A South Vietnamese Paratrooper Shares His Story

In 1966, the Airborne Division of the Military of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, was shaped with 12,000 troops. An elite unit, it performed airborne assaults and airmobile operations all through the battle. Recognized for his or her distinctive purple beret, known as “Mu Do” in Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese airborne troops have been assisted by U.S. advisers with airborne expertise, who have been members of Navy Help Command Vietnam (MACV) Crew 162 and also called “Purple Hats.” Most advisers had served beforehand with the 101st, 82nd or 11th Airborne divisions.

The Vietnamese airborne troops and their advisers took half took half in lots of decisive battles of the Vietnam Conflict, together with at Hue and Dak To. Throughout the Tet Offensive, airborne items have been credited with killing over 2,000 enemy troops.

The Vietnamese troops and their advisers are honored right now with a monument at Fort Benning, Georgia, which was constructed on the initiative of veterans of MACV Crew 162 and unveiled in 2012. The monument pays tribute to them with a citation from Area Marshal Bernard Montgomery on the valor of airborne forces: “What method of males are these who put on the purple beret? … They’ve jumped from the air and by doing so have conquered concern …. They’ve proven themselves to be as tenacious in protection as they’re brave in assault. They’re in actual fact, males aside, each man an emperor.”  

Vietnam journal is honored to share the story of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Hiep, president of the Vietnamese Purple Beret Affiliation, who spoke with us about his experiences as an airborne officer throughout the Vietnam Conflict and his subsequent journey to america, listed beneath.

Nguyen Quoc Hiep is pictured throughout operations on the Cambodian border in 1971. (Courtesy of Dr. Nguyen)

Why He Fought

Most of us on the time needed to be part of the army. We had no alternative due to the North Vietnamese Military, which invaded the South. Communism is the worst regime on the earth. They don’t respect the liberty and democracy of the folks. They kill folks for no cause. From 1954 to 1956, they’d what they known as the “Land Rice Area Reforms” — they took all of the fields from the farmers and landowners and gave it to poorer folks. But it surely was not the suitable factor. After that they killed the farmers — 1000’s of them. From 1956 to 1958, they didn’t like anybody talking in opposition to their regime, in order that they killed folks. Underneath communism, they didn’t enable us to have freedom. They solely allowed folks to have parts. For instance, they solely allowed folks to have 15 kilograms [33 pounds] of rice a month. It was very troublesome to stay on that quantity per thirty days.

The communists acquired help from the Chinese language authorities and in addition their allies, like Russia, at the moment, and Jap European nations like Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. At the moment, these nations have been beneath the communist regime in order that they supplied them with every thing together with ammunition, tanks and missiles to assault and invade South Vietnam. The Viet Cong weren’t the North Vietnamese Military. They attacked us so we needed to take care to combat in opposition to them. 

The sentiments of the villagers have been type of combined. In the event that they didn’t observe the communists, they’d monitor down their household and kill them. If the folks didn’t present the communists with rice and cash, they’d kill them. So the villagers have been afraid that they needed to observe the communists. A lot of the villagers who needed to have freedom moved to massive cities beneath the management of the [South Vietnamese] military. In the event that they stayed within the small villages beneath the management of the communists, they’d to supply them with rice and something they wanted.

Becoming a member of Up

I graduated from army medical faculty in 1968 and joined the airborne division in 1969. I served within the 11th Battalion as chief medical officer. After that I grew to become chief medical officer of the threerd Battalion. I served for one 12 months on every battalion earlier than I moved to the brigade. Then I grew to become chief medical officer of the twond Brigade of the Vietnamese paratroopers. You needed to graduate from highschool to develop into an officer and attend a army faculty. Some folks skilled for 2 years, others for 18 months. Then they would choose some for navy, air drive, or military. Our households have been very comfortable and supported us.

I lived in Saigon, however my battalion headquarters was in Lengthy Binh, about 20 miles north of Saigon. Studying to be within the airborne forces wasn’t troublesome. You needed to cross three weeks of coaching. From 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. within the afternoon, we had coaching all day lengthy. We ran for about 8 miles, then after that we needed to prepare with tools. After three weeks, we needed to bounce from airplanes to be licensed as airborne troopers. 

I used to be younger. I beloved journey. For the airborne, you possibly can transfer from one city to a different city, from one space to a different. At some point I’d be in a city within the south. The subsequent day I’d be transported to a unique city within the north, about 600 kilometers away. That’s a variety of journey! I wanted to try this to assist my comrades.  

Essentially the most enjoyable factor about being a paratrooper was leaping out of the airplane! The primary bounce was scary, however for the following one I used to be very comfortable and loved it. In whole, I made about 70 jumps in about seven years.  

I used to be a medical officer, so I took care of wounded comrades-in-arms. I additionally took care of a number of the civilians. When throughout operations we needed to go to a village or city, a number of the civilians wanted medical consideration. We took care of all of them. 

Going All over the place They Have been Wanted

Throughout the battle, we fought anyplace. Any battle the place they wanted us, we’d go over there. In a troublesome state of affairs, we’d go there to assist and remedy the issue in a heavy combat. 

We had officers and plenty of generals. We had 5 generals who commanded the Vietnamese paratrooper division. They’ve since largely handed away. I bear in mind Lt. Gen. Do Cao Tri, who stood out to me as probably the greatest commanders. He had very nice braveness and was very gifted. However he died in a helicopter accident – it exploded in the midst of the sky.

I additionally labored with a number of the American advisers. Most of them are actually retired or have handed away due to their age. A few them have retired in Texas or New Mexico. The advisers fought facet by facet with our items and shared blood and tears with us.

Nguyen Quoc Hiep (proper) stands with a comrade throughout operations on the Cambodian border in 1971. (Courtesy of Dr. Nguyen)

Throughout Operation Lam Son 719, we attacked a North Vietnamese base in Laos. I took half on this operation for nearly two months. It was a really, very bloody battle on either side. On the battlefield, we handled each Vietnamese and People. When the American advisers have been wounded, we handled them and transported them to the American hospital faraway. A few of them went to the Seventh Fleet within the Pacific Ocean.

Most wounded I handled have been Vietnamese paratroopers. 

Leaving the Paratroopers – And Vietnam

We misplaced many pals. In whole we misplaced greater than 20,000 Vietnamese paratroopers throughout the battle. And we had greater than 20 American advisers who perished together with us. 

I received out of Vietnam on the finish of the night of April 30, 1975, on a U.S. Navy ship. I went to America alone. Loads of family stayed behind, however now it’s been 46 years they usually have handed away. I don’t have any likelihood to return to my nation as a result of they’re nonetheless beneath the communist regime.  

Individuals left as a result of they needed freedom. For instance, the kids of South Vietnamese officers weren’t allowed to go to highschool or have an training. They needed to take low jobs as a result of the communists wouldn’t enable them to work in increased positions. The communists solely allowed individuals who adopted them to get a better training. A lot of the kids of officers of South Vietnam couldn’t get into faculty, so that’s one cause why households tried to flee from 1975 as much as the Nineties. Most individuals escaped from Vietnam by boat, and plenty of of them died within the open seas — for freedom and democracy.  

Coming to America

I arrived in america in southern California, at a refugee camp within the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton. We stayed there in a tent for a pair months as refugees. Then I moved to New Jersey and received some medical coaching within the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, space. In fact, I had a variety of difficulties [after arriving] as a result of we’re skilled in French. After arriving within the U.S. we needed to be taught English. The language barrier was essentially the most troublesome drawback. After a pair years we received used to the language. 

Dr. Nguyen Quoc Hiep (middle) and members of the Vietnamese Purple Beret Affiliation reunite with their former American advisers from MACV Crew 162, referred to as Purple Hats, in Virginia in July 2015. (Courtesy of Dr. Nguyen)

In 1980, all former South Vietnamese paratroopers received collectively and arranged. We name our group, “The Household of the Vietnamese Airborne.” Individuals from all around the United States and the world joined us. Yearly, we’ve a reunion assembly, relying on the individuals who need to volunteer to prepare it. The final 12 months earlier than the pandemic we had a gathering in Orange County in southern California. It was our 39th reunion. The conferences have been canceled in 2020 and 2021. We hope to have one other assembly in 2022.