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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu Dies at 78

BOSTON -- Former South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, who led his nation in the war that shattered Vietnam and severely divided the United States, has died. He was 78.

Thieu collapsed at his home in suburban Foxboro on Thursday, and died late Saturday at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, according to his cousin, Hoang Duc Nha.

Thieu assumed power in 1965 and presided over U.S.-backed South Vietnam until the fall of its capital city, Saigon, in 1975, to Communist-led troops from North Vietnam. He then largely disappeared from public view and lived quietly in exile, first in London, then in the Boston area.

He remained, however, an enduring symbol of the futility of a war in which nearly 60,000 American troops died.

With North Vietnamese closing in on Saigon, and the war all but officially lost, he still declared: "We will fight to the last bullet, the last grain of rice."

Even with the assistance of 500,000 U.S. troops and massive amounts of military aid, he was never able to turn the tide against the Communist North. He left power defeated, despised and bitterly denouncing the superpower nation that had befriended him for more than a decade.

When the end did come, his resignation was demanded by all sides to make way for peace talks with the North Vietnamese. Thieu reluctantly stepped down on April 21, 1975, and left the country, but the talks never came. South Vietnam was overrun shortly after his departure.

In the years after the war, Thieu shunned almost all requests for interviews. He re-emerged in 1992 to denounce rapprochement between the United States and the Communist government in Vietnam.

But a year later, his tone had changed. Thieu spoke of his willingness to take part in national reconciliation talks that would allow members of the Vietnamese exile community to go home. The Vietnamese showed no interest in having him act as a go-between.