Washington Post 8.8.2001

Gen. Duong Van Minh, 86; Briefly Led South Vietnam

Wednesday, August 8, 2001; Page B06

PASADENA, Calif. -- Gen. Duong Van "Big" Minh, 86, who was president of South Vietnam for just a few days before the country fell to communist invaders in 1975, died Aug. 6 at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif.

Gen. Minh, who used a wheelchair, had fallen at his home a day earlier, his daughter Mai Duong said.

Gen. Minh was installed as the South Vietnamese president in April 1975 as the country crumbled under the onslaught from North Vietnam's communist forces. In a matter of days, his political reign ended as communist troops overran Saigon and captured the country's leaders. He was arrested and put in detention but allowed to emigrate to France in 1983. He lived near Paris.

Gen. Minh's military career began in the 1940s when he was one of only 50 Vietnamese officers to be commissioned in the French colonial army.

After French colonial rule ended in 1954, Gen. Minh ascended through the ranks of the new South Vietnamese military. He helped lead a U.S.-backed coup in 1963 that overthrew President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was killed along with his brother, police chief Ngo Dinh Nhu, while trying to escape.

Gen. Minh, the second-highest-ranking general at the time, took power under a military junta. Two months later, Gen. Nguyen Khanh deposed the junta and took control of the country. Gen. Minh went into exile.

He resurfaced in 1971 and challenged President Nguyen Van Thieu, who was supported by the United States. Gen. Minh eventually withdrew from the race after alleging that the election was rigged. Thieu ran unopposed.

Gen. Minh kept a low political profile until 1975, when Hanoi's forces launched what would be the final offensive of their long struggle to take over the south. In the final days, as Thieu fled the country, Gen. Minh was named interim president April 28, 1975, with a promise to seek a reconciliation with the northerners.

The attempt at settlement failed, and Saigon fell to the invaders April 30. Shortly after 10 a.m., Gen. Minh went on radio and television to announce that South Vietnam was surrendering unconditionally.

He is survived by his daughter and two sons, who live in Paris, and grandchildren.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

BBC News 8.8.01

Vietnam's Big Minh dies aged 86

General Duong Van Minh, who as the last president of South Vietnam surrendered his country to Communist forces in 1975, has died in the United States at the age of 86.

The general - universally known as Big Minh - was installed as president in April 1975, as South Vietnamese resistance crumbled after the American withdrawal.

Duong Van Minh's military career began in the 1940s when he was one of only 50 Vietnamese officers to be commissioned in the French colonial army.

When French colonial rule ended in 1954, he served in the army of South Vietnam, leading a coup which overthrew the then Southern leader, Ngo Dinh Diem.

After Vietnamese reunification, General Minh was allowed to emigrate to France, and later went to live with his daughter in California.

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

Minh, Duong Van , 1916, Vietnamese army officer and political leader. A military advisor (1962-63) to President Diem, he helped to overthrow Diem in 1963. He was head of government (1963-64), after which he went into exile. Minh returned in 1968, serving as an opposition leader against President Thieu. A presidential candidate in 1971, Minh withdrew, charging election rigging. He returned briefly as president in 1975, in an unsuccessful conciliation effort but was placed in detention after the Communist takeover.

New York Times

April 30, 1975

Minh Surrenders, Vietcong In Saigon

1,000 Americans and 5,500 Vietnamese Evacuated by Copter to U.S. Carriers

The New York Times Front Page (April 30, 1975)

Columns of South Vietnamese troops pulled out of their defensive positions in the capital and marched to central points to turn in their weapons.

In Washington, the White House said that President Ford had "no comment" on the surrender of Saigon, but a White House spokesman said the surrender was considered "inevitable."

Troops Move In

Within two hours, Communist forces began moving into Saigon, and a jeep flying the Vietcong flag and carrying eight cheering men in civilian clothes armed with an assortment of weapons could be seen driving near the United States Embassy compound.

The Vietcong flag was raised over the presidential palace at 12:15 P.M. (12:15 A.M. Wednesday, New York time), and soon after a detachment of Communist troops in a jeep arrived at the palace and asked General Minh to accompany them. He drove off with them, but their destination was not immediately disclosed.

Vietcong flags materialized on other buildings as well, and Vietcong soldiers soon walked along the main streets shaking hands with Saigon residents. The red, yellow-starred flag of North Vietnam could also be seen on trucks carrying soldiers in green helmets and uniforms.

Bursts of Fire

Sporadic bursts of firing could be heard, but the only resistance to the Communist take-over was reported to be from marines stationed at the zoo and public gardens.

The take-over followed by hours the ending of the American involvement in Vietnam through the evacuation of most of the approximately 1,000 Americans still here yesterday.

The surrender announcement, made in a broadcast to the nation, signaled the end of three decades of fighting. It came 21 years after the 1954 Geneva accords divided Vietnam into North and South and a little more than two years after the Vietnam cease-fire agreement was signed in Paris on Jan. 27, 1973. The last American troops left the country in March of that year.

President Minh, who took office on Monday to lead South Vietnam into peace negotiations, said in his brief radio address:

"I believe firmly in reconciliation among Vietnamese to avoid unnecessary shedding of the blood of Vietnamese. For this reason, I ask the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam to cease hostilities in calm and to stay where they are."

The President also asked the "brother soldiers" of the Vietcong to cease hostilities and added:

"We wait here to meet the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam to discuss together a ceremony of orderly transfer of power so as to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed in the population."

There was no mention in his address of North Vietnam or of the North Vietnamese armies that had provided the bulk of the military force that defeated South Vietnam.

Gen. Nguyen Vuu Hanh, deputy chief of staff, then went on the air to order all South Vietnamese troops to carry out the orders of General Minh, who is known to foreigners as Big Minh.

"The military command," he said, "is ready to enter into contact with the military command of the army of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam in order to effect a cease- fire without bloodshed."

With the surrender announcement, made by President Minh at 10:24 A.M. (10:24 P.M. Tuesday, New York time), shellfire subsided along the northern rim of the city where the Vietcong had been bombarding the airport.

In the hours before the surrender statement, Communist troops had been pressing closer to Saigon. The Vietcong announced the fall of the Government's huge air base at Bien Hoa, 15 miles northeast of the capital, and there were reports that Vung Tau, the port city to the southeast, had also been captured during the day.

The end came as more than a dozen Communist divisions were ringing the city, which reportedly was defended by less than one division of demoralized troops. Some South Vietnamese officers complained that the evacuation of the Americans had caused panic in the military with many top army officers and most of the air force fleeing.

For two years after the 1973 cease-fire accords, both Government and Communist forces attacked each other without any major change in territory. The South Vietnamese then suffered their first major setback on Jan. 9 with the fall of Phuoc Binh, capital of Phuoc Long Province, due north of Saigon.

On March 13, Ban Me Thuot, capital of Darlac Province in the Central Highlands, was captured, and this reverse prompted Nguyen Van Thieu, then President, to decide on a withdrawal from the Central Highlands cities of Pleiku and Kontum as well.

Pressure on Thieu

A precipitous rout followed, with South Vietnamese forces withdrawing from Hue, the country's cultural heart, from Da Nang, the nation's second largest city, and then swiftly from coastal regions all the way to the approaches of Saigon.

Saigon's forces turned to fight at Xuan Loc, capital of Long Khanh Province, which was invaded by North Vietnamese troops on April 9. For two weeks the opposing sides battled there, turning the city into rubble. It was abandoned April 22.

As most of the country fell into Communist hands, demands were voiced in Saigon--by political figures, religious leaders and others--for the resignation of President Thieu. The Government said two coup attempts had been uncovered and foiled.

Mr. Thieu went on radio and television April 21 to make an emotional announcement that he was resigning. He blamed the United States cuts in aid for the debacle of his forces.

Mr. Thieu's Vice President, Tran Van Huong, took over and on Monday, with the concurrence of the National Assembly, named General Minh to become the president to end the war.

In an address on taking office, General Minh appealed to "our friends of the other side, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam," to join in a cease-fire and in negotiations for a solution to the long conflict.

Yesterday, the Minh Government renewed the appeal as it sought ways to enter into talks with the Vietcong.

The calls for a truce were made on radio and television by Vice President Nguyen Van Huyen. He said later in an interview that a Government delegation met twice during the day with a Vietcong delegation at Tan Son Nhut air base, at the edge of Saigon. But the Vietcong representatives there, he said, pronounced themselves as not qualified to make political decisions.

The Vice President noted that one of the Vietcong demands--that all Americans leave South Vietnam--was already being met. He added that additional Vietcong demands for the dissolution of the Saigon Government and its army were being considered.

The Vietcong delegation with which the Government representatives met during the day has been at Tan Son Nhut since the first days after the Paris accords were signed.

As the Vietcong flags were raised over Saigon, no Government soldiers were to be seen on the streets. The people, however, appeared to be moving about normally.

At the Defense Ministry building, about a dozen North Vietnamese soldiers talked with a South Vietnamese army colonel and several junior officers.

There was not interference with Western newsmen taking pictures. North Vietnamese machine gunners sitting in two trucks outside the Defense Ministry posed and smiled proudly.

One man riding in a jeep flying a Vietcong flag beckoned to an American reporter and said in English:

"Go home. Go home."