Nguyễn Ngọc Loan
|Nguyễn Ngọc Loan|
11 December 1930|
Huế, French Indochina (present-day Vietnam)
|Died||14 July 1998
Burke, Virginia, U.S.
Major General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan (11 December 1930 – 14 July 1998) was South Vietnam's chief of National Police. Loan gained international attention when he executed handcuffed prisoner Nguyễn Văn Lém, a suspected Việt Cộng member. The photograph was taken on 1 February 1968 in front of Võ Sửu, a cameraman for NBC, and Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer. The photo (captioned "General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon") and film would become two of the most iconic images in contemporary American journalism.
General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon is a photograph taken by Eddie Adams on 1 February 1968. It shows South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a suspected Việt Cộng officer in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The event was also partially captured by NBC News film cameras, but Adams' photograph remains the defining image. Lém was captured and brought to Loan, then Chief of National Police of the Republic of Vietnam. Using his sidearm, a .38 Special Smith & Wesson Model 38 "Airweight" revolver, Nguyễn Ngọc Loan summarily executed Lém in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement; Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph but denied it afterwards.
The photo won Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, though he was later said to have regretted its impact. The image became an anti-war icon. Concerning Loan and his famous photograph, Adams wrote in Time:
- The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?"
Adams later apologized in person to General Nguyễn and his family for the damage it did to his reputation. When Loan died of cancer in Virginia, Adams praised him: "The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him."
Life after world infamy
A few months after the execution picture was taken, Loan was seriously wounded by machine gun fire that led to the amputation of his leg. Again his picture hit the world press, this time as Australian war correspondent Pat Burgess carried him back to his lines. In addition to his military service, Loan was an advocate for hospital construction.
In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Loan fled South Vietnam. He moved to the United States, and opened a pizza restaurant in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Burke, Virginia at Rolling Valley Mall called "Les Trois Continents." In 1991, he was forced into retirement when he was recognized and his identity publicly disclosed. Photographer Eddie Adams recalled that on his last visit to the pizza parlor, he had seen written on a toilet wall, "We know who you are, fucker".
Nguyễn was married to Chinh Mai, with whom he raised his five children from his previous marriage to a French woman. Nguyễn Ngọc Loan died of cancer on 14 July 1998, aged 67, in Burke, Virginia.
Sympathetic treatment of Loan
The 2010 book, This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, offers a detailed, sympathetic picture of Loan, portraying him as a relatively honest and uncorrupted officer, who cleaned up and stabilized a difficult Saigon security situation. He was also a staunch South Vietnamese nationalist, refusing to give Americans special treatment in his jurisdiction. For example, he rejected the arrest of a Vietnamese mayor by American military police and insisted that only South Vietnamese authorities could arrest and detain South Vietnamese citizens. He also insisted that U.S. civilians, including journalists, fell under South Vietnamese jurisdiction while in Saigon. Loan's uncompromising stand caused him to be regarded as a troublemaker by the Johnson administration. Loan was also skeptical of the U.S. CIA-backed Phoenix Program to attack and neutralize the clandestine Vietcong infrastructure.
Loan's men were also involved in the arrest of two NLF operatives, who had been engaged in peace feelers with U.S. officials, behind the back of the South Vietnamese. His stand against such "backdoor" dealing, and his opposition to releasing one of the communist negotiators, reportedly angered the Americans, and forced them to keep both him and the South Vietnamese better informed of diplomatic dealings involving their country. Loan was also an accomplished pilot, leading an airstrike on Việt Cộng forces at Bo Duc in 1967, shortly before he was promoted to permanent brigadier general rank. The Americans were displeased at his promotion, and Loan submitted his resignation shortly thereafter. According to the 2010 book: "It was widely believed that Loan was being forced out by the Americans for exposing their dealings with the VC or that he was taking a stand on principle because the U.S. was trying to compel the government to release [communist envoy] Sau Ha." The South Vietnamese cabinet subsequently rejected Loan's resignation. The United States under the Nixon administration was to later negotiate a separate deal with the North that left communist troops in good tactical position within South Vietnam, and forced acquiescence by the South Vietnamese. Later action by the U.S. Congress was to cut off aid to South Vietnam during the final northern conquest in 1975.
- James S. Robbins (2010). This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive. Encounter Books. pp. 94–104.
- Thiếu tướng Nguyễn Ngọc Loan (Vietnamese)
- "Nguyen Ngoc Loan, 67, Dies; Executed Viet Cong Prisoner". New York Times. 16 July 1998. Retrieved 5 July 2009. "But when Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan raised his pistol on 1 February 1968, extended his arm and fired a bullet through the head of the prisoner, who stood with his hands tied behind his back, the general did so in full view of an NBC cameraman and an Associated Press photographer."
- Adams, Eddie (27 July 1998). "Eulogy". Time Magazine. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
- Image Canon - Historic Images
- Adams, Eddie (27 July 1998). "Eulogy: General Nguyen Ngoc Loan". Time.
- Lucas, Dean (17 February 2007). "Famous Pictures Magazine – Vietnam Execution". Famous Pictures Magazine. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
- '"There Are Tears in My Eyes", Eddie Adams & the Most Famous Photo of the Vietnam War', Jonah Goldberg, National Review, 1999
- Adams, in the documentary An Unlikely Weapon (2009), directed by Susan Morgan Cooper
- Robbins, pp. 94–104
- Robbins, pp. 105–106
- Stanley Karnow (1983). Vietnam: A History. Viking Press. pp. 181–239.
- The exact location of this event happened on the west section of "Lý Thái Tổ" street, right in the center of this satellite map, and looking East as shown in the execution picture.
- VNAF The South Vietnamese Air Force - Không Quân Việt Nam Cộng Hòa
- Voice autobiography of execution by Photographer Eddie Adams
- Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Reunion 2003