Jackie Spencer Nguyễn
Profilers: Olivia Fisher, Bryce Alexander, Aldo Zepeda
“I was born in [blank] Vietnam. So I was born in ‘60 when the war was going on. My father was a french citizen, he’s half Vietnamese and half French and he was a doctor. So I remember I was about three, three and a half years old when my father got murdered by the communists. So my mom after my father got captured, the communists also captured my uncle which is my mothers youngest brother, and he was also murdered. I was staying, me and my two older brothers were living with my grandmother at the time. My mom had to run away because they was going after her. I believe that my father was murdered because he was accused of being a spy for the south vietnamese army, but he was a doctor. I was told later on that because he was a doctor and because there was a huge malaria pandemic going on in Vietnam at that time in the middle of the war, he decided that he want to move village so he could help with the malaria pandemic. Well, unfortunately while he was there he had to go to Saigon to resupply his medications and stuff so then I guess the villager people out there, they are basically farmers during the day, but communist during the night. So they watched him and my uncle taking frequent trips to Saigon and so they accused them of being spies, so they captured him, I was told he was taken to the river and chopped his head off and just threw his body in the river along with my uncle. At three and a half or four years old it doesn’t affect me at the time, I didn’t feel, I wasn’t sad, I just said maybe daddy was gone on a business trip and mom had gone to work somewhere. I was pretty much content until a year or so later, I was about four or five. I mean the war was going on and I know there was, you know, our village got attacked a few times. At that age I have no idea what’s going on, I just knew people were shooting at each other and a lot of times when that happened we had to evacuate under the bunker underground, and we stayed down there I remember for days. We were barely able to snuck up on top to get food or go to the bathroom and sometimes we couldn’t go to the top because there was heavy bombing and you know bullets just flying.
So my first experience with the soldier, with an American soldier was, I guess one day I was doing my business you know as a four, five years old was doing and I saw a whole bunch of guys just coming through our village and they decided to come and just camp just right at our house. It was hundreds of them and they all were giant. I mean to Vietnamese the American soldiers were big and huge and they were all wearing green, so I called them “the green giants.” They were coming to the village and they decided to campout right in front of our house and I got so scared. I didn’t know why these people were there, if they were there to hurt us, what they were going to do to us. I noticed an American soldier was, a couple of the guys I guess now that I know, they probably, the team commander of that unit would come and he would signal me to come closer and he started giving me you know candies and chocolates, stuff out of the sea ration box. So I realized you know hey this guy was friendly and perhaps they were here to help us and not hurt us. They were there for two or three days, so on the last day of their camping out in our yard I decided I would take them and point out some of the booby traps that the villagers had set. One of them was the bungie trap I guess, that’s the one where they dig a big hole and they put spear under there so that when you fall in there you get speared to death I guess. So I pointed some of those boobie traps out to the American soldier. A day later my grandmother took me and shipped me to another village because she was afraid the villagers found out that I was the one that showed the American soldiers where the boobie traps were. So I was moved to another village called [blank] and that pretty close to the Mekong river at the time and the war is still going on. You know I often see dead bodies on the side of the road, bomb explosions, but it didn’t really affect me at the time. Until 1968. That was, that was when I had reunited with my mom in Saigon. And by this time my mom had remarried already to an American soldier by the way, and so during Tet Defense ‘68 I was in Saigon and the attack was at [blank] which was, I would say a half a mile from our house, not even that far. And it was right in the middle of new years celebration the firecrackers were going on but in actuality what we were listening to was the bullets: gunfire. The bomb explosions hadn’t come in yet, it was just a bunch of firing going on and I remember that all of a sudden we hear the intercom on the street that everybody need to get into the house and 24 hour curfew was effective immediately, ‘Stay in your house, stay in your house.’ And so we all ran into the house so we just stay in the house we couldn’t get out and there was soldiers all over the street and then we were told that the communists had invaded, had came into Saigon and we were under attack. So we were stuck in our house for I would say two days at least and then finally they lift the curfew and we were able to come out. That was the first time that I felt pain… because I saw so much, so many dead bodies in the road, I mean the bodies were dismantled, I see guts laying around and the smell of blood, it always in my head, that never went away. Then I realized how bad it was and how cruel, how can people do this to each other I mean how can you take another human life; for what, power? Money? Material? What is it that we had to go this far to destroy each other. So and then by this time I already understand what happened to my father, you know as I get older I start understanding and my family was telling me story about how my father got murdered, and I made a vow at that time that someday if I got to go to America I would join the army and I would take a whole bunch of soldiers, I would go back to Vietnam to avenge my fathers death.
We got adopted and then we came to America in 1973, right before Saigon fell in 1975. When we got to the United States we moved to this little town called Frenchburg, Kentucky that’s where my father, my stepfather was from and we bought a ranch there so we all became farmers. And, I guess the Vietnam war was still going on with the conflict going on. The people in town were not as friendly to us and we dealt with conflict at school where the kids would pick on us and bully us in school. In the lunchroom they would throw food at us and tell us to go back where you from, ‘It’s because of you that my father never made it home or my brother never made it home.’ A lot of times we were so scared to even go to lunch, we just packed our sandwiches and then at lunch we would go, with my brother and sister, we would go out to the front of the school to eat our lunch there so we wouldn’t be bothered. Eventually the teacher found out what happened so I remember they called all the students to the gym one day and they would tell them to explain to them that it is not our fault what’s going on in Vietnam. They asked the students to stop and accept us and move on, and I didn’t understand it then and I understand now is that they hated us. They blamed us for the death of their family, their brother, their sister, their father. So, remind you my vow of becoming a soldier was still alive in my heart. So we went to high school there and l eventually graduated high school and went to college at Morehead State University. There I signed up for the ROTC program. So growing up in Vietnam, dealing with the war in Vietnam, now I’m actually in America wearing the green uniform just like the uniform I saw many years ago as a child. I felt a sense of honor, I felt a sense of, basically I just, now I was hoping and wanting to be a part of something to show America I was willing to spill my blood for your country. I wanted the opportunity to payback to those soldiers those American soldiers that had died in Vietnam to protect us, to protect the children like myself, and because of them I had the opportunity to come to America and to me it’s an honor to put on that uniform and be out there in a combat zone and do the same things feel the same feelings as the American soldiers out there in Vietnam. Again, I reflect back from my childhood memory to the day that I stand there and look at, witness I have a better understanding of human greed for power. So yes I’ve been back, so my first time going back to Vietnam was in 1992 it’s like a month before I resign my commission in ‘92 I went home and again 20 years later in 2012 I went home again, from there I’ve been going home every year and a half or two years. So there was a quote that I read many, many years ago that stuck with me and it goes, “If the power of love is stronger than the love of power maybe the world will experience peace.” And that is something that I pray for and I wish for that none of us or our children down the road will have to experience that.”