son Nhut. And in the evening of the 28th of April the 25th Division in Cu Chi was routed. Therefore, I thought...
710 TAKE 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Please repeat from the place where you said Mr. Duong Van Minh assumed power on the 28th.
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
On the afternoon of April 28th, 1975, Mr. Duong Van Minh assumed power. The ceremony for the transfer of power began at around 1700 hours. At that very moment, Nguyen Thanh Trung led a formation of airplanes to bomb Tan Son Nhut. In the evening of April 28th, 1975, the 25th Division in Cu Chi was routed. This was a very dangerous situation. I thought that Mr. Duong Van Minh assumed power at a very critical moment and yet he did not have any plan worked out at all. On the 29th of April, 1975, while I was having a discussion with Mr. Minh and Mr. Huyen at a private residence, Mr. Merillon, the French ambassador, came to see Mr. Minh and informed the latter that the French Foreign Minister had tried his best to contact Hanoi and that Hanoi had replied that it was already too late. Therefore, I thought that the situation was hopeless.
For this reason, at around 12:00 noon and after the Vu Van Mau administration declared the release of political prisoners and requested that the Americans withdraw from Vietnam within twenty-four hours, almost all the high army officers followed the Americans abroad. For example, Lt. General Dong Van Khuyen, acting Commander in Chief, Lt. General Nguyen Van Minh, Commander of the Capitol City Special Military Section, Lt. Nguyen Van Toan, Commander of the III Corps, and other generals and colonels. I was appointed, along with Lt. General Vinh Loc, to be Deputy Commander in Chief and Commander in Chief respectively by Mr. Duong Van Minh.
We arrived at the High Command Headquarters around 1300 hours. Before we left, Mr. Minh told us to try to keep the troops stationary and not to deploy them. We should wait for Mr. Minh to send delegations to seek negotiation. I thought that this dispatch of delegations to so many places like that was a very unwise thing to do. This was because after Mr. Merrillon had informed us that Hanoi had said that it was too late, then all the efforts by the Duong Van Minh administration to try to get a negotiation to come about would only end in final failure. The Tran Ngoc Lieng delegation was retained at the Camp David until after liberation.

Transfer of power to the P.R.G.

711 TAKE 1
Clapstick
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
The military situation deteriorated very quickly. On the 29th of April, 1975, the 5th Division in Thu Dau Mot was routed. The Liberation Forces by this time were already fighting in close combat with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) in Ba Queo. The situation was extremely critical. And so I and a friend went to Mr. Duong Van Minh's house at 6 a.m. (on April 30th) and told him that the military situation was already very difficult and that there was no way to hold on.
After the deliberation, Mr. Minh and we went to the Prime Minister Office to meet with Mr. Vu Van Mau and Mr. Nguyen Van Huyen, the vice president. After discussing for an extended period, a solution was found. And that was that we were to unilaterally announce the turning over of the administration to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam.
Interviewer:
Please also tell us about the meeting between Vannessen and Duong Van Minh. When did it take place and what was the topic under discussion?
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
While Mr. Duong Van Minh was taping the announcement to turn over the administration to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, I received Mr. Vannessen, a former French general who was pro American and considered by Nguyen Van Thieu as a master because Vannessen had taught Nguyen Van Thieu military affairs throughout his military career. When Vannessan finally arrived at the conference table, there were Mr. Minh, Mr. Huyen, Mr. Mau and Mr. Diep.
The very first thing Vannessan said was that he had just come from Paris. Before he came, he met with many personalities, including members of the Peking embassy. He suggested that Mr. Minh announce that he would leave the Americans and would come to the side of China. According to him, if we did that China would put pressure on Hanoi to have a ceasefire in the southern part of Vietnam. After having thought it over, Mr. Minh rejected the proposal. And when Vannessan pleaded with Mr. Minh to prolong the whole thing for another twenty-four hours, the latter also rejected the idea. After Vannessan left, we announced the transfer of power to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam.
Interviewer:
Please tell us what you did, on your own, when you arrived at the radio station at 9:30 a.m.
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
As far as Mr. Minh was concerned, he sent the tape to the radio station. But I went to the radio station personally to ask all the troops, at all levels and in all units, to get into contact with the Liberation Forces who were facing them to turn over their weapons and their territories. The most important thing was to avoid bloodshed.
712 TAKE 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Please describe to us the meeting on the morning of April 30th.
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
In the evening of April 29th, 1975, the 5th Division in Thu Dau Mot was routed. The Liberation Forces reached the outskirts of the city and were fighting at close combat in the Ba Queo area. The Third Corps was generally disintegrating. For this reason, I and a friend went to meet with Mr. Minh in his own house at around 6 a.m.
When we reported the situation to him and urged him to make a quick decision, Mr. Minh and we went to the Prime Minister Office to meet with Mr. Huyen and Mr. Mau. When we met with Mr. Huyen and Mr. Mau, and after much discussion, we came to the decision to turn over the southern part of Vietnam to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Vietnam. The atmosphere at that time was laden with pressures. We must know that the Duong Van Minh administration was an administration which comprised many good elements which wanted peace for the country.
Therefore, in that extremely difficult situation the transfer of power over to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam was a very easy thing to accept. The atmosphere in the Prime Minister Office at that time was quite tumultuous. This was because before that there had been a plan to hold a ceremony at 10 a.m. on April 30th, 1975 to introduce the Vu Van Mau Cabinet. For this reason, there were many ministers and deputy ministers who came one after the other to assume their new responsibilities.

Last moments at Independence Palace

SR 2099
GEN. NGUYEN HUU HANH
Beep tone
Roll 99
Interview with General Nguyen Huu Hanh continues.
Interviewer:
Please tell us, at the final moment, when you were sitting there in the Independence Palace, how you saw the tanks came in, how you forgot to have the gate open, how the Liberation soldiers did not know where to go to meet with you and how you had to order a colonel to direct them upstairs.
Nguyen Huu Hanh:
After the 6 o'clock meeting when we decided to announce the transfer of power to the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Vietnam, everybody went back to the Independence Palace, We received many phone calls from everywhere there, asking us how they should surrender and how the transfer of power was going to proceed. The answers to all these questions were enough to tire you out. We must all know that from 9:30 to 11:30 when the Liberation Forces entered the Independence Palace there were only two hours.
The waiting period was suffocating. This was because to sit there and wait for the arrival of the Liberation Forces was to make it seem like an eternity. For this reason, we forgot to do the things which we ought to do. This was, first of all, the Independence Palace was new to us. This was the first day the Duong Van Minh Cabinet went to the Independence Palace to work. And this was also the day when the Liberation Forces came to take over power.
When they arrived, we forgot to open the gate. For this reason, when the tanks came in they knocked down the main gate of the Independence Palace. When the tanks came in and parked on the ground, the Liberation soldiers ran into the Independence Palace. Mr. Nguyen Van Diep, holding in hand a piece of white cloth, welcomed the Liberation soldiers on the first floor. And I was to receive them on the second floor. At that time I was still wearing my uniforms, with stars on the collar, and received the men as I normally did. The thing that surprised me most was that although I was in uniform, when the soldiers came they did not do anything physical to me at all.
It seemed as if they had been trained or coached in some way before their arrival in the Independence Palace. For this reason, when they entered the Independence Palace, the very first word that one soldier asked me was the way to the top of the Independence Palace so that he could hoist the NLF flag. Since the building was still very new to me, I asked a colonel who had been working there to direct this soldier to the rooftop to put up the flag.
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