Unique homecoming to Vietnam for US commander
By MSCN Devon Dow, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs
Posted: November 9, 2009
DANANG, Vietnam â€” On the day his side lost the Vietnam War, Hung Ba Le fled his homeland at the age of 5 in a fishing trawler crammed with 400 refugees. Thirty-four years later, he made an unlikely homecoming â€” as the commander of a U.S. Navy destroyer.
Le piloted the USS Lassen on Saturday into Danang, home of China Beach, where U.S. troops frequently headed for R&R during the war, which ended on April 30, 1975, when the southern city of Saigon was taken by communist troops from North Vietnam.
That was the day Le and his family embarked on an uncertain journey in a fishing boat piloted by Le’s father, who was a commander in the South Vietnamese navy. They were rescued at sea by the USS Barbour County, taken to a U.S. base in the Philippines, a refugee camp in California and finally to northern Virginia, where they rebuilt their lives.
Le returned on the Lassen, an $800 million, 509-foot destroyer equipped with Tomahawk missiles and a crew of 300. The ship and the USS Blue Ridge, the command vessel for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, are making the latest in a series of goodwill visits to Vietnam, which began in 2003 when the USS Vandergriff paid a port call to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.
“I thought that one day I would return but I really didn’t expect to be returning as the commander of a Navy warship,” Le said after stepping ashore Saturday. “It’s an incredible personal honor.”
“I’m proud to be an American, but I’m also very proud of my Vietnamese heritage,” said Le, who spoke a few halting words in Vietnamese.
…Le said his service in the Navy is his way of trying to give back to the great Americans who helped his family begin a new life in the U.S. â€śMy parents are proud that I am the Commanding Officer of a U.S. Navy ship and are excited that as part of my service I have the opportunity to visit the country of my birth, he said.â€ť…
BZ to CDR Le and his Parents!