Execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém

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Nguyễn Văn Lém
General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan summarily executes Nguyễn Văn Lém.
Born c. 1931
Died 1 February 1968 (aged 36)[1]
Republic of Vietnam
Allegiance FNL Flag.svg National Liberation Front of South Vietnam
Rank Captain
Spouse(s) Nguyễn Thị Lộp

Nguyễn Văn Lém (Vietnamese: [ŋʷǐənˀ vān lɛ̌m]; 1931 or 1932 – 1 February 1968), referred to as Captain Bảy Lốp or Ew Tu, was a member of the National Liberation Front, and was responsible for killing the wife and 6 children of a South Vietnamese military officer Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tuan. Lém was later captured and summarily executed in Saigon by General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan during the Tet Offensive. The execution was captured on film by photojournalist Eddie Adams. The execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lém's admitted guerrilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general "wartime mentality".


On the second day of the Tet Offensive, amid fierce street fighting, Lém was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, Chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police. Using his personal .38 revolver, General Loan summarily executed Lém in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC television cameraman Vo Suu.[2] The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement; Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph.

South Vietnamese sources said that Lém commanded a Viet Cong insurgent team, which on that day had targeted South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families. Corroborating this, Lém was captured at the site of a mass grave that included the bodies of at least seven police family members. Photographer Adams confirmed the South Vietnamese account, although he was only present for the execution. Lém's widow confirmed that her husband was a member of the National Liberation Front and she did not see him after the Tet Offensive began.

Around 4:30 A.M., Lém led a sabotage unit along with Viet Cong tanks to attack the Armor Camp in Go Vap. After communist troops took control of the base, Lém arrested Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tuan with his family and forced him to show them how to drive tanks.[3] When Lieutenant Colonel Tuan refused to cooperate, Lém killed Tuan, his wife and six children and his 80-year-old mother by cutting their throats. There was only one survivor, a seriously injured 10-year-old boy.Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page). Having personally witnessed the murder of one of his officers along with that man's wife and three small children in cold blood,[4] when Lém was captured and brought to him, General Loan summarily executed him using his sidearm, a .38 Special Smith & Wesson Model 38 "Bodyguard" revolver,[5] in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC News television cameraman Vo Suu. The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement.

The execution appalled many uninformed people, but was most likely legal as Lém was acting like a "francs-tireurs". According to Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, irregular forces are entitled to prisoner of war status provided that they are commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, carry arms openly, and conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. If they do not meet all of these, they may be considered francs-tireurs (in the original sense of "illegal combatant") and punished as criminals in a military jurisdiction, which may include summary execution. As mentioned in the paragraph above, Lém had murdered a Prisoner of War (POW) Lt Col Nguyen Tuan, and civilians thus violating the rules of war. As he appeared in the photo and footage, "Lem was in his shorts and shirt", and was not marked by any identifiable marker showing that he was a legal combatant. [6]

Military lawyers have not agreed whether Loan's action violated the Geneva Conventions for treatment of prisoners of war (Lém had not been wearing a proper uniform; nor was he, it is alleged, fighting enemy soldiers at the time), where POW status was granted independently of the laws of war; it was limited to National Liberation Front seized during military operations.[7][not in citation given]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Unforgettable – Vol. 53 No. 17". People.com. 1 May 2000. Retrieved 23 May 2017. 
  2. ^ "Nguyen Ngoc Loan, 67, Dies; Executed Viet Cong Prisoner". The New York Times. 1998-07-16. Retrieved 2009-05-07. But when Brig. General Nguyen Ngoc Loan raised his pistol on Feb. 1, 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. 
  3. ^ > Bai An Tran, Ph. D "After 40 years of the Tet offensive in the VietNam War - Half of the truth deciphered"
  4. ^ > Bai An Tran, Ph. D "After 40 years of the Tet offensive in the VietNam War - Half of the truth deciphered"
  5. ^ Buckley, Tom. "Portrait of an Aging Despot", Harper's magazine April 1972, Page 69
  6. ^ > Bai An Tran, Ph. D "After 40 years of the Tet offensive in the VietNam War - Half of the truth deciphered"
  7. ^ Major General George S. Prugh (1975). "Prisoners of War and War Crimes". Law at War: Vietnam 1964–1973. Vietnam Studies. United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2006-10-24. 

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