Major General Pham van Phu

I wrote months ago in this blog about my trip to II Corps Headquarters and my courtesy visit with Major General Pham van Phu, the commander of II Corps, in March 1975. Phu, like so many South Vietnamese generals I met, was condescending to a fault. I described my visit in Last of the Annamese in the scene where the protagonist, Chuck, meets with Major General Tri—the character based on Phu—during his stopover at II Corps headquarters:

Standing smoke blurred the room. Cigarettes, two of them still burning, littered the deck. The snake-like man behind the desk, a lit cigarette in hand, gave no indication that he knew eight people were standing before him. He went on reading, smiling at the document in his hands. Without looking up he made a single sound, and the officers sat in a row of chairs facing the desk. Chuck hurriedly joined them. The adjutant served tea.

Chuck squinted through the smoke at the man reading. His fatigues’ name tag read TRI, and his shoulders bore the two stars of a major general. The slant of his egg-shaped bald head drew the eye to his mouth, the lips closed, the corners turned up. Something about his smile activated the tingle low in Chuck’s spine. It was a sardonic smile, a sneer.

End of quote. General Phu continued to smoke throughout our visit, throwing his half-finished cigarettes to the floor, still burning, and lighting new ones. He treated me and the South Vietnamese general by my side with disdain bordering on rudeness. I remember that I was unable to avoid coughing from the cigarette smoke.

Shortly after our visit, the North Vietnamese conquered II Corps. General Phu escaped to the coast and later made his way to Saigon. He committed suicide on 30 April, the day the North Vietnamese completed the seizure of Saigon.

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