Aurora, Colorado, USA
Vietnam. I remember as a child watching the evening news--each day's body count, images of American soldiers in the field. My parents never commented on any of it. My father had been a combat infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II, and somehow in my young mind, I equated him and his war with the pictures I saw on the TV. But it was a different war; indeed the U.S. was a different nation than it had been when my father's generation went to war. I didn't understand this until much later.
My one and only, older brother graduated from high school in 1968. He had a draft deferment in order to go to college. After one semester, he was placed on academic probation, and was forced to withdraw from school; this effectively ended his draft deferment. My parents, fearing the worst, forced him to enlist in the Navy, thinking that this might spare him from seeing combat in Vietnam--I guess they figured he wouldn't end up in the "Brown Water Navy", patroling the Mekong Delta. As things went, my brother made it through boot camp at Great Lakes, but basically washed out while in training for his rate. The Navy wanted to make him a boilerman because of his color-blindness, but my brother had other ideas. Needless to say, he narrowly missed his chance to see Vietnam and...
Years passed, and I had an intense interest in the Vietnam War. Read any book on the subject I could find, saw all the movies that came out, and so on. In 1987, after my own stint in America's peacetime Army, I met and fell in love with the woman who would be my wife--Lien Chi thi Nguyen. Chi was attending a junior college in Northern California when we first met. As we got to know each other, I learned her story. She was born in December 1967, in Phuoc Tuy Province, Republic of Vietnam. Her father was a high-ranking South Vietnamese army officer. Her mother was a dutiful wife, who quietly, patiently and stoicly raised three daughters, while waiting for her soldier husband to return from war. In 1975, with the fall of Saigon, Chi's father fled Vietnam; because of the chaotic situation, he was unable to bring Chi, her mother and her two sisters along with him. Chi and her sisters were not reunited with their father until 1984, when he was able to sponsor them to immigrate to the U.S. During the years after 1975, Chi recounts that often Communist soldiers would forcibly enter her mother's home at all hours, and roust the family at gun-point, still searching for her father.
We were married in 1988, and had three beautiful children together--Patrick Francis Minh, Aaron Joseph Thanh, and Talia My Linh. My daughter's name--My Linh--means beautiful spirit in Vietnamese. These children are the living embodiment of America's involvement in Vietnam; they are the proof that even bad things can have positive results. Bi-racial, bi-cultural--and in my daughter's case, bi-lingual--they are one hundred percent American. They are the legacy of the immigrant American's story--as are we all. The marriage between their mother and me turned out to mirror the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, and ultimately ended in a painful divorce, but within these children, and others like them, lies the promise of a better and brighter future--for America, for Vietnam, and indeed for the world.