I was born in Dalat, Vietnam, on October 23, 1962.
My father was born in Hanoi and my mother was born in Hai Phong. In 1954, they migrated south where my father then joined the South Vietnamese Army to fight against Communism, which, at the time, were the very same Viet Minh forces that he was once a proud member of, during the Japanese, and then the French Wars, that he participated in.
During my almost 13 years of living in Vietnam I learned very quickly how to grow up in a very responsible manner. There was very little choice in the matter for me, as I watched many of the adults around me going off to war, including my two older brothers. To me, every day was just another day in paradise. I knew almost everything there was to know about the politics and horrors of war, but knew very little about the art of growing up as a normal child. Yes, I did go to school., And yes, I did play with my friends. Basically, I just did the very best I could do ... with the cards that God had dealt me in life.
Dad was an officer with six children to protect and care for. I found out later on that I was an accident, being sixteen years younger than my oldest brother, Thanh, who was an Airborne Soldier, a Captain, during the war. He was my favorite brother and I was his. We got along well into our adulthood. About 10 years ago, Thanh started to share some of his war-time experiences with me. They were mostly very painful stories. I know they were painful since I still have some of his letters written to mom and dad during his various missions. I still remember the nights of waiting to hear from him, listening to the radio hoping to catch the whereabouts of his unit, and reading the newspaper from front to back.
The war came home to Saigon in 1968. I was six years old at the time. The bad guys had worked their way that far south by this time. I remember those days quite well. Until this day I am not quite sure why ... but fear was not a feeling I had back in those days. I can’t remember ever being afraid. I climbed up a guava tree and watched all the violent activities that were going on at the time. I saw a soldier drop to the ground, and he never got back up. Dead. I saw Cobras and Hueys flying around. I was up on that tree for a very long time - until mom grabbed me by the ass and pulled me down off my spot. I’ll leave it up to your imagination on that spanking I got. ...Hurt like hell at the time!
Fast forward to April 24, 1975: My father dropped me and my brother Thao (16) at Tan San Nhut Airport. I was told that I was to go with another family to the U.S. It was kept a secret from Thao and me until that very last minute. I was also told that I may and/or may not, ever see my family again. Dad gave each of us a small bag of clothing and some photos, and not much else. I didn’t cry. I was confused and scared of the unknown. At that point my brother, Captain Thanh Nguyen, was still somewhere out there in the jungle, fields, and rice paddies. Hong was an army medic. He enlisted in 1973.
I thought of my family often. Especially the two big guys . . .
We got loaded up into a C-130 with hundreds of other people. I had no idea we were war refugees being taken out of our homeland. I sat near the tail end on a very shiny cold steel floor. I was feeling very sick. My journey took me to Subic Bay, then Guam, somewhere in Northern California at an Air Force base, then Camp Pendleton, California, and finally to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
My American dream begins here...