Vietnamese Influencing Vietnamese: A “Behind The Scenes” Look At Counterinsurgency At The Birth Of The Republic Of Vietnam

Victor Joseph Hugo, Jr.


MG(R) Victor J. Hugo, Jr. was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, but grew up in Marblehead. His mother was a school teacher, and his father, a gifted athlete in his younger days, was a structural steel engineer. As a boy, he excelled in sports, namely football and hockey, and loved to read. Two books that sparked his interest were “Navy Blue and Gold: A Story of the Naval Academy” and “Herb Kent, West Point Fullback.” He had wanted to become a doctor, but there was only enough money to send one child to medical school, and his brother received that opportunity. After high school, he attended the Sullivan School, a rigorous prep school, before being admitted into West Point. At USMA he did well in academics, and played lacrosse and hockey on the “A” squad in both sports for three years. He was on the hockey team during the famous first penalty against RMC, and recalls the “Naughty Ninety” receiving punishment for the cheating scandal in 1951. One of his most influential mentors at the Academy was Woody Garrett, who later served as his commander. He selected infantry as a branch, and his first assignment in the Army was working for Colonel Edward Lansdale, USAF, and the Central Intelligence Agency from February 1955 to July 1956 in the Philippines and in Vietnam. These were formative years in the Republic of Vietnam, when Diem was trying to consolidate power after the 1954 partition of the country, and Hugo played an important role in training officers for the nascent ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), as well as working with Filipinos to garner support for that country. Returning to the United States in July, 1956, he served in the Old Guard, participating in the official visit of Queen Elizabeth and other VIPs, and he wrote the order for the burial of the Unknown Soldier from WWII and Korea. He then completed Special Forces training and joined the 1st Special Forces Group in Okinawa, Japan, where he completed a variety of missions in Vietnam from 1962 to 1965. He developed an “Attack Assessment Matrix” that identified indicators of pending attacks on villages and Special Forces compounds. He also trained with foreign armies from Thailand, Korea, and Taiwan, and was impressed by the professionalism of those forces. While in 1st SFG, he commanded ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) A132 while assigned to the Civil Irregular Defense Group (CIDGs) in Vietnam. He enjoyed that experience realizing that “Soldiers are Soldiers” world-wide. His next assignment was on the Joint Staff from June 1966 to 1968. He was involved in picking targets for Rolling Thunder and planning the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam (including redeploying the 9th Division), he witnessed senior leaders’ reactions to the 1967 Israeli War. Returning to Vietnam in March, 1969, he took command of the 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery at Dong Ha. In addition to artillery pieces, his battalion, which was the General Support Reinforcing Artillery of I Corps, also boasted Quad .50s and M42 Dusters. Returning to the States in January, 1970, he attended the War College after a brief stint at the Pentagon. This was the beginning of turbulent times for the Army, and he discusses the implementation of VOLAR (Volunteer Army) versus the draft, conducting a leadership study, and starting the Sergeants Major Academy. From 1979 to 1981, he commanded the 38th Air Defense Brigade at Osan Air Force Base in the Republic of Korea as the responsibility for air defense on the peninsula was transferred to the ROK forces. After his time in Korea, he returned to the Pentagon, and was instrumental in fixing issues with the Patriot Missile System before fielding it to the force. His final assignment in the Army was as Commanding General, 32nd Army Air Defense Command in Darmstadt, Germany, from 1983 to 1987, responsible for modernizing weapons systems, organizations, training, logistical support, and doctrine for Air Defense on the border of Cold War Europe. After leaving the military, he worked as a defense contractor and in the air defense industry for a while, but when Iraq invaded Kuwait, he was right there on the front lines again, providing reconnaissance and intelligence to the Special Forces. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his time at West Point, and his Army experiences. He reflects at length on his service in Vietnam with the CIA, Special Forces, and conventional units. He discusses working with the Montagnard tribes and the South Vietnamese counterinsurgency program. He provides his opinion on the strategic hamlet program, and comments on the assassinations of Diem, his brother Nhu, and President Kennedy (after which the beret flash of 1st SFG added a black border to honor the president). He provides his observations on the process of Vietnamization, and on the South Vietnamese willingness and ability to fight. He describes his post-Vietnam career and highlights some of the actions he accomplished in the Pentagon. Finally, he explores what West Point means to him.


name Victor Joseph Hugo, Jr.
institution USMA
graduation year 1954
service Infantry / Special Forces / Artillery / Air Defense Artillery
unit 1st Special Forces Group; 1st Battalion 44th Artillery; 38th Air Defense Brigade; 32nd Army Air Defense Command
specialty South East Asia
service dates 1954 1987