Standing Up After Saigon by Thuhang Tran with Sharon Orlopp

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In practice, communism betrays itself when, under the guise of “reeducation of the masses,” party leaders treat their own citizens as slaves. The communist theory of equality among people vanishes amid the chaos of culling the “un-trainables,” a situation that prevailed devastatingly when communists took control of Russia, China, Cambodia—and Vietnam.

In Standing Up After Saigon: The Triumphant Story of Hope, Determination, and Reinvention  (Brown Books, 190 pp.; $17.21 Hard), Thuhang Tran, with the help of Sharon Orlopp, describes what happened in Vietnam after the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong communists took control of the nation in 1975.

A dual memoir, the book studies the resilience of one family fractured by the ending of the Vietnam War. The family’s youngest child, Thuhang, and her father, Chinh, take turns in narrating life in Vietnam under communist rule for the family members who could not leave in 1975. They also describe Chinh’s determination to make a new life in America for his family. Their recollections are inspirational.

A polio victim reduced to crawling and squatting, Thuhang—along with her mother, brother, and sister—survived fifteen years of fragile existence in Vietnam until they were reunited with her father, a South Vietnamese Air Force air traffic controller who fled as the North Vietnamese Army entered Saigon. Chinh ended up in the United States. For five years, the family believed he had been killed in a helicopter crash. Eventually, he found them. It took ten more years for him to fulfill the requirements of America’s Orderly Departure Program and get his family out of Vietnam.

Although Thuhang is the principal subject of the book, the actions of Chinh and his wife Lieu read like a manual for protecting children. Lieu guided the children through war, forced farm labor, homelessness, famine, and stark poverty. She used bribes and other ruses to keep her son out of the army, including during the 1979-89 war with Cambodia. From America, Chinh provided a flow of money and other help.

Initially, Thuhang’s life in the United States consisted mainly of surgery and lengthy physical rehabilitation that enabled her to stand and walk. She then attained American citizenship and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has spent many years as a software engineer in Texas and Arkansas.

Thuhang also has organized and worked with groups that aid needy Vietnamese children. Chinh has helped Vietnamese refugees ease the transition after moving from an Eastern to a Western culture.

Thuhang’s brother and sister started businesses and raised families in America. They also they have endured their share of hardship.

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Thuhang Tran as a child in Vietnam

Standing Up After Saigon provides a great amount of information about the assimilation of Vietnamese into America. It also addresses the plight of refugees and the increasingly controversial acceptance of immigrants into the United States.

Co-author Sharon Orlopp is an editor and author who retired as Walmart’s Global Chief Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President of Human Resources. Part of her job was teaching the world about different cultures.

The authors’ website is standingupaftersaigon.com

—Henry Zeybel

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Black Officer, White Navy by Reuben Keith Green

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Reuben Keith Green’s memoir, Black Officer, White Navy: Thriving While Black and Sailing Second Class in the Post-Zumwalt Navy (CreateSpace, 351 pp. $19.45, paper; $4.99, Kindle), recreates the author’s sixty years of life to validate an unspoken resignation that black skin overwhelms all other characteristics of a person. The fact prevails across America, but is particularly true in the United States Navy despite efforts by leaders such as former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt to halt discrimination, Green argues.

At least, that’s the way I interpret his story.

“People always notice skin color and make judgments and decisions based on it. They may not be conscious of it, but it happens,” Green says. I agree.

The theme of Green’s book challenges the elitist mindset of white Navy personnel of all grades. He notes that the Navy has been historically slow to recruit and promote blacks and other minorities. Fundamentally, Green provides a history lesson on discrimination based on his own life.

His role models were his father, who also served in the Navy, and Zumwalt. Their beliefs led Green to accept complex duties for which he had only basic schooling and limited experience. He worked hard and learned by doing. He understood the rules of the Navy and of life in general, and expected others to act accordingly. At the same time, he was patient with prejudiced thinkers—up to a point.

Born in 1957, Green dropped out of high school, enlisted in the Navy in February of 1975,  and served twenty-two years in the post-Vietnam War era, working his way up to lieutenant commander. As an officer, he served three back-to-back tours at sea aboard the frigate USS Vogue, the guided missile frigate USS Boone, and the hydrofoil USS Gemini.

The only black officer aboard those ships, Green experienced discrimination, prejudice, and racial taunts from fellow officers, chiefs, and petty officers. Some of them attempted to make him look bad by not cooperating on jobs for which he was responsible. Their actions turned simple tasks into major problems. Primarily, he fought back administratively with irrefutable “wheel” book documentation against those above and below him in rank.

Initially in the book, a sense of humor peppers Green’s rhetoric. For example, after explaining the effects of a crushing workload, he says, “You may cry here, but briefly.” As his rank increased and his encounters with discrimination grew, Green occasionally reached the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” level of fighting back. In those cases, he resorted to any means available to foment change.

Green puts his personal brand on discrimination and related problems with creative acronyms: Post Traumatic Sea Service Discrimination Disorder (PTSSD, pronounced “pissed”) and Women Hysterical About Men’s Manners (WHAMM, pronounced “wham”).

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Reuben Keith Green

I enjoyed Black Officer, White Navy because Reuben Keith Green shows the good and the bad in himself and in those around him. His evaluations appear fair. He recalls villains who made his life miserable, and he names heroes who helped to advance him and his causes. His perception of life in the Navy made me nod in agreement, shake my head in wonder, and occasionally laugh out loud.

Many readers might not like this book because Green is nearly always the offended party, and they might categorize him as oversensitive or self-indulgent.

I retired from the Air Force the same year that Green enlisted in the Navy. At that time, race relations and affirmative action classes were in their infancy. I recall that many sergeants—even in the ultra-liberal Air Force—opposed that teaching based on racial bias.

Green taught similar classes in the Navy prior to his commissioning. He applied the principles of those programs as he attained greater rank, which is what one expects from a true leader.

Green believes that conditions have not adequately improved since way back when.

I’ll take his word for it.

—Henry Zeybel

 

The Unquiet Daughter by Danielle Flood

 

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Danielle Flood wrote The Unquiet Daughter: A Memoir of Betrayal and Love (Piscataqua Press, 377 pp. $17.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle), she says, to determine if her parents were models for the ill-fated love triangle depicted by Graham Greene in his famed 1955 novel, The Quiet American.

Danielle Flood was born in Saigon in 1951. Her beautiful mother was one-quarter Vietnamese and romantically involved with two diplomatic officials: the American Jim Flood and the Englishman Mike Wilton. Her mother married Flood but, for thirty years, she identified Danielle’s father according to her mood of the moment.

Most of the book takes place in the United States and centers on Danielle Flood’s conflict with her divorced parents. Turned into a servant by a selfish mother and abandoned by an aloof father, the author made her own way in the world starting at age fifteen.

She suffered innumerable hardships beyond the slights by her parents. Nevertheless, Flood earned a master’s degree in journalism, enjoyed a career as a newspaper reporter, and found a happy marriage. Eventually she learned who her father was and they united.

Years after the deaths of her mother, Wilton, and Flood, a letter from a relative and Danielle Flood’s journalistic investigative talent brought her a clearer perspective of the 1950s Saigon love triangle.

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Danielle Flood

She wraps these findings in an epilogue that could stand alone as a short book. In it, Flood looks back at how her French and Vietnamese ancestors fared under Japanese occupation and how the Vietnamese resisted when the French retook control of its Indochinese colonies after World War II.

Within this framework, she recreates the lives of her mother, as well as those of Wilton and Jim Flood prior to her birth. In doing so, Danielle Flood portrays a manner of life that resembles how Graham Greene depicted Vietnam of the mid-1950s in The Quiet American.

Twenty-six pages of photographs with detailed captions and notes round out her memoir.

The author’s website is danielleflood.com

—Henry Zeybel

The Rest Is Small Potatoes by James Gannone

James Gannone does not speak at length about his 1966-67 tour of duty with the motor transport company of the Third Battalion of the Third Marine Regiment at Dong Ha in Vietnam in his autobiography, The Rest Is Small Potatoes (SeaGrove, 230 pp. $15, paper; $8.99, Kindle). “My tour in Vietnam was, for the most part, unremarkable,” he says. “I never got a scratch.”

Of course, located only six miles south of the DMZ, Dong Ha took its share of rocket and mortar rounds. But, Gannone says, “I was in the rear with the gear and the beer—although beer was hard to come by.”

Gannone says he “didn’t go to Vietnam with any kind of moral purpose or agenda. I just wanted to see if I was tough enough to be a Marine and they turned me out.” A two-year enlistee, he left the Corps at age twenty after celebrating two birthdays in Vietnam.

Although he downplays his war experiences, Gannone tells all about USMC basic and infantry training. He sets the tone for basic by describing his drill instructor in one sentence: “This was man as I had never seen him before.”

DIs persuaded Gannone’s platoon “to agree to being trained in the old school fashion, as opposed to by the book,” he says. Old school meant hands-on training: punches, slaps, or other physical forms of punishment.  In defense of the cruel spirit of it all, Gannone says, “I don’t recall anyone getting roughed up by drill instructors unless that recruit had made a mistake.” He then adds, “It didn’t have to be a big mistake.”

Gannone next completed infantry training, which he describes as “very different from Parris Island, even fun at times.”

Only the first quarter of his book is devoted to military days. Nevertheless, Gannone’s account of training at Parris Island and Camp Lejeune is worth the price of the book.

For him, life beyond the Marine Corps focused on flying airplanes. He describes learning to fly as humbling and fright-inducing. To build experience and earn a living when he first started flying, Gannone mainly worked for Flight Express, which pilots called Fright Express because it operated with old, poorly maintained, and overloaded aircraft flown on instruments mostly at night.

In the course of his progress, he got tripped up by drugs in several ways. His aviation career included agricultural work in the form of crop spraying (dusting) and fighting forest fires, as well as flying a Sabreliner for the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2002-06.

Interspersed with flying, Gannone married Chris, who earned a law degree. They had a son and a daughter; owned and ran a restaurant; and single handedly built a twenty-three-hundred-plus-square-foot house over ten years.

His enthusiasm for whatever he does infuses his life story with interesting insights.

The book includes more than a hundred photographs assembled in a forty-three-page chronological scrapbook: Parris Island, Vietnam, Family, Planes, and Africa.

Gannone is a self-made man and The Rest Is Small Potatoes proves it.

By the way, the book’s title hinges on his belief that family is all that matters to him.

—Henry Zeybel

Mission of Honor by Jim Crigler

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Jim Crigler, author of Mission of Honor: A Moral Compass for a Moral Dilemma (Panoma Press, 326 pp., $21.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle), was drafted into the Army and served as UH-1 helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War.  A Warrant Officer, he was assigned to the 129th Assault Helicopter Company, and distinguished himself during thousands of combat missions. He has also distinguished himself in many ways as a civilian.

Throughout history, fighting men have been known as warriors. Recently, the term “Air Warrior” has emerged. This book is a great depiction of the men who wore Air Warrior wings in the Vietnam War, and the many challenges they faced every day in all aspects of their lives—before, during, and after their military service.

Crigler writes about being in high school, trying to find his niche in life. He notes the humility needed to admit failure and continue to strive for greatness. He had a moral compass, being true to doing what is right because it is right. He writes of finding a “right direction,” then following that direction, making adjustments along the way as he gained more knowledge in the course of his life.

An important aspect of this autobiography is Crigler’s realization that slowly but surely an emotional “coldness” has to be achieved in order to survive in war. This coldness is something that is achieved slowly enough that a person has little awareness that it is happening. In that regard, Crigler brings out memories of war in an eloquent manner.

He also shows very clearly that achievements in war require great tenacity and courage, but once that level achievement is reached the honors of life begin to be bestowed. I have always had great respect for those who have done this.

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Jim Crigler

Crigler writes of achieving a “oneness” with his mission, something that bestows honor. Honor has to be earned by a person’s actions, not words. Crigler notes this in repeated references to the commitment of his brother warriors, and through his paying tribute to those men.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to veterans, and also to Gold Star families and the families of those who have endured the ravages of war.

The author’s website is missionofhonor.org

—Edward Ryan