JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Over 50 years ago, three officers from the South Vietnamese Air Force attended the Defense Language Institute English Language Center.
Henry Tran, Thu Nguyen, and Phuong Nguyen studied and learned English while attending DLIELC. They also received their certificates of Aeronautical Ratings from the U.S. Air Force. After graduation, they continued their follow-on training at various U.S. locations.
The training they received allowed Tran to pilot the first Vietnamese CH-47 and both Nguyen’s to fly A-37’s during the Vietnam War. Each alumni faced different life changing events during the conflict.
After spending three years in prison for his service to South Vietnam, Tran and his family eventually moved stateside and settled in Oklahoma.
When the South Vietnamese forces demobilized, Thu eventually found himself on the USS Midway traveling to the Philippines, Guam, and then a refugee camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
Phuong was also imprisoned for six years and later relocated to the United States in the early nineties.
The alumni did not know each other prior to their visit to DLIELC in March, but one-of-a-kind connections brought them together.
Tran’s daughter, Tina Neville, a foreign service officer, and Thu’s son, Lt. Col. Quoc-nam Nguyen, met in 2005. Through several deployments both kept bumping into one another over the years. As fate would have it, Neville and Quoc-nam connected all three families over dinner and scheduled a tour of the DLIELC campus.
“The visit to DLIELC brought some familiarity back to all three gentlemen. Most of the campus was quite different from what they remember,” said Quoc-nam, 338th Enterprise Sourcing Squadron commander, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.
The alumni and their families spent the afternoon touring DLIELC including the modernized classrooms and the Aviation Language Training Center.
“When they were students, they were poor. They could only afford to eat at the dining facility when breakfast was $0.25 and lunch or dinner was $0.75,” Quoc-nam said. “It was just a very surreal experience for them to get an opportunity to see the campus for what it is today,” he replied.
DLIELC and unique friendships brought these three alumni together to share the memories.
Col. Joseph Schaefer, DLIELC commandant, presented Thu a new diploma dated May 19, 1972 and gifted him a student graduation coin.
“As a first generation Vietnamese American, I find myself following in the footsteps of these amazing men,” Quoc-nam remarked. “I hope that I can continue to fight for what these three men gave up their whole lives for. I want to be a good representative of my Vietnamese community and culture.”
DLIELC builds security cooperation capability through English language training and cultural immersion. The center serves more than 100 countries and provides support to more than 30 nonresident locations worldwide.