Nguyen Van Thieu came from a moderately wealthy family in the ruling Christian minority class of South Vietnam. He was born in either 1923 or 1924, while the French still had an uneasy control over Vietnam. Over a long military career, first in the French-sponsored Vietnam National Army, and then in the South Vietnamese Army, Nguyen Van Thieu made himself into a man of influence. In 1967, he was elected president of a highly militarized South Vietnamese government and remained in power until the final year of the war, in 1975.
Nguyen Van Thieu fled from Saigon on April 26, 1975, while the city was under siege and would inevitably fall. His escape came only five days after he resigned from the office of president. While many other South Vietnamese people were crushed to death while trying to get on American transports, Nguyen Van Thieu received a personal airlift out of Saigon on a U. S. Air Force C-118 transport plane. Dubious reports from 1975 claimed that he smuggled 15 tons of baggage out of Vietnam to accompany him on his exile, possibly including over three tons of gold. Whether or not that is true, other airlines in South Vietnam also reported that they were asked to ship gold out of the country. Spokesmen for the Swissair and Balair airlines stated in 1975 that Thieu had approached their companies about sending 16 tons of gold to Switzerland. Both companies claimed that they had refused the job, as they feared the gold had originated from South Vietnam’s national gold reserve.
Despite his plan being thwarted, Nguyen Van Thieu lived comfortably for the rest of his life. He first flew to Taiwan, then Britain, and finally settled down near Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. Nguyen Van Thieu died in his Boston home in 2001.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam standing in front of world map, during a meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson in Hawaii, c. 1968, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Vietnam Experience: Setting The Stage, by Edward Doyle and Samuel Lipsam. Massachusetts: Boston Publishing Company, 1981.