Vietnamese-born U.S. Commander Humbled to Visit Three Decades Later


Story Number: NNS091106-03Release Date: 11/6/2009 3:52:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew R. White, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Japan

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- In a historic sign of strengthening relations between the United States and Vietnam, USS Lassen (DDG 82), commanded by Vietnamese-born Cmdr. H. B. Le, will make a historic goodwill port visit to Da Nang, Vietnam, Nov. 7.

"My crew and I are proud to be able to represent our country to the people of Vietnam," said Lassen's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. H. B. Le. "This visit is a symbol of the friendship between our two nations, and we are deeply honored to be a part of it."

Lassen's visit to Da Nang is more than just a routine port of call for Le; it will mark the first time since he fled Vietnam, nearly 35 years ago aboard a fishing boat, that he will step foot on his Vietnamese homeland.

"I'm very humbled by the amazing opportunity to get to Vietnam after more than 34 years," Le said. "I feel so fortunate to bring Lassen and my crew to Vietnam, as well," he added.

On April 30, 1975, during the waning days of the Vietnam conflict, five year old Le and his family, along with more than 200 fellow refugees, fled South Vietnam in a fishing trawler navigated by Le's father, a South Vietnam naval officer, and were eventually picked up by the USS Barbour County (LST 1195) on May 2, 1975.

"Leaving Vietnam had a profound impact on my family," Le said. "My parents had to start all over again with no money in their pockets," he continued. "Thanks to some truly generous and wonderful Americans who sponsored us my dad was able to forge a new beginning. And service to my country by pursuing a Naval career- that's my way of trying to give back to them and my parents," Le added.

The Le family immigrated to the U.S., settling in Northern Virginia, where he became a citizen in 1985. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated with merit in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and was commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer.

"This will be an incredible experience for me personally, to return to the land of my birth for the first time since I was a child," Le said. "My memories of Vietnam are very few, yet I still feel very drawn to it, to its culture, and to its people."

Le said he is looking forward to seeing relatives still living in Vietnam and having the chance to walk in the footsteps of his proud father

"My Dad was the Commanding Officer of Da Nang Naval base from 1970 to 1971 and I think it's going to be an incredible feeling just to walk where he walked so many years ago," Le said. "He is my hero," he added.

Lassen's visit to Da Nang will be the first time for nearly all of the crew to see Vietnam first hand, as well. While in port, Lassen's Sailors will have an opportunity to interact with the people of Vietnam and experience the local customs and cultures of Da Nang. Lassen's crew will also participate in soccer and basketball games with students from the University of Da Nang, as well as engage in two community service projects.

USS Lassen has one more tie to Vietnam, as well. The ship's namesake, Clyde Everett Lassen, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his brave actions during the Vietnam conflict when he rescued two downed aviators while taking enemy fire. Lassen became the first naval aviator to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam conflict.

Le assumed command of Lassen and its crew of nearly 300 in April. The ship is one of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

For more news from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/c7f/.

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Cmdr. H.B. Le assumes command of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), relieving Cmdr. Anthony Simmons.
Official U.S. Navy file photo.
April 23, 2009
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