... Its the circle of life
All it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life.
Theme from "The Lion King"
As the news spread about the nomination of Navy Captain Huấn Từ Nguyễn to be rear admiral, some astute studiers of the Vietnam War could not help but notice the captain's history.
At 14, Nguyen arrived in Guam as refugee right after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Seven years before, he was badly injured during the attack by the communist rebels during the surprise Tet Offensive. Some of the rebels pretended to be civilians and infiltrated key areas in Saigon. Nguyen's family was captured at their home in the early morning of the fight. The rebels targeted his family because his dad, Lt. Colonel Tuan Nguyen, was the head of an armored division protecting the city. His parents along with his 6 siblings and his 80 years old grandma were executed. He was the only one in his family survived the brutality.
A few days later, the communist rebel leader responsible for the killings, Lem Nguyen, was captured. Hearing the cowardly and heartless massacre committed by Lem Nguyen, then Brigadier General Loan Nguyen, pulled out his revolver and summary executed Lem Nguyen at point blank. The image was captured by Eddie Adams and seared into the American public opinion. The story of why Lem Nguyen met his death was never mentioned and the American press quickly condemned the action of Brigadier General Loan Nguyen as barbaric. The photo became an icon of the brutality of an unwinnable war and helped galvanized the anti-war movement.
Eddie Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for the photo. However, Adams believed he had destroyed Loan’s life. He wrote years later, “Two people died in that photograph, the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera.” When Loan Nguyen died, Adams praised him as hero of a just cause.
Came to America as an orphan, Huan Tu Nguyen, determined to make the best of his life and followed his dad's military career. And soon, barring any unexpected circumstances, he will become the first Vietnamese-American to be a rear admiral. He will join 3 other Vietnamese-Americans to hold the general rank in the US armed forces.
The Vietnam War produced many tragedies, brought down administrations and a country, destroyed lives while created refugees and endless misery. Yet, in the circle of life, the triumph of the human spirits, of good over evil, of hope over despair, is indomitable.