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March 24, 2012

Vietnam’s Loss is America’s Gain

Written by: Ron LaBar
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I met Dr. Anthony Nguyen, an oncologist at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Nevada, on a routine referral from my urologist.

I guessed correctly that Dr. Nguyen was of Vietnamese descent.  I told him I had served in Vietnam in the early seventies, and from there we struck up a lively conversation.  His story of coming to the U.S. in 1975, when the country fell to North Vietnamese communist forces, was fascinating.

Dr. Nguyen’s father Dzy (“Joe”) was a major in the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) who flew the 0-1 “Bird Dog” as a FAC (Forward Air Controller).  His mother, Mary, worked at the U. S. Embassy.  In the final chaotic days as the country fell to the invading forces from the north and the Viet Cong, general panic ensued, particularly among those most likely to be targeted for death (embassy employees, military officers, teachers, government officials and anybody else associated with the government and American forces).  The Nguyen family “” father, mother, brother Thomas and sister Wendy “” made it out of Saigon at the last moment on a military transport.  I recalled film footage we all saw of desperate Vietnamese hanging on to the skids of helicopters as they took off from the embassy roof.  Dr. Nyguyen told me that in his families recollection the escape from Saigon was a harrowing experience, particularly for a pregnant young mother, but not as bad as many others, like the ‘boat people’ would face.  The family landed at Camp Pendleton, California, with little more than the clothes on their backs and some precious family photos.  “We were quite poor,” recalls Dr. Nyguyen, “as was everyone else.”

Dr. Nguyen’s family was first assisted by church sponsors and then elected to make it on their own.  He was born in San Diego in November 1975, shortly after the family arrived in the U.S.  His father worked at various jobs while attending night classes at Fullerton College.  He eventually graduated as a field engineer, and had a successful career in the office machine business.

Dr. Nguyen grew up in Garden Grove, California, and attended the University of California, Irvine.  His brother, Thomas, received an appointment to West Point.  He is currently an Army intelligence officer in the Pentagon and was recently selected for promotion to Lt. Colonel.  His sister, Wendy, is a hospital pharmacist in Orange County where she works with challenged children.

While in medical school at UC Irvine, Dr. Nguyen learned that his father had been diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.  He returned home so that he could be a caregiver to his father, who insisted that he also continue with medical school.

Dr. Nguyen told me that the many hours he spent with his father, who was undergoing chemo and radiation treatments and surgery, helped him decide on a specialty (oncology) and obtain a unique perspective on medicine, in that in many cases his father’s doctors were also his professors at UC Irvine.  He spent time with other patients when his father dozed during treatments.  He heard their stories, followed their treatments, and got to know them.

Major Joe Nguyen died in September 2000, but is remembered by family and his many friends as a great husband and father and a hard worker.  He would be very proud of his children and grandchildren.

Dr. Nguyen says he is a product of the American dream ““ that you can achieve anything through hard work.

As for the Nguyen family Vietnam’s loss is America’s gain.



About the Author

Ron LaBar
Ron LaBar
If you have an article covering Veteran issues, Airmen who are doing something special in the Las Vegas community, or other human interest stories you'd like to see about and for our Nellis Airmen, just e-mail the Bullseye@aerotechnews.com and we will hook you up with Ron and he'll contact you.


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