In 1957 then-Senator John (Jack) Kennedy published Profiles in Courage, biographies highlighting integrity and bravery which inspired a nation.
Some two years later, a boy named Huan Nguyen was born in Vietnam, a land that had been torn by war for many years. When Huan was still a child, Huan and his entire family were gunned down by Communist guerillas in their home outside Saigon. Huan stayed with his mother for hours until she died from her wounds. Huan himself had been shot in the skull, arm, and thigh. Yet Huan, alone of his family of eight, managed to survive. Following the death of his immediate family, Huan was taken in by his uncle, a Colonel in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force.
In 1975 Huan and his uncle were among the thousands who fled Saigon and were taken in by America. Huan remembers arriving at Camp Asam in Guam, watching as US Navy sailors and Marines toiled in the hot sun setting up tents and a chow hall, caring for Huan and his fellow refugees with respect.
Huan said, “I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a place like America.”
Within months, Huan and his uncle’s family were sponsored by a U.S. Air Force Colonel, an example of the way services take care of their own across lines of nationality. Huan relocated to Midwest City, Oklahoma.
Despite living with Air Force folk and living near Tinker Air Force Base, Huan chose to join the Navy, the service that had toiled in the hot Guam sun to provide shelter and food for the thousands forced to leave their homeland.
Huan went on to earn degrees in Engineering from OSU (EE BS), SMU (EE MS), Purdue (ENG MS), and Carnegie Mellon (IT MS). This past week Huan was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral as part of his selection as Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering at the Naval Sea Systems Command.
Huan Nguyen is the first Vietnamese-born officer to receive flag rank in the United States.
Much of this story belongs solely to Admiral Nguyen, who overcame overwhelming hardships and achieved a level of service few attain. But Admiral Nguyen’s achievement was made possible by the kindness of the Veiluva family, who sponsored Huan and his uncle’s family. Admiral Nguyen’s determination of how to spend his life was inspired by the dignified kindness of sweating sailors at Camp Asam.
Accepting his promotion to flag rank, Admiral Nguyen said, “I am tremendously honored…. The honor actually belongs to the Vietnamese American community, which instilled in us a sense of patriotism, duty, honor, courage and commitment to our adopted country, the United States of America…. America is the beacon of hope for all of us. There is no other place in the world where a person can go for such opportunity.”
Seeing America through Huan Nguyen’s eyes, one can better appreciate why God may have selected the United States of America as the country where the gospel would be restored. America has flaws – no nation is perfect. Yet throughout the past two centuries, America has shone as a beacon of hope, a model of freedom, populated by many who would willingly have taken a shift on the beach at Camp Asam to provide shelter and food to refugees from a land where many of their own had lost their lives.
The America that welcomed Admiral Nguyen is great, yet there is an even better way. As I reported in my 2017 comments , The American Dream – Utah Mormon Style, Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle found gospel-associated practices in America’s state of Utah have created a culture where disadvantaged persons are unusally likely to succeed. While the poor and dispossessed in much of the rest of America will live and die in poverty, the poor and dispossessed of Utah have a documented likelihood of escaping poverty, with nearly 11% rising from poverty to the top 25% of the economic strata, an unprecedented level of upward mobility within the United States. By contrast, Admiral Nguyen’s adoptive state of Oklahoma ranks at (or near) the lowest economic mobility in the nation. 1
There are times when integrity and bravery constitute opposing the establishment, as described in the biographies highlighted by Jack Kennedy. But there are other times, when integrity and bravery consist of helping another individual, despite profound differences. There are times when our chance to be brave with integrity comes because we obediently fulfill our duties as assigned. There are times when the best good we can do is to open our hearts and homes to others, to obey our God by treating others as we are right to want others to treat us – with respect and dignity.
Since I work at NAVSEA HQ, I might someday find myself in an elevator with Admiral Nguyen. If he happened to read this and happens to notice that I’m the one that wrote it, he might wonder aloud why I used his now-recent promotion to talk about a church. I hope I would have the presence to respond, “Sir, your life is such an inspiration. I did not think it wrong to reflect on your life to inspire my readers to become even better in a language that would remind them of the good they can accomplish, often never knowing what their service will have inspired. Go Navy!”
But more likely, we will simply smile at each other with respect, then one of us will hold a door for the other as we both go on to perform our assigned duties in service of those we support.
- Joe Wertz, “Economic Mobility In Oklahoma is Among the Worst in the Nation,” 10 May 2012, at https://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma/2012/05/10/economic-mobility-in-oklahoma-is-among-the-worst-in-the-nation/ on 15 Oct 2019. ↩