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What a GREAT Story!!

Posted By Pinch • [November 21, 2009]

What is that old saying?  The best revenge is living well?  Navy Commander Hung B. Le, who as a 5 year old in 1975 spent 2 days with his family bobbing about in the South China Sea after they fled South Vietnam ahead of communist forces bent on the “peaceful reunification” process.  Picked up by the USS Barbour County (LST 1195), the Le family eventually made their way to Northern Virginia where Le ended up graduating as valedictorian at Gar-Field High School (the school where Pinchette #1 graduated from and the current school of Pinchette #2), went on to the Naval Academy and now, as commanding officer of the aegis destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), pulled into Da Nang harbor in the Peoples Republic of Vietnam this week on a port visit.

 

What a country!!!!

Vietnamese born commander and crew of 300 spread the spirit of cooperation throughout Vietnam

By MSCN Devon Dow, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs

Posted: November 9, 2009

DA NANG, Vietnam – Only three days into office, South Vietnamese President Duong Van Minh delivered an unconditional surrender to the North Vietnamese in the early hours of April 30, 1975. That same morning in the seas off the coast of South Vietnam, a boy who once enjoyed the outdoors with his siblings and his community in the city of Hue, found himself and his family aboard a ship drifting further and further away from his homeland.

Some 34 years later that same boy is sailing back to his homeland, this time as the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, USS Lassen (DDG-82). As Cmdr. Hung B. Le, and his crew sail closer to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for a goodwill mission, Le remembers the day his childhood was changed forever.

“My father was a Commander in the South Vietnamese Navy and was serving as the Deputy Commanding Officer of Nha Be Naval Support Base when we left Vietnam” he said. “My Dad navigated a fishing trawler with 400 passengers out to sea, where we were picked up by USS Barbour County (LST-1195) on May 2, 1975.”

Lee and his immediate family never returned to live in Southeast Asia but says he still feels the cultural ties and pride of his origin. “I do feel an attachment to Vietnam because I was born there as was my entire immediate family,” he said. “I was raised eating Vietnamese and American food and spoke both English and Vietnamese as a child. I am proud of my Vietnamese heritage and proud to be an American.”

Hung

Le and his family settled in the United States in an east coast community. Living within driving distance of his new home’s national capitol, Le’s love for the country came instant.

“I have always loved America,” he said. “Growing up in Northern Virginia, my family often went to Washington, D.C.  and enjoyed weekend picnics on the Mall and visiting the historic monuments and museums. It seemed we were always going to the beach, which was great. I had a fun childhood.”

An avid sports fan and supporter of the Washington Redskins, as an adult Le adopted an idea that hit closer to home than his northern Virginia address was to RFK Stadium. In 1992, Le, like his father, became a naval officer; the younger Le earning his commission after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with merit with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. After serving tours on four ships and 2 shore based commands, Le was given the opportunity to command a ship.

“I work with an outstanding, closely knit crew of nearly 300 Sailors on the Lassen so I am not lonely,” he said. “I enjoy walking around the ship to talk to my Sailors. There is of course the administrative work that goes with running a ship. Planning meetings, training sessions, and other events help ensure that the ship's personnel, equipment, and training are being taken care of.”

Le said his service in the Navy is his way of trying to give back to the great Americans who helped his family begin a new life in the U.S. “My parents are proud that I am the Commanding Officer of a U.S. Navy ship and are excited that as part of my service I have the opportunity to visit the country of my birth, he said.”

As Le and his crew make their way to the country he enjoyed picking fruits from the trees as a child, he sees the significance of the two nations that cultivated him continuing to build a stronger relationship.

“The U.S. and Vietnam have a growing friendship, and our military-to-military engagement with Vietnam continues to advance at a measured pace,” he said. “Last year the hospital ship USNS MERCY was the first U.S. military vessel to visit Nha Trang since 1975, providing humanitarian assistance in cooperation with the Vietnamese Medical Corps.”

Upon his arrival to Da Nang on Nov. 7, Le was greeted by the local media and introduced to local political and military officials. When he was not being interviewed or transported to a scheduled event Le found himself taking countless photos with the local community who were excited to have their picture taken with him. His ship, along with the 7th Fleet Flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC19) engaged with the local community and further strengthened the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam.

On his final day in port Le visited a Vocational Training Center for homeless children in Da Nang. During his visit Le learned about the efforts within the center to help the youth through learning specific skills and focusing on the importance of an education. He also presented Alfonso DeMattieis, a director at the center with a plaque to commemorate the occasion.. Aside from Le’s gift, members of his crew and Blue Ridge presented the center with new sewing machines and rolled up their sleeves alongside community members and gave the center fresh new coats of paint.

Hung parents Le’s visit to his home country was not only a chance for him to rediscover things about his past, but for the bond between two nations to grow that much stronger. Like his father did during the end of the Vietnam War, Le now leads a ship of people in the pursuit of freedom, and peace.

The best revenge? Not spending years of your life in a communist re-education camp and returning from whence you came in a warship entrusted to you by the world’s greatest nation! Yeah, buddy! Well done, CDR Le!

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