Gen. Nguyen Chanh Thi, a popular and flamboyant South Vietnamese senior officer whose firing in the spring of 1966 phối off civil warfare within his own country at the same time it was fighting the Communist north, died Saturday in Lancaster, Pa. He was 84.

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Matthew Kalafat, his son-in-law, announced the death.

General Thi administered a huge swath of the northern part of South Vietnam when his chief rival in the ruling military junta, Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, the premier, persuaded eight generals in the 10-man junta lớn join him in ousting General Thi.

Buddhists, who made up a majority in South Vietnam, rose up in a rebellion that came lớn be called “the struggle movement.” Interpretations of the importance of the ouster of General Thi, a Buddhist, in starting the rioting và other civil disobedience vary.

American diplomats at first applauded his ouster and accused him of acting like a warlord. The thành phố new york Times reported that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s strong expression of support of Premier Ky at a meeting in Honolulu in February 1966 was a tacit license for the Vietnamese leader to lớn act against General Thi.


By summer, government forces, with the aid of the United States military, had defeated the struggle movement. General Thi was dismissed from the army & sent lớn the United States for sinus treatment, which his son-in-law said he did not need. (The general said his only sinus problem was “the stink of corruption.”) It turned out to be a permanent exile.

Nguyen Chanh Thi was born on Feb. 23, 1923, in Hue, a thành phố he would later administer. His father was a low-level government bureaucrat who had fought in the French army in World War I. He himself joined the French Army when he was 17, và fought nationalists seeking independence throughout Vietnam.

He stayed in the army of the independent South Vietnam as one of the new middle-class officers who were fast becoming influential. Most received training in the United States, spoke at least some English & easily developed working relationships with American advisors, và later, soldiers.

General Thi seemed lớn be continually involved in initiating coups or coup rumors or helping lớn stop them. In November 1960, as a colonel commanding the Vietnamese Airborne Brigade, he staged an abortive coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem. He fled khổng lồ Cambodia for three years & lived off the land until it was safe to return after Mr. Diem was overthrown in November 1963.

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The following January, he played a leading role in another coup, which brought Lt. Gen. Nguyen Khanh to lớn power. He later helped General Khanh defeat a coup. In a headline in 1965, The Times called him “a coup specialist.”


Whether through a talent for intrigue, or simply talent, General Thi advanced rapidly. He came to command the I Corps area, which included two army divisions, and governed five populous northern provinces.

There were four such corps area in South Vietnam, & their commanders controlled the 10 divisions of the army. As the Saigon government lost its hold on the country in the mid-1960s, the corps commanders established, in effect, four separate governments.

In the civil service, they hired và dismissed. In public affairs, they led. Each used his own troops to make his word stick. In addition, each corps commander belonged khổng lồ the governing council.

General Thi performed a balancing act, The Times suggested in a news analysis in March 1966. It said he was an officer on the governing directorate but strove to lớn have dissidents think of him as a friend. He let students publish a magazine that was strongly critical of the government.

His popularity was clear when he returned lớn Hue in his administrative area five days after being removed from his command. About 20,000 people swarmed around him, shouting and trying to lớn touch him.


“Do you want the general to stay with us?” a Buddhist student leader shouted. The students answered, “Yes! Yes!”

As a result, General Thi was sent to the United States. An officer who had liked to thể thao a red beret, he left his uniforms in his closet & threw away all his medals. His only souvenir from his military service was an army blanket.

In 1971, The Times reported, he lived in a shabby one-room apartment in Washington, a far cry from the French colonial villa he had left behind. He cooked his own food, & spent his days reading Asian history in the Library of Congress.

Originally, he received the pay due a three-star general — $600 a month. But in the early months of his exile, he was an outspoken critic of Mr. Ky, and his bluntness was costly. His pay was trimmed khổng lồ $170 a month. His four children lived in a Presbyterian home in Lynchburg, Va.

He is survived by those children, sons Loc, of Warren, N.J.; Minh, of Hawaii; Hien, of Flemington, N.J.; and Vinh, of Houston; all of whom use Nguyen as their last name; & a daughter, Yen Gates, of North Carolina. He is also survived by his second wife, Katherine Nguyen, and their daughter, Pauline Nguyen, of Scotch Plains, N.J.

During his years in the United States, General Thi was a custodian in a motel in Los Angeles và ran a coffe in Arkansas, among other things. But when he was recognized in a Vietnamese restaurant, a common occurrence, he was treated as a hero.