Yesterday, May 3, 2013, I had a distinct pleasure of experiencing two revelations in one place. We were at the Community Hospital in South Oklahoma City where I was to have the surgery on my right eye to alleviate the cataracts that I have. When I was summoned to the area for preparation for the surgery, I went in with great trepidation as I am very concerned about my eyesight.
I guess with so much beauty in the world to view, all of which has been created by God, I want to always be able to “see” God in the glory of His creations. At any rate, I laid there on the gurney/bed and fought back concerns, not always successfully, for my vision.
They wheeled in the man in the preparation area to my right for his surgery. While I couldn’t keep track of time, it seemed like only about 20 minutes and they were bringing him back to the same area for him to “recover” and wait for his daughter to pick him up.
That was when I heard the conversation between him and the nurse attending us. The nurse had called his daughter, but she wasn’t back to the hospital yet, so the nurse engaged him in more conversation. This remarkable man is Vietnamese and he told her his story.
His name is Hoahn Nguyen. (The last name is pronounced like “when.”)
It seems that Mr. Nguyen was a translator for the American troops during the Vietnam War. In that capacity, like the interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan, his life was at risk should the Communists ever discover him and his family. As with these types of situations, the bad guys have no qualms about killing the interpreters or their families. So, I suspect that he had concerns for every day of his life at that time.
Following the “peace” in Vietnam and the return of the American military, Mr. Nguyen was left to be in a country where he would still be at risk of being betrayed by almost anyone. Communists are very good about intimidating people to betray their neighbors, and even their own family members.
While I don’t have all the details of his life in Vietnam during and after the War, he was to become one of the “boat people” that fled from Vietnam, again risking death if they were caught, Mr. Nguyen described how their boat, with an unknown number of occupants, was only about 35′ long. That is not a very large boat for being on the “high seas,” but they were doing all that they could do to escape the tyranny of Vietnam after the North had violated the peace treaty and again invaded the South.
At the end of his journey’s he ended up in America, where he has lived his life and become an American citizen. While I don’t remember the unit designation on his baseball cap, I suspect that he received it from those that were in that unit as a token of appreciation for his service as an interpreter.
I felt bad after he was wheeled from the surgery area because I hadn’t said anything to him. Under normal circumstances, I offer my hand and my thanks to those serving in the military or to those that I can recognize as a veteran, usually by a baseball cap or some other indicator on an article of clothing.
Then, I remembered that he, like myself was going to have to go to the surgeon’s office today so he could check his handiwork after roughly 24 hours. When I thought of that, I began to have high hopes that I might be able to see him yet and offer my thanks. Sure enough, when I arrived at the surgeon’s office and checked in, Mr. Nguyen was sitting on a bench at the end of a row of chairs.
After checking in, I walked over to him and said something to the effect that he wouldn’t know me, but I introduced myself to him. He stood up and he was almost a foot smaller and likely at least 80 pounds lighter, and he offered me his hand. I then asked to verify if he had been an interpreter for the American military during the Vietnam War. He said that he had, so I asked also if he had been one of the “boat people.” Again, he said yes.
So, right there we stood, both of us wearing our extremely dark protective glasses, thus unable to look into each other’s eyes, and we shook hands. I thanked him for his service to our military during that war and for his service to America itself.
When he came back out after his check-up, he walked over to me and we shook hands again. We shared that moment and he said, “We all just have to be tough.”
Well, considering his life’s experiences up against my own, Mr. Hoang Nguyen is a lot tougher man than I am.
God bless you, Mr. Nguyen. Thank you for “being an American” even though you were a Vietnamese citizen, and thanks for becoming an American in fact.