He Escaped Saigon After His Family Was Killed, Now He’s the Navy’s First Vietnamese American Admiral
By Khier Casino
October 14, 2019
Huan Nguyen has become the first Vietnamese American to achieve the rank of rear admiral in a ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 10.
Nguyen, 60, originally from Hue, Vietnam, is the son of an armor officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, according to Naval Sea Systems Command.
His parents and five brothers and sisters all died in their home near Saigon at the hands of the Viet Cong during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
Nguyen, who was 9 at the time of the incident, was shot in the arm, thigh and skull. He remained by his mother’s side until she died before escaping in the dark.
His uncle, a colonel in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force, took him in, and in 1975, they escaped Vietnam and found refuge in the U.S. when he was 16.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helped take care of Nguyen and his family after being transported through Guam.
“I was one of those refugees, apprehensive about an uncertain future, yet feeling extremely grateful that I was here at all,” he said in a statement. “The images that I remember vividly when I arrived at Camp Asan, Guam, now Asan Beach Park, were of American sailors and Marines toiling in the hot sun, setting up tents and chow hall, distributing water and hot food, helping and caring for the people with dignity and respect.
“I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a place like America. Those sailors inspired me to later serve in the United States Navy,” Nguyen continued.
Nguyen graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 1981 and master’s degrees from Southern Methodist University, Purdue University and Carnegie Mellon University. He received a Navy direct commission from the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer program in 1993.
Nguyen spoke about how honored he is to attain the rank of admiral and credits the Vietnamese American community for the achievement:
“It is a great honor to attain the rank of admiral. I am tremendously humbled to become the first Vietnamese American to wear the flag’s rank in the U.S. Navy. The honor actually belongs to the Vietnamese American community, which instilled in us a sense of patriotism, duty, honor, courage and commitment to our adopted country, the United States of America. This is our America. A country built on service, kindness and generosity…opportunity…the freedom to hope and dream. These values are what inspired me to serve. And what a great honor and privilege it is to serve our Navy…to serve our country…to support and defend our Constitution.”
Nguyen will be the deputy commander for cyber engineering at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, D.C.
“America is the beacon of hope for all of us. There is no other place in the world where a person can go for such opportunity,” he said.
Featured Image via Naval Sea Systems Command
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