When Saigon fell in April 1975, a generation of American warriors had to accept that as President Reagan said, regardless of the strategic loss, they had all served in a Nobel cause.
A strong never ending story is the nobility of Vietnam veterans in caring about the people of Vietnam and is reflected in the aftermath by the success of many Vietnam refugees who went on to make great and add continuing gifts to America’s melting pot.
We all have been blessed by such a new and vibrant generation of fellow citizens who had to leave Vietnam to build a new life.
Kieu Chinh is a globally recognized accomplished Vietnamese actress and is one such heroic individual as is Hung Cao a US Naval Academy Grad, retired Captain who is currently running for a seat in Congress.
Both personify the strength and resilience of a group of people who lost their country only to make many significant positive contributions to the never ending story that is the United States of America.
Kieu Chinh has published her life story, translated from Vietnamese: Kieu Chinh, Artist in Exile. It is a powerful personal memoir of an individual who is the personification of courage as defined by Hemingway; showing grace under pressure. And what pressure, what grace.
Her family is the personification of the story of Vietnam as a nation. Her father’s linage, is that of a learned scholar, beginning at the Ha-Noi (Hanoi) region. To read of her early ideal life in Vietnam, even with a dog named Toto, and then see her unbelievable heroic challenging life’s journey shows the reader that Kieu’s story is a direct first person account of the many aspects of a nation ultimately torn apart by war.
Life became a struggle, tragically as a young girl in World War II her mother was killed by Japanese bombs that hit the hospital just as she gave birth to her younger brother.
Then with the Geneva Accords dividing North and South Vietnam in 1954 she began another chapter in her life by flying as a refugee from Hanoi, North Vietnam, to live and make her artistic way in the south.
In becoming a respected actress. she became a friend of William Holden who insisted she stay at an event in Taiwan hosted by Chaing Kai-Shek rather than make a flight. The plane blew up in the air with Kieu listed on the manifest as reported killed. As her life’s journey progresses she has total respect for many in her movie making profession but William Holden is always a special person to her, for as she says, he saved her life.
Saigon fell in April 1975 and in that moment two great stories of Vietnamese persistence and courage come together. Kieu was trapped off-shore, again this time as the first Vietnamese refugee in Toronto Canada, while three year old Hung Cao and his family, who were on a North Vietnam death list because his Cornell PhD father was deputy Ag Minister of South Vietnam, had to leave their country. Hung’s mother sowed information and money in her children’s clothes in case they were separated.
Both Kieu and Hung have had had moments of great tragedy.
However, both took their great gift of intelligence, inner fortitude and incredible resilience to press on to build a life in America.
Many in Hollywood respected Kieu Chinh but how Tippi Hedren, of the famous movie “The Birds” came through is a tribute that shows that there are those in Hollywood who truly have a good heart. Kieu’s book captures many in Hollywood who really care on a human level.
I was honored to serve on the Board of the Vietnam Children’s Fund with Kieu and her Co-Chair, Terry Anderson, the Beirut hostage and a U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam. Prominent Vietnam Veterans, such as the late Pulitzer Prize author and severely disabled from combat wounds as Marine officer in Vietnam, Louis Puller Jr, along with two highly respected West Point Grads, John “Jack’ Wheeler and the founder of AOL Jim Kimsey, all dedicated themselves to help build elementary schools throughout Vietnam.
Again, with the wounds of war running deep, Kieu was actually threatened early in the project, but again with her courage that she often have showed by hanging tough — fifty two schools were built all pro- bono.
With respect to the deep character trait of the Vietnamese quest for education, Hung Cao’s life journey began first as a young student and then by becoming a combat decorated Naval Academy Naval Officer.
Before entering the U.S. Navy, Hung Cao, son of a Cornell PhD, was a member of the first class of famous Virginia Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Technology. It was especially noteworthy and full credit to the editors that The Washington Post printed his defense in always questing for meritocracy in learning. His article is a seminal statement about always learning in a meritocracy.
Hung Cao is a retired Navy Special Operations officer, a combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, a Vietnamese refugee and a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District.
“From an early age, I heard this message from my parents: “Position and wealth can be taken away, but education is forever.” Generosity was the first gift we received from the United States as a family. The opportunity to start over again after losing everything was the second, and an American education was the third.”
With Kieu Chinh and Hung Cao, we are blessed to have such new additions to our everlasting story of being the best and most fair country in the world.