Tran Thien Khem dies, 95 years old. A force in South Vietnam before its fall


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He married Elaine Dinh in 1950, and they had a daughter. His first wife died in 2004, and in 2005 he married Anne Chastain, of Eureka, California. They separated in 2012. He is survived by a daughter, Yen Khanh, and an adopted son, Tran Khan, as well as a granddaughter.

The late 1950s and early 1960s were a period of authoritarian rule and nepotism by the American-backed president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, who favored Catholics in many walks of life in a largely Buddhist land. His refusal to allow the 1956 election was a factor in the Vietnam War. In 1960, Colonel Khem crushed a coup against Mr. Diem’s ​​godfather, and was promoted to general.

But in 1963, in what the Kennedy administration and General Khem expected to be a peaceful coup, other Vietnamese military conspirators arranged to oust President Diem and shoot them in an armored personnel carrier on their way to the airport and expected exile abroad.

In the conspiracy that followed the assassination, the short-lived gangs ended in coups. General Khem was briefly part of the ruling military junta before being sent into political exile as US ambassador in 1964. From Washington, he plotted with the Saigon generals to seize power. But on the day of the planned solstice, he forgot to set the alarm clock and slept too much. The coup went without him and failed.

In 1965, another military junta, which included General Theo and General Kee, appointed Mr. Khim as ambassador to Taiwan. He was returned to Saigon in 1968 and pledged allegiance to newly elected President Theo. A year later, he was appointed prime minister, and held this powerful position until the last days of the regime.

General Khem lived in quiet retirement in San Jose, along with a number of former high-ranking South Vietnamese officers. (He was finally baptized as a Catholic there in 2018).

The Vietnamese diaspora in the United States is largely divided into factions, with ex-officers taking the toughest anti-communist line. General Khem avoided controversy by keeping a low profile and giving almost no interviews.

Seth Medans contributed reporting.


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