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My Father is My Hero

By Simon Nguyen
My father was a military police captain working for South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. When the capital of the South (Saigon) fell to the communists on April 30, 1975, my father faced the biggest decision of his life to that point. He could either board a helicopter which would ferry him to a humanitarian camp on a U.S. carrier or stay behind and face persecution. He ultimately chose the latter because he wanted to be there for his family in those tumultuous times. A few weeks later, he surrendered to the new regime and was sentenced to six years in a re-education camp -- a fancy name for a hard labor camp. My mother was left taking care of seven children by herself. Moreover, she had to travel to various remote locations to visit my father. The communists liked to constantly transfer people from one camp to another without notice to isolate them from the outside world. 

Despite the hardships, my mother was still happy knowing that she will reunite with her husband some time in the future. If my father had decided differently, my parents could have lost contact and would have likely lived separate lives. Many of my father's peers who left for the carrier have remarried and some are no longer in contact with their original families. My father's time was an era of snail mail and expensive long-distance calls; a separation went the extra one hundred miles.

I was not around when my father made that decision, but I could imagine how he would feel under such a circumstance. The six years he spent in prison were hellish. He was abused mentally and physically. If he was not a righteous man, he could have avoided some of the abuse. But he was a righteous man who stayed true to himself through those difficult years. 

My father reunited with my mother after spending six years in the re-education camp. Our family lived a simple and ordinary life, until we were granted entry into the United States as political refugees. This was important because our future in the country had been bleak. Children of people associated with the previous government were routinely maltreated; they were blacklisted from high-paying jobs and advancement opportunities. 

We have enjoyed success and have tasted failures in our new homeland, but we will always be grateful to the United States for the opportunity to live as free people. It all started by a decision my father made many years ago. 

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