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Nguyen Cao Ky [1930-2011]

Nguyen Cao Ky, the former leader of South Vietnam, died 23 July 2011. He was 81 years old. His family said Ky died at a hospital in Malaysia where he was being treated for respiratory complications. Nguyen Cao Ky was born 8 September 1930 in a town about 15 miles from Hanoi. Married. Rated pilot. Qualified as C-47 transport pilot and A-lH fighter pilot. Came in military service in 1951 and commissioned in infantry in 1952. Fought with French and sent to pilot training at Marrakech, Morocco, and Avord and Blida in Algeria during 1954. Graduate of Thu Duc Reserve Officers' School, Air Command and Staff School (U.S.). Wide variety of assignments before becoming VNAF Commander in 1963. Although he had the reputation of a daring "fly boy", he had matured greatly in the 1960s and came to realize his responsibilities. Despite his political concentration since 1965, Ky still undoubtedly had the loyalty of the air service behind him.

It was not until mid 1965 that any sort of stability was injected into the Saigon political scene, this occurring when General Nguyen Van Thieu was proclaimed chief of state and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky was installed as premier. Thieu's position as chairman corresponded to that of Chief of State while the other key post, Executive Commissioner (Ky), corresponded to the civilian position of Premier. Ky, acting as a kind of appointed prime minister, or premier, was to run the day-to-day Saigon administration and to work closely with Thieu on broad matters of national policy. Both kept their military ranks and were to share power equally with the other Directory members.

Nguyen Cao Ky was a dashing pilot who liked to walk around wearing his flight suit. As of June 1965, CIA Station contacts depicted a first-class pilot and a poor administrator whose genuine charisma had given Air Force morale a dramatic boost when he became its commander in late 1963. He was also a thrill seeker and risk taker, according to intimates, renowned for his drinking, gambling, and an endless' succession of girlfriends; he also indulged a penchant for insubordination.

The 34-year-old air force general had many powerful friends but, with few ground troops under his direct command, had always lacked the soldiers that provided the grist for every serious coup. His appointment as administrative chief may have been a compromise among the bickering army generals, too wary to give one of their own members so much power. Like most of them, Ky had served his military apprenticeship under the French and later attended American military schools. Unlike many, he held a commission from the Nam Dinh Reserve Officers School and, although a native of North Vietnam, was a Buddhist, the religion of most South Vietnamese. His most distinguishing characteristic, however, was his exu-berant style and flashy appearance, which made him considerably more popular among the younger officers and the general public than the saturnine Thieu.

Closely allied to Ky were two older members of the Directory, Generals Linh Quang Vien, a military staff chief, and Le Nguyen Khang, who headed the South Vietnamese Marine Corps and also commanded the Capital Military Dis-trict,13 a command encompassing Saigon and its immediate environs. Also in-cluded in the Ky circle were three of his former classmates at Nam Dinh: General Nguyen Bao Tri, commander of an infantry division stationed dose to Saigon; Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the army counter-intelligence agency; and Col. Nguyen Duc Thang, the army operations chief. Coincidentally, all of these supporters were born in North Vietnam.

Ky demonstrated great courage and aggressiveness in dealing with the 1966 problems in Corps Tactical Zone [I CTZ] and had shown that he was in command and was willing to use whatever force he considered necessary to stabilize the GVN position. Not only was he able to quell the "struggle movement" in the north, but he also gave promising signs of intending to prosecute actively the fight against the VC. His diplomatic aplomb enabled him to compromisc where he thought it necessary; this had proven to be a nearly nonexistent capability of his predecessors. He showed considerable insight in organizing his cabinet when he brought in both civilian and military members from the north and south, and of varying religious backgronds.

When Thieu's government in Saigon fell to North Vietnamese troops in 1975, Ky fled the country piloting a helicopter to a U.S. Navy ship. He and his family eventually settled in the United States. In 2004, Ky made headlines when he visited Vietnam, dropping his staunchly anti-communist rhetoric.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 15:35:31 ZULU