Cao Van Vien

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Cao Van Vien (1921-2008) was the final commander of the Joint General Staff of the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam, from 1964 to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975.

In his early years, he received an undergraduate degree in French literature from the University of Saigon; as a refugee in the United States, where he eventually became a citizen, he hoped to teach it but chronic arthritis disabled him. In the United States, however, he became involved in a number of projects documenting the military history of Vietnam.

After his graduation, he became a second lieutenant in 1949, and rose through the ranks, in logistics, then as a battalion commander. In 1956-1957, he attended the completed airborne training in 1960.

He served with distinction as commander of the Airborne Brigade, considered the most elite combat unit of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, he was wounded in 1964 in combat operations in Kien Phong Province. As a colonel, personally leading troops into the fight, he was wounded but continued command until the enemy was defeated. The ARVN awarded him their highest decoration and a battlefield promotion to major general, and he also received the American Silver Star, the third-highest U.S. medal for valor in combat. The U.S. citation mentioned "this is the first time that a senior Vietnamese commander has been wounded in action with his troops in the field in many years." [1]

In a country riddled with coups, he was considered apolitical and professional, gaining the trust of President Nguyen Van Thieu, although he repeatedly asked to return to the rank of colonel and go back to leading his brigade. Some saw him, outside combat, as colorless rather than apolitical.


  1. Holley, Joe (January 30, 2008), "Cao Van Vien; South Vietnam 4-Star General", Washington Post