Khanh Nguyen, 86, a South Vietnamese general who briefly gained control of the government in a coup and went on to lead a “government in exile” in California, died Jan. 11 at a San Jose hospital after struggling with diabetes-related health problems. His death was announced by Chanh Nguyen Huu, who succeeded Nguyen as head of the Garden Grove-based Government of Free Vietnam in Exile.
In November 1960, Nguyen helped thwart a coup against South Vietnam’s U.S.-backed president, Ngo Dinh Diem, when he mistook the rebels for Viet Cong soldiers and rushed to the president’s defense.
“Because I thought it was a Viet Cong attack, I sent orders to the troops to help us,” he said in a 1981 interview with WGBH in Boston. “At that time, I saw it was a coup managed by some of the paratroopers — not all of them, but some.”
South Vietnamese generals overthrew Diem’s regime three years later, starting a volatile period of political unrest.
Nguyen was born in 1927 and trained at a French military academy. He himself briefly took control of the government in a Jan. 30, 1964 coup, but he left Vietnam the next year after being forced out of power by other generals amid growing tension with U.S. military officials. He lived and worked in France for several years before settling in Northern California with his family in 1977.
Nguyen was a leader in the Government of Free Vietnam in Exile, founded in 1995.
— Times wire reports