The Life and Times of a South Vietnamese Special Police Officer, Part 9: Capture


Nhuận was captured on 17 April 1975 while hiding in the French-style villa of Mr. Tôn Thất Đệ, owner of Nha-Trang’s “Tân Tân” ciné. Mr. Đệ was his wife’s uncle.

“My case was a special one,” he said. “In the Vietnamese language, “to work with” is popularly understood as “to serve”. The VC who came to arrest me used a civilian car bearing a big “liberation front” flag that was rare and reserved for VIPs at that time. They carefully guided me into the car instead of tying my arms behind me and walking me along the streets as they usually did to other arrestees. Instead, they respectfully invited me to go “work with us”. The curious neighbors who witnessed my arrest inferred that I had been a high-ranking VC cadre, which caused a long tragi-comedy until after my release.

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“At first I was kept alone in a villa, formerly occupied of a doctor, in front of the CIA compound at 22 Bá Đa Lộc Street. Then I was taken up to Đà-Nẵng City, where I arrived on 26 April 1975. I was not tortured. The VC had confiscated three new Peugeot cars which they alternatively used to drive me around. Once they kept me alone in a room, while the other rooms held up to 60 arrestees each. They fed me in the “small kitchen” reserved for VIPs, and closely cared for my health.”

Nhuận, however, was of no special intertest to his captors, who were primarily interested in obtaining information about his CIA advisers. There was no need for a trial – his work for the Special Police meant he was automatically guilty – and he soon began a twelve-year long journey through a series of Labor and Transformation (Lao Động và Cải Tạo) camps deep in the jungles of Quang Nam Province, with periodic visits to interrogation centers in Đà-Nẵng City and Hội-An, the capital city of Quảng Nam.

For five years, he managed not to reveal his operations against Poland and Hungary. Apparently, his captors never suspected that a mere Special Policeman could have engaged in such activities. But information from a foreign intelligence service eventually surfaced, and in October 1980, he was brought to the Kho Đạn interrogation center in Đà-Nẵng, and a few weeks he was taken to Hà-Nội.

“They brought me to and from Hà-Nội by airplane, which was very unusual at that time,” Nhuận said, “The other prisoners were transported by trucks, trains, or ships.

“In Hà-Nội I was kept in the Thanh Liệt detention center, which was directly run by the Interior Ministry. They used safe-houses and cover liaison methods like in the former RVN, and in my case, Premier Phạm Hùng was listening on the other end of the telephone line during the last interrogation by a very high-ranking cadre. He called me “colleague” but on the opposite side. He said I had been a talent.

“He said that the VC Central cadres had read my personal records at Special Branch headquarters and had found that over the years, my anti-communist achievements had amounted to hundreds of KIA (killed in action), thousands of CIA (captured in action), and innumerable returnees. But they could not find any records of me being duly awarded. On the contrary, they found that I had been punished on several occasions, and even exiled.

“I said that I was punished because I had been against both republics in the South.

“They said that I had tried to exterminate them, and they asked me to come back to the people.

“Then a general who was present called me a mercenary for trying to topple the socialist systems in Poland and Hungary. “Is it that your CIA bosses have crammed such illusive idea into your denationalized brain,” he asked?”

“The so-called Hungarian delegation that came to interrogate me included Russian and Polish officials. They showed me documents, including a photo of Mr. George, the CIA adviser working with me on the Hungarian captain, the first agent I had recruited. There more than the six Polish and Hungarian agents, but I had forgotten the real names of those people.”

Nhuận avoided telling other important details as well, and after five years, the CIA had had enough time to change passwords and signs required to meet agents. But like all Special Branch prisoners, he was made to denounce US war crimes. Otherwise, Nhuận remained defiant throughout his ordeal.

Indeed, he continues to defend those Americans who supported the RVN. He felt the US was totally justified in all its actions. He has no regrets.

The series of events that started with Thompson Grunwald in Huế in 1954, ended in January 1992, when Nhuận arrived in the United States as a political refugee with his wife and two unmarried daughters. Happy to be among the Americans he so greatly esteems, he started his new life by going to schools, writing memoirs, composing poetry in English, translating Vietnamese poems into English verse, and contributing his writings to US and UK magazines and anthologies.

He became an American citizen in 1997 and is a member of International PEN. His autobiographical books about his many adventures and accomplishments as a Special Police officer are available at his website.