Former South Vietnam Premier Nguyen Cao Ky dies

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FILE: South Vietnam General Nguyen Cao Ky, former Prime Minister of Republic of Vietnam (1965-7) pictured in October 1971 in Saigon.

Nguyen Cao Ky, a former premier of South Vietnam, died over the weekend in Malaysia. He was 80 years old. Ky moved to the United States and built a life in Southern California after the war.

Ky was a former air force commander who led South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. He was known as a flamboyant man who wore a black flight suit and carried around a pearl handle pistol. He later served as vice president.

Following the fall of Saigon, Ky was airlifted out of Vietnam and moved to Southern California.

Jeff Brody got to know Ky while working as a reporter with the Orange County Register. Brody ran into Ky in 1984 while working on a story about the Orange County community of Buena Clinton, which Brody describes as, at that time, being the county's "worst slum."

Ky was running a liquor store in Buena Clinton and Brody later discovered that Ky had filed for bankruptcy. The reporter broke the story in the Orange County Register.

"I interviewed him and he was very much angry at me," said Brody.

Brody said his struggles earned him some respect with the Vietnamese immigrant community in Southern California, who considered him a "man of the people."

In 2004, Ky made a highly publicized return to Vietnam after he was invited by that country's government. Brody describes the trip as a "heroic move," but it angered some Vietnamese in Southern California who didn't want anything to do with the communist government.

"There is a minority in the community that is very extremist that looks upon him as a traitor," said Brody.

Brody said Ky was "riding the wave" of Vietnamese-Americans who favored reconciliation with their homeland. Ky was being treated for a respiratory infection in Malaysia when he died last Saturday.

Correction: The last sentence originally switched Brody's name for Ky's.

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