Blog 02/01/2021 - "Picture That Lost the Vietnam War"

02/01/21 – MHT examines the “Picture That Lost the Vietnam War”: During the Tet Offensive, Viet Cong (VC) Captain Nguyễn Văn Lém’s unit captured the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Armor Camp in Go Vap outside of Saigon, Vietnam. Lém demanded the commander LtCol Nguyen Tuan, ARVN show him and his troops how to drive the captured South Vietnamese tanks. When Tuan refused, Lém ordered all of Tuan’s family murdered.

Part of the North Vietnam Army and VC battle plan was that they thought the Tet Offensive was going to take over all of South Vietnam but in order to do that, they planned to assassinate the military and governmental officials. There were assassination squads running around Saigon targeting South Vietnamese officials, military officers, and it broadened from that into people’s families, and women and children. The NVA issued today in 1968 the order "To wipe out all puppet administrative organs of the puppet Thiệu-Kỳ (President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu & Vice President Nguyễn Cao Kỳ) clique at all levels in the province, city and town down to every single hamlet."

Author Max Hastings, writing in 2018, noted that Lém was in civilian clothes and was alleged to have led a Viet Cong death squad that had executed South Vietnamese LtCol Nguyen Tuan, his wife, five of their six children and the officer’s 80-year-old mother less than 36 hours prior to his capture. 
On 1 February 1968, Lém was captured in a building in the Cho Lon quarter of Saigon, near the Ấn Quang Pagoda wearing civilian clothing. He was brought to South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, who then summarily executed him on the street using his sidearm, a .38 Special Smith & Wesson Bodyguard revolver.

The event was witnessed and photographed by Eddie Adams from the Associated Press. The photograph became an infamous image in contemporary American journalism, and won Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize. It became a rallying point for the Anti-War demonstrators who didn’t know about terrorists tactics in 1968.

The United States Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command reported that Huan Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral during a ceremony held at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 10, 2019. Nguyen was the son of LtCol Nguyen Tuan the ARVN armor officer. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, Nguyen’s mother and father, along with his five brothers and sister were killed by Viet Cong Communist guerillas led by VC Capt Lém in their family home outside Saigon. The sole survivor of Lém's killing of Tuan's family was Nguyen aged nine at the time who was shot thrice, in the arm, thigh, with the third bullet piercing his skull during the attack. Amazingly, Nguyen survived and escaped. Nguyen was taken in by his uncle, a Colonel in the ARVN Air Force. In 1975, at age 16, they fled Vietnam, seeking refuge in the United States following the fall of Saigon.

In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Loan fled South Vietnam to the United States. There he moved to Dale City, VA where he opened a restaurant named "Les Trois Continents" in Burke, a suburb of Washington DC at Rolling Valley Mall. A young Liberal Democratic Congresswomen from Brooklyn, Elizabeth Holtzman, forwarded a list of Vietnamese officials who may have committed crimes (including Loan) to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), how times have changed and remained the same.

In 1978, the INS contended that Loan had committed a war crime, following a report by the Library of Congress which concluded that the order to summary execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém had been illegal under Vietnamese law, in an attempt to revoke his permanent resident status to ensure that he could not become a United States citizen. Authorities in Congress approached Adams to testify against Loan, but Adams instead testified in his favor calling Loan a hero. The deportation was halted by the intervention of Democratic President Jimmy Carter, who stated that "such historical revisionism was folly." Again, a different time as Loan had to move his restaurant to Dale City after the Washington Post did an expose on him and his establishment with the result of hurting his business.

50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War in I-Corps Tet Offensive & Battle of Hue City (20 Apr - 4 May 2021) (