How to Win a War (Make it Personal)
The Battle of Điện Biên Phủ started on March 13, 1954. Both sides in the fight wanted to emerge as the victor to establish a favorable position in the planned negotiations about “the Indochinese problem”. After fighting for fifty-five days, the besieged French garrison in French Indochina (Vietnam) was overrun, and all French positions were captured by the communist Việt Minh.
Although the resulting negotiations technically set up national elections across all of Vietnam, the country was effectively divided into two separate states, a communist controlled North Vietnam, supported by China and the U.S.S.R.; and a democratic South Vietnam, supported by the United States. Seven-year-old Nguyen Dinh Nguyen fled from his home in Hanoi, along with his parents and siblings, to the relative freedom of Saigon.
A dozen years later, America became fully engaged in the War in Vietnam, and coincidentally, N. D. Nguyen joined the South Vietnamese military. He was sent to the United States to be trained as a pilot.
How he did it, I can’t say, but in April of 1975, with a murderous band of communist soldiers from the north closing in—and with the last contingent of American Marines valiantly defending and evacuating the U.S. Embassy and other installations—N. D. Nguyen evacuated his parents and siblings from Saigon to Guam.
Upon arriving in Guam, Nguyen’s mother asked, “Son, we ran from Hanoi to Saigon; now we run from Saigon to Guam; Tell me, where do we run to next?
One can only imagine how she must have felt. But, it’s worked out OK. Nguyen’s parents are still alive—they are now ninety-four and eighty-nine years old—and they reside quite happily and peacefully in southern California. N. D. Nguyen himself is a retired U.S. Navy Commander. And, he recently retired a second time, ending a long career at Spawar Systems, Inc. in San Diego. His business card reads, “N.D. Nguyen, Scientist”.
Commander Nguyen graciously told Linda and me his story while we were visiting the flight deck of the U.S.S. Midway, an aircraft carrier much like those that Commander Nguyen had flown from during his military career. (My thanks to Derek Kenney and Columbia Management for inviting us aboard.) mh