Southern Heroes: Le Minh Dao, The 18th Division, and the Battle of Xuan Loc

“Please, do not call me a hero.  My men who died at Xuan Loc and the hundred battles before are the true heroes.”  – Le Minh Dao, Brigadier General, 18th Division, South Vietnam

On this day, 37 years ago, the tanks of the North Vietnamese Army rolled into the city of Saigon.  The city’s inhabitants gathered frantically outside the gates of the U.S. embassy, begging the Americans to shelter them from the advancing Communists.  That day, thousands of Vietnamese families packed up their entire lives and embarked on a journey across the seas to escape the grasp of Communism.  April 30, 1975 was a dark day in Vietnam’s history, but prior to this fall, the South Vietnamese Army would achieve one last glorious victory.

In the weeks prior to the fall of Saigon, the Communists in the North were still figuring out how to capture the city.  One strategically important location was Xuan Loc, which the Communists planned to capture before moving on to Saigon.  As the 4th Corps of the North Vietnamese Army assembled their forces in the jungle north of the city of Xuan Loc, they were greeted by some unexpected guests.  The 18th Division of the ARVN (South Vietnam), under Brig. General Le Minh Dao, would derail the NVA’s plan to capture Xuan Loc, showing the world that even without the U.S., the ARVN was still a force to be reckoned with.

“Even though we knew we had lost the war, I still fought.  I was filled with despair after the loss of the northern Corps, but I still fight.”

The Battle of Xuan Loc was the last major struggle before Saigon’s fall on April 30, 1975.  With the passionate and inspirational leadership of Brigadier General Le Minh Dao, the 18th Division of the ARVN resisted heavy fire from the Communist forces from April 9-21, when the division was recalled to defend Saigon.  The brilliance of the 18th Division can be seen by its numbers, dealing a miserable amount of pain to the 4th Corps of the NVA.  On the first day of battle, the NVA under Major General Hoang Cam lost more than 700 hundred men to the ARVN and Le Minh Dao, whose losses were below 50 soldiers.  After four days, Cam’s death toll climbed to 2,000, while Dao’s still only in the hundreds, the 4th Corps still had not advanced (Pribbenow & Vieth, 2004: 191-199).

By April 13, the 4th Corps and the North Vietnamese Army were forced to change their strategy.  According to NVA Commander Tran Van Tra, because of the fierce resistance of General Dao and the 18th Division, it was no longer in the interests of the NVA to continue pressing in Xuan Loc (Pribbenow & Vieth, 2004: 200).  From then until April 21, the Communist forces would concentrate their forces in other areas around Xuan Loc, and Le Minh Dao would continue to fight them until receiving orders to return to Saigon.  The general’s retreat was just as masterful as his advance, which required much daring and intellect to outmaneuver the Communist forces.

“I was their general, I wish to be the last man from the 18th ARVN to be released.  I could not look them in the face otherwise.”

Sadly, the success story ends here, with Le Minh Dao’s successful retreat back to Saigon.  From this point onward, South Vietnam would run out of steam, and the ARVN would no longer have the means to fight.  Brigadier General Le Minh Dao and the 18th Division were only few of many brave individuals who sacrificed their lives for the free and democratic South.  On April 30th, even after Duong Van Minh and the Southern government surrendered, Le Minh Dao still wanted to keep fighting.  However, with the knowledge that the corps commander and the deputy had taken their own lives, Dao knew that it was done.  On May 9, Le Minh Dao turned himself over to the Communist forces, serving a prison sentence of 17 years.  He would remain in prison until May 4, 1992, when he was finally released.  Le Minh Dao currently resides in the United States, his accomplishments forever immortalized in the pages of history.

 

Further Reading on the Battle of Xuan Loc:

Pribbenow, Merle L. & George J. Veith.  ”Fighting is an Art: The Army of the Republic of Vietnam’s Defense of Xuan Loc, 9-21 April 1975.”  The Journal of Military History, Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 163-213.

24 Responses to “Southern Heroes: Le Minh Dao, The 18th Division, and the Battle of Xuan Loc”

  1. all South Vietnamese army is my Hero.

  2. A true inspiration. A true great figure of Viet Nam. A true example of our fatherland’s strength.

    I hope Viet Nam will find more men and women like him. Men and women who stand for freedom regardless of odds, men and women like him, Viet Khang and countless others❤

  3. Yes! I knew place called: “Long Khanh Cua Heo Battleground” on Highway 1, near [Thi Xã] Town of Long Khanh.
    That place has big battles between 18th Division of ARVN, fighting with NVA-Viet Cong Army.

    After the war, I has living outside of Long Khanh. Town near CUA HEO areas in 1977. So, I knew well about what happens in Long Khanh Town, before Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.

    On September 2010, I drove Motor Bicycle from Dalat to Long Khanh- Bà Rịa-Vung Tau-Saigon. I stayed over night at Hotel in Cua Heo-Long Khanh Town. A men owner Hotel is Captain, former officer of 18th Divisions of ARVN. I heard his talked about “CUA HEO Battleground, and General Lê Minh Đạo in Resisted of Long Khanh Town. Thanks for email information. Best Regards, Greeting from Yến Vỹ, Chùa Hương-Ha Tay@Hanoi.

    • Asian Fraog Says:

      Xuan Loc demonstrated when military leaders were good, ARVN was willing to fight.Too bad that South Vietnamese brass cared more about their grip of power than to win a war.
      There was a battle in Tan Son Nhat where the paratroopers fought until they ran out of ammunitions. Their officers told them to leave to take care of their families!
      Another story in 1968.A young captiain with his special forces (those with the head of black panther) witheld two regiments of NVA in the citadel to prevent the MACV to be overrun. This heroic resistance greatly help the US force to take back Hue airport and the city. The captain recieved the US highest distinction ever given to a Vietnamese officer.
      After 1975, he was in reeducation camp but was liberated by US request and appointed colonel.. He lives now in Florida.

  4. How can I contact Le Minh Dao? I would like to interview him.

    • Hi,
      Were you able to contact the general. If not yet I might be of some assistance, but I need some info from you as to why and who are you.

      • Hello
        Thank you for your reply. My name is Chris Truett and I am a teacher at Monroe Woodbury High School in NY. In the past I have asked on various message boards if anyone knows how to contact him. You are the only to respond I have received. I have seen two video interviews, one on the PBS archives website dated 1980 and done in Vietnam and a more recent interview on youtube. I traveled to Vietnam in 2007 in hopes of gaining a better understanding of the two sides who fought after the US left in 1973. I have great admiration for the General and if I were able to interview him I would submit the interview to various publications. I plan on returning to Vietnam and one thing I would like to ask him at the end of our interview is if there is anything he would like me to bring him back or do for him while I am there. My email is teamtruett@yahoo.com Thank you for your assistance!

        Chris

      • Can you help me too?

      • doroeubanks Says:

        Hi Minh, I am trying find him for my father, who worked with him during the war. He would really like to re-connect. Are you able to help my dad get in touch with him?

      • I sent you an email. If you did not receive it email me at teamtruett@yahoo.com

        Thanks.
        Chris

      • Karen H. Ferrand Says:

        I am trying to find out if my dear friend Ngyuyet Le Minh (who was killed with her husband Jim Lewis in the 1983 bombing of the embassy in Beirut) was the daughter of Le
        Minh Dao. She was my best friend in Goldsboro NC when we worked at ICI Americas after she was evacuated from Saigon.She was one of the bridesmaids in my wedding and I was so sad when she moved to Illinois, then overseas. I would love to tell her father how much she meant to me. Thank you, Karen Ferrand gkferrand@att.net

    • doroeubanks Says:

      Hey Chris, were you able to find his contact info? My dad worked with in the the Vietnam War and would like to find him!

  5. Can anyone help me find Major Thuong of the 3/48th 18th Div made it out and was supposedly in LA area in 2005 i have a good friend looking for him

  6. Still looking for Dao for an interview myself….

  7. The actions and the words of General Dao in 1975 portray a man who seemed to have been underestimated by the Americans, by his fellow ARVN officers, and by his enemies from the North. Those of us Americans of non Vietnamese descent who know the story of the 18th division at Xuan Loc owe General Dao and his men a great debt of gratitude. It was officers and soldiers such as this who kept the threat of communism down range, away from the shores of America. Thank you all so much for your sacrifices and for your determination to hold on to what little you had left in 1975. May your story never be forgotten.

    • Michelle Le Says:

      Mr. Mark, I try to have my dad write a book regarding his life in prison. But I understand it will be too painful for my father and for all of us to look back at those awful and painful days.

  8. David Nguyen Says:

    We are forever indebted to the courageous sacrifice of so many South Vietnam soldiers and civilians.

    Evidences have proved Vietcong are the ferocious invaders, greedy aggressors .

  9. I would like to read a biography of Le Minh Dao if one is out there. If there is not one there should be. Consider that after he is a true hero and should be remembered in Vietnam’s history always, but also that he survived 17 years in “re-ed ” camp.

  10. Michelle Le Says:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    Thank you for your request and your interest in my father General Le Minh Dao. I happened to search the web for our old homes in VN prior to the communist took over our properties and land that we once own. I ran across this site and was very impress with your interest and sincere to learn about my father. There are nine children in the family. I am one of the 7th children of General Le Minh Dao. My father is alive and well and so are all of us. I’m not just some random person replying to this blog.
    I recently visit my dad. My father is in his early 80th now. My father been through a lot. He suffered tremendous tortured when he was a POW for 17 years. The day they took him was my birthday “May 9, 1975”. I was born on May 9, 1968. Since I was one of the 3 youngest children, I never have a chance to grow up with my father and so were my other siblings. Therefore, we try to spend as much time with my father for whatever time God give him to us.
    My father converted to Christianity while he was in prison and through the grace of God he was able to survive and still living in faith. As 3 of the youngest children we were converted to christian when we arrived in America in 1978.

    There are so much to talk about my father. I wish I can share more with you all. But for my dad safety since he is still very active against communism, I have to keep in private. You can contact me via email chenmn1@gmail.com. By the way, you will see at the end my last name is “Chen” that is my married name. My mother maiden name is LE HANG MY. Daughter of the most famous and heroic general in the South Vietnamese.

    Sincerely,

    Michelle Le Chen

    • liem nguyen Says:

      Michelle, I am so impressive with your writing. My uncle is one of your father”s men who died in the battle fields. His name is Nguyen Van Thoai; he”s accompanied your father from Dinh Tuong province to the 18th division. He was major at the time he died.
      If you have a chance please pass this info to your father and let him know that the remains of my uncle has joined the family here, in the US. Thanks

  11. Matthew Abbott, soldier & US military historian Says:

    In the annals of history, there are few such instances of such noble heroism and defiance in the face of such impossible odds. The true honor is eternally that of the men of the ARVN making their last stand at Xuan Loc. It is with my deepest condolences that I write this letter to them and their families – but I cannot now say much to add to the glory which is eternally theirs. As a man of a younger generation, it is my heart-felt regret that I could not have stood by their side and fought with them.

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