Apology is 35 years too late: Vietnamese vet

The Government’s apology to Vietnam War veterans has not impressed a Vietnamese survivor of the war, 63-year-old Viet Hung Nguyen.

Mr Nguyen, a captain in the former South Vietnam air force who later spent seven years in a jungle concentration camp, said the apology to veterans was too late.

“You should have honoured them when they came back, but until now 35 years later they did it too late,” he said.

“When you are a soldier, you will feel how ashamed you are when you come home without any greeting. They sacrificed their lives for the country, not for themselves, but didn’t get any recompense. That’s why they feel shame, not only for themselves but for the whole country.”

Mr Nguyen, who now lives in Henderson, served in the air force from 1965 until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

“It was like the end of the world because we were betrayed by the Americans. We were fighting on alone without any support,” he said.

He was placed in a “re-education” camp where the prisoners had to eat dry cassava infested with rat manure.

“We had to do hard labour. We went into the jungle and chopped bamboo and carried it to the depot,” he said.

His wife and two children, a daughter then aged 5 and baby son aged 7 months, were told to move out of Saigon to a “new economic region”. But they managed to stay in the city and his wife worked to feed the family.

“We had no contact until two years later I was able to write a letter, but you have to write the letter in a form they want you to write,” Mr Nguyen said.

A year after that, his family was allowed to visit him for 15 minutes.

The family was finally reunited when Mr Nguyen was released in 1982. He found work as an electrician and he and his wife had a third child two years later, a decade after the birth of their son.

His parents had fled to New Zealand in 1975, and through them Mr Nguyen and his family obtained permanent residence here in 1982. But it took them until 1988 to get an exit permit from Vietnam.

Although many Vietnamese refugees who came here have moved on to Australia, Mr Nguyen and his wife and their three children, now aged 38, 34 and 24, are among the 4875 Vietnamese-born people still living here.

Mr Nguyen worked in two timber factories until he had to stop work after a stroke.

He rejected a call by Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia for the Government to apologise to the Vietnamese people as well as Kiwi veterans.

“The Kiwis didn’t make any war for the Vietnamese people,” he said.

“Nobody in the south wanted the war. They fought the war because they wanted to protect themselves when the north invaded the south.”

PHIBBSVIETNAMESE-BORN KIWIS19913132

*1991…………..3462

*2001…………..3945

*2006…………..4875

Source: Censuses.

Published: 2008 May, 29. | Time-stamp: 5:00 AM Thursday | By: Simon Collins | Article Link: nzherald.co.nz | Article Title:

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