Sunday, March 28, 2010

Honoring My Father

This March 28th was the day I will remember for the rest of my life. It is the day I lost my dad six years ago. Since he died, every year my whole family gets together to remember him. We call it Family's Memorial Day. This year is no different, only it is more special because it is the exact date and day. As always, my oldest brother requested a special mass to pray for our dad. All of my siblings, their families, children and grandchildren gathered at our church. This year my because my mom's health has deteriorated tremendously, we did not have mom with us. After church, we all went to dad's gravesite; we said prayers, sang his favorite song, and drank champagne. The champagne was one of my dad's favorite traditions. To toast him, like he is still with us, every New Year, Christmas, Vietnamese New Year, and also every joyous occasion within the family, we share champagne. And as we toast, it reminds us that he shared champagne for each of these occasions and for every one of us. The last day of his life, we were at the house, so we could be close to him, sing songs, recite Hail Mary and Our Father to him. We were trying to hold on to him since there were some grandchildren who schooled far away, and they were trying to make it home in time. At the last minute, the most far away grandson, Shaw arrived. My dad gained conscious. He looked at all of us for the last time and said, "Champagne."My oldest sister dabbed a drop of champagne on his lips. He then smiled and took his last breath.

Today, after the gravesite, we all went to my oldest brother's house to have lunch together, remembering dad, talking about mom and visiting with each other, especially, our two great grandnieces, Kylie and Madeline, the two newest members of our family.

Dad was our inspiration, courage, and a kind of glue to keep us all together. This year, even with dad gone and mom very ill, our tradition and love for each other live on. The love our parents had instilled in all of us will be the glue to keep us all together, no matter where we are or whichever paths our lives take us to. I believe we will always be there for each other, and I also believe that my dad is in heaven, looking at us with love and pride. Thanks Dad.
By Thai Le

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Raising the Vietnamese Flag

The Summer of 1972,the war became very intense. The communists (viet cong) had taken over the city of Bong Son. Many people had to move, including most of my beloved Thac Da villagers. At this time my family had already moved to Qui Nhon city, but because of school exam, my brother Khoa stayed behind until the evacuation. This caused a lot of worry for my parents. Many years later I met Phung, one of my friends from the village. She told me that many people had to escape Bong Son by foot, and it took them many days. When they arrived in Qui Nhon, they were tired,hungry and their feet were all cracked, bleeding and had swelled up.

Bong Son was not occupied by the communists long. After about four months, our brave South Vietnamese soldiers fought a heroic battle and won back Bong Son. The following day, my father went to Bong Son with many soldiers to place our South Vietnamese Flag on top of the Bong Son city hall building. My father took my brother Khoa with him on this trip. I did not know the purpose for Khoa to go along until I was much older. My father wanted Khoa to see, experience and be a part of what our young soldiers were doing. Maybe one day Khoa would be honored to serve our country just like them.

The day my father left for this event, I saw the happiness, the excitement and pride on his face, but on my mother's face I saw sadness and anticipation that my father's jeep would be victim of an ambush on the road. I did not understand much of their emotions at the time. I have my own children and every day see them drive off to school, participate in the world, away from my protecting arms. I now understand what my parents went through, especially my mom and all the moms who had children go to war to protect what we call freedom.

By Thai Le

Monday, March 15, 2010

Conversation with a Vietnam Vet

This weekend I spoke with a Vietnam vet at the Writer's Intensive in Cincinnati. In addition I spoke with an author online last week, also a vet. What struck me was the raw sensitivity they both still possessed to the war and the pain it causes even now in 2010, long after the 1975 abrupt and jagged pull out of American forces as the Northern communists pushed the last leg of their takeover to the China Sea, and southerners scrambled to jump ships to the United States, uncertain or even terrified of their futures.

One man was in therapy for years and has come to terms, he says, with the anguish he suffered over the lack of support soldiers received as they experienced tortuous hardship and devastating attacks. The other remains haunted by the faces of little children, shot and killed or just maimed and left without family to wander lost and bereft. Both men seemed heartened and a little surprised when I told them of Thai Le's attitude toward Vietnam vets.

She and her family were thankful then and still today, that someone came to their aid and tried to preserve their lives as they knew it, in their own country, now renamed and reclaimed. So, it will be hard for Thai Le, I am sure, when she dedicates her book. I know her family comes first, but also in her heart, she wishes never to offend nor take away from the honor, of the soldiers who lost as much as she and her family did in the sickening saga that she knows Ho Chi Minh was responsible for, not the U.S.

As a child, I remember the negative view toward the war and the way it made people shun the problems soldiers had and their needs for medical and therapeutic attention that were often ignored as an inconvenience to America which wanted to forget the war, the war they turned their backs on. She may share the dedication of the book between her family and soldiers who fought for her right and her family's right to live free in their own free country. Does all of America know that the South Vietnamese felt this way? This is one of the premises of Child of South Vietnam, a memoir about Thai Le Nguyen.

By Amanda Griffith

Comments about the first chapter of Thai Le's memoir posted on Writer's Digest Community:

March 7
I've been reading your work and am very impressed. I have some emotional ties to that time period as well as Vietnam itself. It makes me very happy to see that some people were able to escape from the harsh confines of those times and are hopefully happier now. I would be deeply saddened to find out that our efforts over there were meaningless. So many of my friends died over there, and I was witness to the brutality of the Vietcong to women and children. Especially the children. I cry out yet in the middle of the night, reliving those days, crying for their sweet souls. Congratulations and keep up the good work. Tell a story that has to be told.

March 8
I am so happy to hear that all was not in vain, that we were fighting a righteous war. Every day I live with the nightmares that only war can bring. and it always comes back to the children. ALWAYS. And to think that one of MY SPECIAL CHILDREN is here and happy brings me so much joy. I know she's not a child any longer, but to me, she will always remain a child. Thank you both so very much.

Posted by Amanda Griffith

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lost Friendships

I would be sorry if I didn't write about these two sisters. Their names are Nhan and Nhin (These two names together mean yielding, giving in, being passive). They were my good friends from Sunday school. They did not live in my village. I did not have years of childhood experience with them or grow up with them. I only knew them from attending first communication classes. It was only a few short months but I always have them in my heart. We shared lots of memories from picking wild flowers from the church courtyard, picking up pebbles and also split toasted peanuts between us from a small store in the hamlet close by the church. One Sunday, after class, I followed them home. I am not sure, but I think they lived in a place that was designated especially just for the Vietnamese soldiers' families. Their house were very small but there was warmth and love. I got to meet their mother. She was very nice and kind. She let us go to the back and play with water in a big tub. Of course, we did not know of bathing suits and of course, we were all wet later. Afterward, she fed us dinner early, so that I could go home. We ate steamed rice, tiny fish grilled with crushed red chili and lettuce dipped with fish sauce. It was simple but I enjoyed it very much. I never did get to meet their dad because he was far away at some battle field guarding and protecting our motherland. I did not know any until years later how lucky I was compared to them. I did not have my father home for dinner or at night, but at least I got to see him most days. They probably did not get to see their dad but once or twice a year. Thinking of this makes me want to cry for them. They were so proud of their dad just like I am proud of my dad and all the men who fought for the country.

In 1972 the Communists (Viet Cong) came in and took over Bong Son. This made everybody evacuate the city. At that time, my family had already moved to another city named Qui Nhon to escape the Communists. My dad worked as a new elected official in Qui Nhon. When the evacuation happened, I thought of Nhan and Nhin even though I had not seen them for years. I rode my bicycle to Qui Nhon's main church location where I heard most of the people were to migrate to. I wanted to see my friends and their mom and maybe their dad, too, but because I was very young and there were too many people, I was not able to find them. I rode home on my bicycle with tears in my eyes.

By Thai Le Nguyen