The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 29, 2013

After 40 years, Vietnam memories still strong

(Continued)

But Lam wouldn't leave for nearly two more years after the last U.S. combat troops, driven to stay by his love of his country and his belief that Vietnam and its economy would recover.

When Lam did leave, on April 21, 1975, it was aboard a packed C-130 that departed just as Saigon was about to fall. He had already worked for 24 hours at the airport to get others out after seeing his wife and two young children off to safety in the Philippines.

"My associate told me, 'You'd better go. It's critical. You don't want to end up as a Communist prisoner.' He pushed me on the flight out. I got tears in my eyes once the flight took off and I looked down from the plane for the last time," Lam recalled. "No one talked to each other about how critical it was, but we all knew it."

Now, Lam lives in Southern California's Little Saigon, the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam.

In 1992, Lam made history by becoming the first Vietnamese-American to elected to public office in the U.S. and he went on to serve on the Westminster City Council for 10 years.

Looking back over four decades, Lam says he doesn't regret being forced out of his country and forging a new, American, life.

"I went from being an industrialist to pumping gas at a service station," said Lam, who now works as a consultant and owns a Lee's Sandwich franchise, a well-known Vietnamese chain.

"But thank God I am safe and sound and settled here with my six children and 15 grandchildren," he said. "I'm a happy man."

ANNIVERSARY NIGHTMARES

Wayne Reynolds' nightmares got worse this week with the approach of the anniversary of the U.S. troop withdrawal.

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