Viet-Americans honor ex-prez

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By Loreen Berlin

The Vietnamese-American community came out in great numbers over the weekend to honor the first president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, who was assassinated 50 years ago.

Saturday morning, Nov. 2, began with a Mass held at the St. Barbara Catholic Church in  Santa Ana, where nearly 1,200 parishioners filled the chapel. In addition to the regular pews, people sat and stood along the walls of the chapel and spilled out into the foyer and the upstairs balcony.

By Loreen Berlin

The Vietnamese-American community came out in great numbers over the weekend to honor the first president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, who was assassinated 50 years ago.

Saturday morning, Nov. 2, began with a Mass held at the St. Barbara Catholic Church in  Santa Ana, where nearly 1,200 parishioners filled the chapel. In addition to the regular pews, people sat and stood along the walls of the chapel and spilled out into the foyer and the upstairs balcony.

Later in the afternoon, a service was held at Sid Goldstein Freedom Park Vietnam War Monument, 14180 All American Way in Westminster, with nearly 1,000 attending to hear

speakers and music and see the many wreaths brought forward from different Vietnamese-American organizations, in honor of Diem, along with a wreath presented by Westminster Mayor Tri Ta and Council members Diana Carey and Sergio Contreras.

It's said that Diem nearly became a Catholic priest but then decided he could best serve the people in public life; he led a simple life with simple furnishings in his home and in the foods he ate and never married.

Some Vietnamese feel if Diem had not been overthrown and killed, there wouldn't have been the Vietnamese War. 

Many feel even though Vietnam was divided, Diem turned was on the side of the people. He was elected by the people and was looked upon as a strong man who thought about the people and their welfare.

In the 1950s, Diem came to the U.S. and was met by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Diem gave a speech before Congress and was honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York and at that time was called, “A Miracle Man,” according to some residents, quoting from the books, “Triumph Forsaken” and “The Vietnam War Reconsidered – a View from the Inside.”

The Sid Goldstein Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated in 2003 on 1.45 acres of land where an 11-foot bronze American and Vietnamese soldier in full battle gear stand overlooking a cascading waterfall fountain, and an eternal flame.

It's peaceful.

And makes one think of the partnership that occurred between the Americans and the South Vietnamese.

It's dedicated to those who lost their lives or were prisoners of war in the Vietnam War. It's a place to reflect on the price paid by many in the Vietnam War.

Tuan Nguyen, renowned sculptor/designer, born in Vietnam in 1963, was chosen to sculpt the statue and design the surroundings.

The statue was completed in 2000, 25 years after the end of the war.

Tuan experienced the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and survived many failed escapes from Vietnam, eventually making his way to the United States in 1988.

Chairman of the Organizing Committee for Saturday's event was Charlie Nguyen Manh Chi, who said, “I was going through the historical pictures and materials about our late President Ngo Dinh Diem, countless other soldiers and civil servants during the First Republic of Vietnam, when these images suddenly came to life and I couldn’t hold my tears. I then understood more about what our elders have been sharing with us about the life of our late President Ngo Dinh Diem and our people’s lives during the First Republic of Vietnam.”

Nguyen said he was touched by seeing how President Diem interacted with people during his numerous visits throughout Vietnam; his handshakes being as firm as his determination to rebuild the country and his smiles being genuine, as was his caring for the lives of the South Vietnamese people.

“Our late President Ngo Dinh Diem was asked to establish a new government in a very difficult period of our history. At the same time, he was having to restore independence from the French, consolidating various military factions, unifying the military forces and pacifying the lives of the people while fighting the communist infiltration and invasion from the north,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said President Diem successfully brought South Vietnam from a colonial country to a free and independent land with complete sovereignty and from a chaotic land to a peaceful and prosperous territory, as well as from a monarchy to a republic and laid the foundation for a fully constitutional free and democratic government.

“If America has the Independence Day on July 4th, we had Oct. 26 to celebrate the birth of a new, free and democratic country,” Nguyen said.

Speaking to the younger generation in the crowd, Nguyen asked them listen to these words of Diem's: “When I lead, follow me…. When I die, follow what I’ve told you.”

“We have seen the historical lessons from the spirit and legacy of our late President Ngo Dinh Diem and the heroic sacrifices of countless civilian and military servants; they gave up their lives in their determination to build and defend our country and I believe our young people must continue and complete what our elders’ generation left unfinished,” Nguyen said. “We must answer the call of duty and listen to our late President Diem again. Our youthful generation is the pillar of our country’s future and time has come, when we must step up to commit our lives for the future of our people and our country. Let’s bring back the free, democratic and prosperous lives to our people.” 

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