Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém

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Nguyễn Văn Lém
Execution of Nguyen Van Lem.jpg
Nguyễn Ngọc Loan summarily executing
Nguyễn Văn Lém, photographed by Eddie Adams
Died (aged 36)
Cause of deathExecution by shooting
SpouseNguyễn Thị Lốp
Military career
AllegianceFNL Flag.svg Viet Cong

Nguyễn Văn Lém (Vietnamese: [ŋʷǐənˀ vān lɛ̌m]; 1931/1932 – 1 February 1968), often referred to as Bảy Lốp, was a member of the Viet Cong. He was summarily executed in Saigon during the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, when the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched a massive surprise attack. Before being captured, Lém had allegedly murdered Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan as well as Tuan's wife, six children, and his 80-year-old mother.[1]

Lém was brought to South Vietnamese brigadier general Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, who then summarily executed him. The event was witnessed and recorded by Võ Sửu, a cameraman for NBC, and Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer. The photograph and film became famous images in contemporary American journalism, and won Adams the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.[2]


Nguyễn Văn Lém was a captain in the Viet Cong and was known by the code name Bảy Lốp. His wife, Nguyễn Thị Lốp, explained that his code name consisted of "Bảy" for a seventh son, and "Lốp" from her own name.[3]


Lém was captured near the Ấn Quang Pagoda on 1 February 1968, during the Tet Offensive.[4] He was brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police, at 252 Ngô Gia Tự Street, District 10 (10°45′50″N 106°40′16″E / 10.7638°N 106.671°E / 10.7638; 106.671), near the present-day Chùa Trấn Quốc temple.[5] Loan summarily executed Lém using his sidearm, a .38 Special Smith & Wesson Bodyguard revolver.[6] Loan was reported to have said afterwards: "If you hesitate, if you didn't do your duty, the men won't follow you."[7] Lém was 36 years old at the time of his death.[3]

Max Hastings, writing in 2018, said that Lém was alleged to have personally executed South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan, his wife, six children and the officer’s 80-year-old mother shortly prior; he also wrote that American historian Ed Moise "is convinced that the entire story of Lém murdering the Tuan family is a post-war invention" and that "The truth will never be known."[8]

In 1978, a report by the United States Library of Congress concluded that Nguyễn Văn Lém's summary execution would have been illegal under South Vietnamese law.[9]


Eddie Adams with his photo in 1969

Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams and NBC News television cameraman Võ Sửu witnessed the event.[10] Adams later recalled that he believed Loan was going to "threaten or terrorise" Lém, and took out his camera to record the event. The photograph he subsequently captured showed the moment the bullet entered Lém's head.[7]

The photograph and film were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement in the United States.[11] Adams' photo of the event became one of the most famous and influential images of the war, winning him the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.[12]

The photo also came to haunt Adams: "I was getting money for showing one man killing another. Two lives were destroyed, and I was getting paid for it. I was a hero." He elaborated on this in a later piece of writing: "Two people died in that photograph. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera."[7] Adams later stated he regretted he was unable to get a picture "of that Viet Cong [Lém] blowing away the [Tuan] family".[13]

Ben Wright, associate director for communications at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, said of the photo: "There's something in the nature of a still image that deeply affects the viewer and stays with them. The film footage of the shooting, while ghastly, doesn't evoke the same feelings of urgency and stark tragedy."[7]


Lém's wife, Lốp, learned about her husband's death when she was given a newspaper with the photo on the front page.[14]

In 1975, Loan fled South Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon, eventually emigrating to the United States.[15] Pressure from the U.S. Congress resulted in an investigation by the Library of Congress.[16] In 1978, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) contended that Loan had committed a war crime.[9] They attempted to deport him, but President Jimmy Carter personally intervened to stop the proceedings, stating that "such historical revisionism was folly".[17][18] Loan died on 14 July 1998 in Burke, Virginia, at the age of 67.[2]

The sole survivor of Lém's alleged killing of Tuan's family was Huan Nguyen; aged nine at the time, he was shot twice during the attack that killed his family and stayed with his mother for two hours as she bled to death. In 2019, he became the highest ranking Vietnamese-American officer in the U.S. military when he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy.[19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hastings, Max (2018). Vietnam. Collins. p. 403.
  2. ^ a b "Nguyen Ngoc Loan, 67, Dies; Executed Viet Cong Prisoner". The New York Times. 16 July 1998. Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Unforgettable". people.com. Archived from the original on 2018-07-06. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  4. ^ "Stunning AP Images of Vietnam War from Stunning Images of Vietnam War". ABC News. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  5. ^ "Nguyen Ngoc Loan, 67, Dies; Executed Viet Cong Prisoner". The New York Times. 1998-07-16. Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  6. ^ Buckley, Tom. "Portrait of an Aging Despot", Harper's magazine April 1972, Page 69
  7. ^ a b c d Eddie Adams' iconic Vietnam War photo: What happened next, BBC
  8. ^ Hastings, Max (2018). Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975. Harper. p. 467. ISBN 9780062405661.
  9. ^ a b Christopher Dickey (November 3, 1978). "U.S. Acts to Deport Saigon Official Who Killed Bound Prisoner in 1968". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2018-07-03. Retrieved July 3, 2018. The INS now contents in a legal proceeding against Loan that he should have been tried in Vietnam for the execution, a war crime, and that his permanent resident status should be rescinded on the grounds of "moral turpitude." ... But Sawyer said that he also then requested the Library of Congress to research the issue. The results of the library's report, which concluded that summary execution of such nature were illegal under Vietnamese law at the time, were forwarded to INS last spring.
  10. ^ Rubin, Cyma; Newton, Eric (eds.). The Pulitzer Prize Photographs. Newseum Inc. ISBN 978-0-9799521-3-5.
  11. ^ "The Vietnam War, Through Eddie Adams' Lens". NPR.org. Archived from the original on 2018-07-04. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  12. ^ "Pulitzer Prize Winners". www.pulitzer.org. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  13. ^ Hastings, Max (2018). Vietnam. Collins. p. 403.
  14. ^ "Vietnam: Vietnam War Anniversary: Media (2) | AP Archive". www.aparchive.com. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
  15. ^ Barnes, Bart (1998-07-16). "NGUYEN NGOC LOAN DIES AT 67". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 2018-07-07. Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  16. ^ Dickey, Christopher (1978-11-03). "U.S. Acts to Deport Saigon Official Who Killed Bound Prisoner in 1968". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on 2018-07-03. Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  17. ^ "Carter bids to halt Viet general's deportation". The Miami News. 6 December 1978. p. 9C. Retrieved 9 July 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "Viet executioner won't be deported". Detroit Free Press. New York Times Service. 2 December 1978. p. 2A. Retrieved 9 July 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Huan Nguyen becomes first Vietnamese U.S. Navy Rear Admiral". Naval Sea Systems Command. 2019-10-10. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  20. ^ "The Navy's First Vietnamese Admiral Saw His Family Killed by an Infamous Viet Cong Guerrilla". Military.com. Retrieved 23 September 2022.

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