MAURICIO "MARTY" RAMIREZ, Ph.D.
United States Army
Dau Nguyen is a leader in the Vietnamese community in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was a young man studying law before joining the Vietnamese Navy; he was sent to the U.S. for military training in 1969 and returned to serve in the operations office at the VN Naval headquarters in Saigon until 1975.
When Saigon fell, Richard Armitage urged Dau to evacuate, which he did that night: escaping to a rescue ship headed for Guam while carrying his wife and two children on his back.
He served as an interpreter/translator and camp leader in Guam until coming to the U.S. mainland. His family settled in Lincoln, where he worked in the banking industry and earned a graduate degree in computer science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dau has returned to Vietnam several times, including to retrieve his brother released from a re-education camp.
Interestingly, no one told us not to get married because I was going to Vietnam.
You have to understand that during that time we only had the CBS news for only a 1/2 hour a day. I recall listening to broadcasts but not connecting the dots in terms of "I really should be concerned". I don't recall hearing too much on the radio. Going to Vietnam was never a point of discussion with Connie or within the family or community. Years later I learned that other Mexican kids from Scottsbluff had gone to Vietnam. I also learned that 65% of the Mexican males in my High School class (1963) were drafted (by a white local draft board), who were going to make sure that the "Mexicans and poor whites were going first". So, when I graduated from college, I as a "Mexican first" and college graduate second. The white college graduates were now going to exercise their "White privilege", (fathers being on the draft board, knowing abut graduate school and having the financial means to attend). I as a Mexican college graduate did not have this privilege. You have to understand that my father and brothers had served in the military (John and Merced in the Air Force, Isabel in the Army reserve and my father in the Mexican Revolution (1910).
The fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975, marked the end of the Vietnam War and the capture of Saigon by North Vietnamese forces. Chaos ensued as the North Vietnamese advanced southward leading to that momentous event 4o years ago. In the days before the fall of Saigon, all American military and civilians were evacuated along with thousands of South Vietnamese in Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation in history.
I had no view on American involvement in Vietnam at that time, probably due to living in middle American where issues and information usually passed us by. Years later I was amazed at the amount of protests against the War by Latinos in Texas and California. I was in disbelief as I thought everyone was wanting to serve. I remember seeing a program on TV about Vietnam. I remember telling Connie to "come and look at this". It was showing soldiers refusing to go out on patrol. This was the mentality of soldiers who came after 1970. Those before 1970 were 2 kinds of Vietnam soldiers, those serving before 1970 and those post 1970. Those before 1970 were not part of the political "anti-war movement", so we proudly went to serve, following orders with hopes of going home alive. those who were post 1970, came with an anti-war mentality - not willing to risk their lives, questioning everything about the military, and were interested in smoking dope and doing drugs. So, by the time we came home and over the years all of us were see as Post 1970's veterans "baby killers, dope heads and bad soldiers. Those of us who were pre-1970 were good soldiers. I have no regrets about going to Vietnam.
An average day would involve waking up at 6 a.m. - some of the soldiers (6-8) would be coming back from overnight guard duty. Meanwhile everyone was preparing to go out on a 6-8 hour patrol. (The theme of the war at that time was "to search and destroy" the enemy. I was a radio man (carrying 70 lbs on my back), walking in jungles, rivers, mud, and hills. As a radio man, I usually was second in line. (In war, the main targets for the enemy are the radio man and the search dog, so my life expectancy was not high. In the evening we would eat our rations, dig our foxholes and be ready for the evening battles (and there were many). So, you can see that there was little time for sleep and rest. We would be out in the field for 100 days straight and then they would let us come to the main base for a 3-5 day rest. Added to this was living with heat, rain monsoons, big insects, rats, snakes, mosquitoes, leeches, and trying to gain the trust of the Vietnamese people.
Initially when I arrived in Vietnam, I had a rank of E-4 and when I left I was a E-5 (Sergeant). Still an infantry fighting soldier. The military is part of a ranking system. The rank of Sergeant basically gave one more responsibility and a little pay raise.
I got to Vietnam during the heaviest fighting time (first Tet Offensive). They were killing 500 soldiers a week. I remember writing home stating that I don't think I would be coming home. I almost got killed 9 times, the first time within the first 2 weeks that I was there. When I first arrived they were allowing soldiers to leave the field when they had 30 days left as one was beginning to wonder if they were going "make it".
Because we were preparing for the 2nd Tet Offensive (January, 1969), there were keeping us out in the field until we had 3 days left.
I had 12 days left when we got attacked with rockets, motor rounds and grenade launchers at night. We were under a bridge with ammunition and I thought that if we got attacked, it truly was "all over". I was asleep (but you never really sleep soundly). I began to hear some rockets in the distance and I immediately jumped up trying to put my boots on and reaching for my rifle as I knew I had to get to the top of the bridge because of the ammunition nearby. I recall being near the top of the bridge when I got hit and found myself falling about 50 feet and yelling for a medic (I remember it being pitch dark). I think I probably got hit by a rocket or motar round. When I went to a re-union of my army unit in Washington about 15 years ago, I ran into the medic who was the one who gave me aid the night I got wounded. It was like Paul Harvey and "the rest of the story", so tell me what happened that night". Also at the re-union, it was shared to me that when a new recruit came to the field, it was told them that "you need to stay close to Marty and Mike Wurdeman as they do not get killed" (this was probably based on the fact that I almost got killed 9 times).
At that time I really did not pay attention to the politics of the war, so I didn't pay any attention to the details of Nixon ending the war. I do remember reacting to the release of the prisoners of war and the red carpet treatment they received when they got off of the plane. This was probably due to how we as Vietnam veterans were treated when we came home (no fanfare or parades, or a thank you).
I truly believe that 3 things got me back from Vietnam. 1-A profound belief in God, 2-The fact that I was 22 years of age, and 3-being a survivor and growing up in the barrio. When I came back from Vietnam, I had a choice as to where I wanted to go to finish out my last 6 months. Aunt Susie and Louis were stationed at Ft. Andrews in New york. I thought that it would be an adventure to go the east coast. But, I chose Ft. Carson, Colorado to be closer to home.
I would go visit Catherine and Jane on weekends in Denver. Connie was living in Gering and I believe was in Wolbach during the summer. The plan for us was to move to Omaha and attend Graduate School. Ft. Carson was a travesty as many returing Vietnam veterans were getting into serious trouble. We were now members of a unit that included regular Army soldiers and National Guard soldiers. We became very angry that e "had to play war games". Because, it was the sixties, there were many violent race incidents on the Army base. As a result, many Vietnam soldiers were now being court-martialed and given a dis-honorable discharge. I remember almost getting written up 2 weeks before I was discharged. I always wanted to go back to Scottsbluff and help the Mexican community. In 1973, I got the chance and took Nina and Richelle as a had a job as a counselor working for the SER program (a federal program aimed at helping the Mexican community). Connie was to join us later as she was teaching in Omaha. One day, I was outside of Grandma's house and took note that nothing had changed in the barrio. I said to myself, "you mean that you send us (Mexicans) to go fight for freedom and democracy and this is how you treat us. I became very angry and began to put my efforts in the Chicano movement. It took a few of us (Chicano activists) to go to a City Council meeting and start demanding some justice. As a result, we got paving for our streets, street lights were installed and "cable TV". This was my beginning as a Chicano activist in the Chicano movement. I have been blessed to not have suffered the affects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD like other soldiers.
If I had to do it over, I still would go.
Commemoration of fall of Saigon aims to honor veterans, Vietnamese community
By MARGARET REIST / Lincoln Journal Star Apr 30, 2015
On April 29, 1975, U.S. Defense Attache Richard Armitage pulled his friend Dau Nguyen aside to confirm what was becoming undeniable as chaos descended on Saigon: It was over.
“It’s done,” the American told the South Vietnamese Navy Lieutenant who’d received officer training in the United States and had been fighting his country’s civil war for more than five years. Get your family, the American said. Be prepared to leave.
Nguyen climbed on a motorcycle and maneuvered around the convoys blocking the roads, finally reaching his home. His wife and two young children climbed on -- and they left.
Hours later, in the darkness of April 30, Nguyen and his family boarded a ship, part of a fleet of Vietnamese ships Nguyen’s boss -- Capt. Kiem Do -- had hastily organized to take as many Southern Vietnamese citizens out of Saigon as possible.
As the fleet moved along the river toward the ocean, Nguyen’s ship ran aground.
Designed to hold 200, Nguyen and his family were among nearly 2,000 people crammed onto one ship, many of them military personnel and their families who faced grave danger at the hands of the Viet Cong.
“I thought ‘that’s it,’” said Nguyen, recalling the panic he felt seeing the other ships continue on, how as a Naval officer it should have occurred to him that they might be waiting for the tide to rise, but it didn’t.
But a ship returned, and crew members threw ropes to the stranded vessel and people began walking a tightrope to safety. Nguyen put his wife, whose foot was injured, and his children on his back and ventured onto the rope.
“At that time you do everything like you are in a dream,” he said. “You don’t know what you do.”
You just do it, until hands reach out from the other side, pulling you and your family to safety.
Earlier this spring, for the first time in 40 years, Nguyen and Do met again, shaking hands at one of the many Vietnamese restaurants that dot the landscape along North 27th Street in Lincoln today.
They hadn't seen each other since those ships made it safely to the Philippines, then Guam.
Do, who was separated from his family in Guam, eventually found them and settled in New Orleans.
Nguyen and his family, unlike many refugees who went to the warmer coastal cities, chose to settle in Nebraska, where Nguyen liked the prospects of finding a job, liked its central location.
He came to Milford and met a banker who helped him get settled, got him a job, taught him to drive, and eventually moved to Lincoln where the Vietnamese community today numbers about 5,000.
Nate Blum brought the men together this year. As an aide to Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Blum had contact with many in Lincoln’s Vietnamese community, as well as with veterans.
And when he realized this was the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon -- and the end of a war in which more than 58,000 American servicemen died -- he wanted to do something to honor both veterans and the contributions of the large Vietnamese community in Lincoln. He wanted to foster relationships. He undertook the project on his own time, not as a part of his job, and enlisted community partners.
“The simplest answer is that it’s the right thing to do,” Blum said. “We can bring those two groups together. It hasn’t happened in Nebraska and only a couple of times across the country through the years.”
It wasn't without detractors. For some veterans, the event triggered long-held anger at their homecoming, which was met with resentment, not appreciation of their sacrifices and service.