Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

From Vietnam to West Point: A Young Man Repays a Debt

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

From Vietnam to West Point: A Young Man Repays a Debt

Article excerpt

The recriminations about the Vietnam War and whether we ought to have been there and whether we did all we could to "win" it are lingering.

Probably the most significant question is whether it was worth the loss of 58,000 American lives. Is there consolation for those who died and for those who continue to grieve?

There is. His name is Francis Q. Hoang, and next month he will graduate near the top of his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Hoang's family moved from North to South Vietnam in the 1960s because of religious persecution under the Communists. His father was drafted into the South Vietnamese Army. His mother worked for the American Navy attache in Saigon. On April 27, 1975, three days before Saigon fell, Hoang's family - father, mother, himself and sister Ann - were given one hour to grab their belongings and board an American plane for San Diego.

When they arrived in the States, they were told they could live anywhere they wished. Hoang's father chose Washington state because he had heard fruit trees grow there and he wanted to start a business. A sponsoring American family in Tumwater, south of Olympia, took them in and helped them start their new life.

When Hoang was in the eighth grade, his class traveled to Washington, D.C., where he visited the Vietnam Memorial and the Wall with the names of the American dead. "As I looked at the names stretching on either side of me," he says, "I suddenly felt a deep, deep sense of sadness and grief. That was followed by a sense of debt that I had to repay."

Hoang kept this vow to himself, telling neither his teachers nor his parents, because, he says, he didn't know how he could repay so great a sacrifice. "All I knew was that I had been given something and I had to give it back."

In his senior year in high school, a retired three-star general visited his school and took an interest in him. …

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