Born: Sept. 13, 1941
Harcourt Terrace Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
No matter what side you were on, there were no winners in the Vietnam War. Millions of lives were lost. Billions of dollars were spent. People worldwide were forever impacted. One of them was Trung Huynh.
Mr. Huynh was an officer in the South Vietnam Army, having come from Ninh Hòa, a town of Khánh Hòa Province in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam. While he was away on a mission for the South Vietnam Army, his mother, who operated several businesses, was taken by Viet Cong and executed. The family suspected that one of her employees secretly worked with Viet Cong, a citizen army allied with North Vietnam Communists against South Vietnam and the U.S.
Mrs. Huynh’s execution was one of thousands of acts of terror and atrocities against the South Vietnamese.
“When he came home and learned the news of his mother, my father passed out,” said Mr. Huynh’s son, Ted, who grew up hearing stories about the horrors of the Vietnam War and its impact on the family. “My mother had to tell him his mother was gone.”
The war officially ended in 1975, with the U.S. pulling out of the country under immense pressure from throughout the world. The pullout led to the Fall of Saigon. America’s withdrawal left South Vietnamese like the Huynhs at the mercy of Communists.
A captain in the South Vietnam Military, Mr. Huynh was among thousands of South Vietnam military officers and government workers forced into re-education camps after the war. The camps
were prisons. Inmates spent their days in hard manual labor and their evenings in classes for Marxist and Leninist indoctrination. Conditions were atrocious.
In addition to the hard labor and sometimes torture, the prisoners saw death daily. Many worked in jungles chopping bamboo trees or performing other menial but hard and dangerous labor.
They slept on floors in the space of two hand spans per man. There was little food and no medical treatment. Many tried to escape and died trying. Studies estimate that at least 65,000 people died at the camps between 1975 and 1983, the years Mr. Huynh spent in them.
“There was harsh labor and a lot of beating. They treated him like animals,” said Ted Huynh, speaking for his father who talks very little now. “They moved them around a lot.”
After his release in 1983, Mr. Huynh returned home to his wife, opened a small convenience store and did odd jobs. They raised and sold livestock and made and sold fish sauce, a local delicacy. The years 1983 to 1988 were hard.
“There were times when the whole family of five had to share a couple eggs for the day,” said Ted. “My father came home with anger. A lot of that came from when he was in prison. My mom said he changed completely.”
By 1988, the family with help of friends opened a business making and distributing Pho noodles. While they lived better, they were constantly harassed for being on what many considered the wrong side during the war.
The Huynhs came to the U.S. in 1994 through the Orderly Departure Program under a category for South Vietnamese who had spent three or more years in a re-education center as a result of their close association with the U.S., said Ted, who was 11 when the family left South Vietnam.
Mr. and Mrs. Huynh worked at a Northwestside factory refurbishing compact discs. He spoke some English, she spoke less. Ted said he and his brothers learned English going to school in Indianapolis and became primary spokespersons for the family.
“My dad always said that throughout history, it does not matter which point in time, which dynasty, or which government system, an educated person is always valued,” Ted said.
Thousands of others were not so lucky. Many died trying to escape the country on small boats. Efforts continue today to provide help to those who could not leave.
While officials recognized Post Vietnam Syndrome as a way to describe the symptoms of U.S. soldiers who returned home with psychological problems caused by the war, little was done to help them cope with their nightmares, anxiety, anger, depression, alcohol and drug dependence, and poor responsiveness which could be triggered by stress, loud noises or other startling encounters.
Even less was done to help South Vietnamese veterans cope. Between 1981 and 2000, more than 531,310 Vietnamese political refugees and asylum seekers moved to the United States.
“My dad is a very strong person. After experiencing the sudden death of my grandmother, going through fighting in the war, spending eight years in harsh labor, doing odd jobs in a third world country, then raising a family in a new country with a new beginning, I can say this: Not many can experience half of what my dad experienced.”