NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- A group of former South Vietnamese naval officers who graduated from the Newport Officer Candidate School (OCS) program in 1971 visited Naval Station Newport Nov. 28.
All were members of the Vietnamese Navy OCS Association. The group was accompanied by family members.
Approximately 800 South Vietnamese naval officer candidates were trained for five months at the U.S. Naval Base, Newport, from 1970 to 1971, followed by a month's training in river operations at Naval Station Treasure Island, Calif.
"The waterways around the Naval Station there were similar to what we would encounter in South Vietnam," said Lt. j.g. Lich Nguyen of Ontario, Canada, who served as a river patrol craft vice commander.
The graduates returned to their homeland to serve in South Vietnam's swift boat fleet, part of the joint American-South Vietnamese 'brown water navy'. Small coastal and river patrol gunboats, provided by the U.S. Navy in 1969, patrolled the rivers and waterways of the Mekong Delta region which were being used as supply lines by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese enemy forces.
"We were assigned to 'Tango,' 'Uniform,' and 'Victor' companies each having approximately 60 to 70 officer candidates," said Lt. j.g. Thinh Nguyen of Chicago. The candidates were required to be able to speak and write English in order to qualify for the program, Nguyen said.
"Tango 6 was my company," said Lt. j.g. Chi Dang of Toronto, Ontario. Dang served with coastal patrol boats for one year and for two years aboard the tank landing ship ex-USS Maricopa County (LST-938). The ship was transferred to South Vietnam in 1962 and renamed Da Nang (HQ 501).
"I am happy to be here and see other officer candidates who look so energized and disciplined," said Lt. j.g. Nhan Nguyen of Glassboro, N.J. "They are like a mirror of us when we were younger."
Nguyen served in areas north of Cam Ranh Bay and near central Vietnam. He worked as a nuclear power plant engineer for 27 years in New Jersey until his retirement.
"The reason why we were trained here was to form a new leadership for our Navy," said Lt. j.g. Quynh Nguyen of Boston, Mass. He said that many high ranking South Vietnamese naval personnel had been trained by the French military.
"This was an effort to 'Americanize' the South Vietnamese navy," he said.
Many South Vietnamese naval officers who were trained in Newport advanced to the grades of lieutenant junior grade and lieutenant until the fall of Saigon to the communists in 1975.
"When we left Newport we were very proud because we were able to relieve American naval officers who could then return home," Nguyen said.
"Most of us only served about five years," Nguyen said. "In 1975, the communists rounded up all South Vietnamese military personnel especially those who were American trained and sent us to reeducation camps."
"I felt so bad for the Vietnamese people that I remained in South Vietnam instead of escaping to freedom," said Lt. j.g. Lich Nguyen. "I was put into a reeducation camp from 1975 to 1981," he said. Nguyen said he escaped but was captured and sent to a camp for an additional three years.
Quynh Nguyen, the group leader, said the navigation skills he learned while an officer candidate helped him steer his boat carrying 100 people to refugee camps near the Thailand Gulf area.
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