Vietnam: The next chapter
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 noble cause. A strong never ending story is the nobility of Vietnam veterans in caring about the people of Vietnam and is re ected in the a ermath by the success of many Vietnam refugees who went on to make great and add continuing gi s 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 graduate and 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 signi cant positive contributions to the never ending story that is the United States of America.
Kieu has published her life story in a book titled “Kieu Chinh, Artist in Exile,” translated from Vietnamese. It is a powerful personal memoir of an individual who is the personi cation of courage as de ned by Hemingway; showing grace under pressure. And what pressure, what grace.
Her family is the personi cation of the story of Vietnam as a nation. Her father’s lineage 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, rst 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 ying 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 came 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 sewed information and money in her children’s clothes in case they were separated.
Both Kieu and Hung have 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.
As the least important person, 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- winning author and severely disabled 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 showed by hanging though 52 schools were all built 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 he became a combat decorated Naval Academy Naval Officer.
It was especially noteworthy and full credit to the editors that The Washington Post printed his defense in always questing for meritocracy in learning. Before entering the Navy, Hung Cao, son of a Cornell PhD, was a member of the first class of Virginia public school Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. His article, headlined “The erosion of excellence at Thomas Jefferson High School,” is a seminal statement about always learning in a meritocracy.
“From an early age, I heard this message from my parents: ‘Position and wealth can be taken away, but education is forever,’” Hung Cao wrote in the article. “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’s book and Hung Cao’s great quote in running for Congress — essentially saying, “I lost one country I will not lose another” — America is blessed to have such new additions to our everlasting story of being the best and most fair country in the world.