Friday, May 28, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Veterans from the South Vietnamese army to be honored at this
year's Memorial Day rites at Punchbowl's National Memorial
Cemetery, are, from left, Hoa Nguyen, Hoa Doan Vo,
Nhi Tran and Chuong Nguyen.

Punchbowl rites will
honor South Vietnamese

Now a Hawaii teacher, a former
Saigon soldier says the war never ends

By Gregg K. Kakesako


For nearly a quarter of a century, Chuong Nguyen has worn no color other than khaki.

"I wear nothing but khaki pants; no other colors," to honor and mourn the soldiers and other victims of the Vietnam War who died wearing his country's khaki uniform, said Nguyen, 63. He has been a local high school educator since fleeing South Vietnam in 1974.

This Memorial Day, for the first time, the sacrifices of more than 250,000 soldiers of the South Vietnamese army killed during the war will be honored in formal ceremonies at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl crater.

Nguyen and other members of the Free Vietnam Organization and the Association of Vietnamese Veterans of Hawaii will join the procession of veterans from America's other wars to lay a wreath during the mayor's annual Memorial Day Service on Monday.

"Memorial Day to me is not a political holiday," said Nguyen, who was a lieutenant in Saigon, serving as a press officer in the Ministry of Defense, "but a time of personal recollection and sad memories."

"Memorial Day is not just a day to remember those who died, but it reminds us of the continual struggles to protect the values these people died for. To me, the war is not over. It continues today."

Nguyen said there are at least 400 veterans of the South Vietnamese army among the 9,000 refugees residing in Hawaii. To many like Nguyen, the battle continues.

They do not accept communism under any form and will never return while Communists remain in power in Saigon.


It aids immigrants in Hawaii.
Bullet What: Nonprofit social service agency for Vietnamese
Bullet Address: 1365 Nuuanu Ave. No 29
Bullet Incorporated: 1978
Bullet Budget: $6,000
Bullet Purpose: Support Catholic Immigration Center and Kalihi-Palama Immigrant Service Center in resettlement of immigrants from Vietnam.

Hoa Doan Vo, 75, said Memorial Dav evokes sad memories of the 58,000 American soldiers and the members of his own army who died there.

"When I remember those people who died for freedom -- both American and Vietnamese soldiers -- their memory remains heavy on my shoulders, said Vo, who was an ordnance major in South Vietnam's army and who was held as prisoner by the Communists for three years.

Hoa Nguyen, 64, was captured in 1975 and served in a prison near Bien Hoa for more than 10 years before he was released and took refuge in Hawaii in 1991.

Today, Hoa Nguyen, who served in the South Vietnamese army for 11 years, drives a cab in Honolulu, working 14 hours a day to keep up with the island's high cost of living.

"I will never go back," said Hoa Nguyen, 64. "I don't like Communists. When I was in prison the only thing I got to eat was sweet potato. No rice. Just sweet potato.

"Every year when Memorial Day comes, it reminds me that I am a serviceman -- not a former serviceman -- but one who is still in active service," he added. "Even though the Vietnam War ended, it is still going on for me, and it will continue..."

Nhi Dinh Tran, 66, spent 11 years, 11 months and 23 days in two camps near Da Nang.

Tran realizes that there are Americans still missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War whose remains are still buried in the Southeast Asian country.

"Those remains will remain there forever and may never be found by anyone," Tran said. "I would like to send my thanks to every American family who lost a loved one in Vietnam."

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