March 16, 2022
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Vietnam War Oral History Project
Interview HOA Nguyen (audio).m4a
HOA-Wow, that's pretty cool.
THOMAS- The computer sounds better with you, face to it, so I figured it's
better. They want to hear you, not me who are
THOMAS- All right. So, I'm going to start off the interview now. My name is
Thomas Wood and I'm here with Hoa Nguyen and we are doing an interview for an
oral history class of Vietnam War Oral History Class at West Chester University.
Today is March 16, 2022, and we are at HOA's house. She was gracious enough to
invite me in. So, we're going to try to stay chronologically for this interview.
I want to start off as early as we can. You said you grew up outside of Saigon.
00:01:00Where exactly did you grow up?
HOA- 20 miles east of Saigon. The name is Bien Hoa. B-I-E-N. next word is H-O-A.
THOMAS- Is-- Is your name connected to the-- No?
HOA- (Shakes her head) No.
THOMAS- What- Can you describe the village for me a little bit?
HOA- This a small town. I was born in really, in the village. That's where the
rice field is. My family is have the farm. But then because of the war, my
father was a army person, so he travel a lot. So we move around a lot and we
00:02:00settle in Bien Hoa. When I was like, maybe ten. And I grew up there and went to
school there, and I worked for the Army, American army. In 1968.
THOMAS- So I want to get back to the Bien Hoa. So you said you initially were
born in a village and you were born in..HOA- Um the name is My Tar is really far
out. Um by car could be like an hour or two. I think it could be maybe a hundred
miles or less.
THOMAS- Oh was the village connected to Bien Hoa?
HOA- No, the village is My Tar, My Tar is really a lot of rice fields, a lot of
HOA- Any kind of farm that they grow vegetables and stuff. Um once a month. We
would take the um the vegetables off thing that we don't use. We don't eat. We
go to My Tar market. We sell them.
THOMAS- How close was the market to the village?
HOA- Back then we don't have a car, so everything go by the little boat canoe. I
was very little. I don't remember, a couple of hours. You don't have motors, so
you paddle to get there. And we sell things and we buy stuff and then we go back.
THOMAS- What uh, what did you guys grow?
HOA- My uhm. We grow rice for us to eat. We will store it, stores them in a big
00:04:00bin and we eat that through the year. We really don't sell rice just for us to
use. But mostly coconut. We sell them. People can come and you know, they take
the coconut out and they do whatever we sell them. Whatever your ideas um and my
family also grow potatoes, cucumbers, all the vegetables that we eat and we can
eat them more than we sell them. And that's- that's how we make a living,
really. I don't see like really money. But we always have food to eat. Then the
war came. They really bomb the village a lot, so then. By then, my father would
00:05:00take me out the village and. Come to Bien Hoa to live with them. But when I was
younger, they would leave me with my grandparents. Because they move around a
lot, so I stay with my grandparents till I was six or seven.
THOMAS- I want to hear more about the village. That's-that's really interesting.
THOMAS- So when did you start helping out on the farm?
HOA- I really don't help out because I was very little.
HOA-In the morning, my-my grandfather really don't work out in the field, and my
grandmother really doesn't, but my aunt. Two of my aunts go off and do the rice
paddy, you know, they plant rice. But they come up very early in the morning to
make breakfast and they take food to the field. They work from five six o'clock
00:06:00through five, six o'clock at night. That's really, you know, a hard work because
they bend down, they plant the rice. Um after the rice and then they grow other
vegetables. um So I really don't help. I play a lot, mostly with friends. Yeah,
um we don't really have toys. So, you play whatever you can play. Um
THOMAS- You said you would take the produce to a local market by boat. Do you
remember what the river was?
HOA- I don't think there was a Mekong River, because that pretty long, long. But
this is like a local river. This from where I live, you can use the river to get
to the big market. That's My Tar. It's a big city for that town, but that area.
Um What else? I didn't really work in the field. I didn't do anything because I
00:07:00was little, I start going to school. But you had to walk by yourself. You walk
across the rice fields get to school. It a local schoolhouse. I went there for
like a year. Then my parents pulled me off, then I went to the city.
THOMAS- What was the school house like, you remember any of the lessons?
HOA- This is mostly like kindergarten things they teach you how to count and ABC
and all that stuff. Um I don't remember a lot. But now it's like six. But, you
know, they left you by yourself. Not like here, you're very protective.
HOA- I'm just by myself all day, pretty much. And if they are working.
THOMAS- What family lived with you on the farm?
HOA- I live with my grandparents. My father family. Is my grandfather, my
grandmother and two aunt. And later on, one of my aunt got married, so other
aunt is still with us. And to that?
THOMAS- You remember how old your aunts would have been?
HOA- My aunt, like my youngest aunt and she's maybe twenty, nineteen or twenty.
And my other aunt would be a couple of years older than her, could be
twenty-two. Then they recruit my aunt for the other side. Soldier. We call them
Vietcong. Um then I didn't see her for a long time, because I didn't go back to
00:09:00the village at all
THOMAS- when did they recruit her?
HOA- Um I think right after I left because, you know, my father took me away and
I didn't see my aunt any more. But what I know and what she did. Um I went back.
And just recently, maybe ten years ago, I met her, and she's the veteran, so she
got the benefits. That's how I know that they recruited her and she was
something for the other side. So now they take care of her.
THOMAS- So you said you left when you were five or six?
HOA- Yeah, I thought I was like six or seven, something like that.
THOMAS- OK, so that would have been the late 1950s.
HOA- Yeah, I born in fifty-one. So, we got redone. Yeah, at fifty-eight, because
00:10:00I remember before 1960, that's when we um have black and white TV, and that's
how I can know the news and stuff because I started school now. So, so it gotta
be late fifties. Yeah,
THOMAS- that's so funny. But I mean, it makes sense. I know my generation knows
this stuff by the technology,
HOA- but back then we just black and white TV.
THOMAS- So you said your-your two, you had your two aunts and were they all of
your brother's siblings or sorry, your dad's siblings?
HOA- My dad. I have eight. Um lot of, three, three boys and five girls, five
aunts and then my dad and my two uncle.
THOMAS- When- When you were living in the village, so you would have left in
like the middle to late 1950s? Do you remember anything about hearing anything
about the communists or what was going on between the North and the South?
HOA- Well, we know that um the north fighting with the South. Um Yeah, I kind of
knew a little bit, but not a lot. Um The South soldier would go through the
village and they hunt anything, anybody male that they'd think related to
Vietcong. They would beat them up, shoot them, kill them. So, all the guys have
to hide or join the other side and hide somewhere. The woman left behind. We
00:12:00kind of like hide or stay there. They don't bother kids or older people, but the
young woman, they kind of like, worry. Um so you don't have a choice. You have
to join the Vietcong if you live in a village or you leave your family and like
my father did. He left the family. He joined the other side, the South.
THOMAS- What were the young women worried about?
HOA- if the soldiers go through? They could get rape and could be beat up. Even
when they work in the field, you know, that's out life, you know, sometimes we
kind of like know when they coming through, so they hide.
THOMAS- How would you know?
HOA- Um I was little, but I think like somebody would tell someone and they saw
00:13:00that change. And later on, I think that they start to bomb in the village and we
would go under the bed, or they dig like a little hole for us to go because the
bomb and that's when I left.
THOMAS- You left in the late 1950s and the villages, where in exactly in Vietnam
is the village.
HOA- Um I don't know exactly. But from Saigon, um you kind of like, take a bus.
Couple of hours to get there. Then from there, you have to take a boat to get to
the village because there's no transportation and no car, no nothing get through
00:14:00because they are dirt roads. Not like now that you can, you know, go through
with motorcycle. (Sigh)
THOMAS- And so in that part of in that part of the war would have been really
early, I think what you're talking about was before the Americans were there
HOA- yeah, yeah, before the American, but the South start to dominate the north,
um the north is very quiet. They-now they come out at night. They would give you
lecture; you know how they are and all that stuff. When you live in a village,
you have no choice you under them, but during the day the south soldier go by.
You do what they tell you to. But at night, you have to kind of like. Take care
00:15:00of your people from the North.
THOMAS- So you were-you were kind of playing to both sides?
HOA- Yeah. Yeah, we in the middle. So. there's no law. There's no rules. We just.
THOMAS- What uh what did you know about the French growing up,
HOA- Um that's from before I was born. From the people will say the French would
dominate Vietnam, and they didn't treat the woman right either. They're not very
friendly. you know. That was like before me. My father generation, they have to
learn French a little bit. It's French were there. But when my generation come
up, we don't do French anymore, we teach English because American now.
THOMAS- (Chuckles) Your English is very good Hoa
HOA- (laughing)Thank you
THOMAS- while I know you know English.
THOMAS- So you didn't learn French?HOA- No, no. Well, we-we-we don't we don't
have a use for it.
THOMAS- Do you do you remember anything about the emperor?
HOA- No, it's from the history. I don't know. Yeah.
THOMAS- Do you remember anything about, correct me if I'm wrong on the
pronunciation, but Diem?
HOA- he's the president.Ngo Dinh Diem. Yeah, he's a president. Yeah, Um I
remember a little bit about him. Um Him and his brother was kind of like run the
country? That's when I come up to the city. Um I don't really know much about
00:17:00him but His brother pretty much like running it. Yeah.
THOMAS- So in the village. You didn't hear much-No
HOA- (shaking head) No, there's no news, there's no paper. Very common people,
they just go to work and get paid. I don't remember seeing money when you live
in that village. you go buy or not gas, kerosene. that's how you light. But when
we cook with wood and stuff, it's really. There's no soap you got to make your
THOMAS- You made your own soap?
HOA- and make your own thing for shampoo your hair. Yeah.
THOMAS- Wow! You still remember how to do it.
HOA- Eh that's like they take the coconut. And husk and they burn it and put
00:18:00water in there and they let it sit. Then later on, they just take the tab. And I
think that's how they make soap.
THOMAS- That's really cool!
HOA- Yeah, we don't have shampoo, we don't have soap, we don't have dishwasher
things like that.
THOMAS- Hmm. So, then you would have moved to Bien Hoa, the-the town,
HOA- that town where my father was in the army
THOMAS- and you were, how old when you moved there, I thought I was seven. Can
you tell me about your experience coming there?
HOA- Oh um. Well. I have a big family. So, when I get there, I got to help out
my mom to take care of the little ones. And I go to school in the morning
00:19:00because the school is very crowded, so they split. In a morning like from eight
to twelve. Then at nighttime, another class coming in from one to five,
something like that, so they split up in the morning or you go in an afternoon.
So, I help out my mom a lot because she had eleven of us and so being almost the
oldest. You know, it's lot of responsibility fall on me to take care of them and
feed them and have a cook and do laundry. So, it's not very happy. I never have
time to have friends or played or anything. It just like always the mother hand.
I kind of resent that. But you can't say anything about it. That's your duty to
THOMAS- tell me about your family in Bien Hoa
HOA- right now. Um
THOMAS- Well, the back-back then when you first moved there.
HOA- Um well, we all know little. My father would go to work now he's not
fighting any more. He has office job. My mom, always a homemaker, so my my
father would come home for lunch and he'd go off again and he'd come back. We
both have, you know, we all have school and things. And later on, I think my
father retired because he got some kind of accident related to work. So, he
retire early and we still there, we still live there. But now the government
gave him a small piece of land. So, we build a house and we don't live in post
00:21:00anymore. We'll be on our own. Um That land right now, my youngest brother lived
there. So now it's worth a lot of money
THOMAS- in- in the current year right now? (Hoa Shaking head yes) Wow.
HOA- Right now. Yeah, that's-that's like the dirt road that is get to the house.
like, back then they give him that piece of land and no one would think anything
of it. But he went there and built a house. So he lived there. And I left
Vietnam and um I done with high school when I was seventeen and I went to work
for American army. Mm-Hmm.
THOMAS- I want to- I want to go back to your-your family when you first get the
Bien Hoa. So, it's-it's your dad, your mom and then 10 siblings.
HOA- Yeah. Ten plus me
THOMAS- so how many brothers and how many sisters did you have
HOA- My mom have seven boys. And four girls.
THOMAS- And how old are you? It's like, what is the order?
HOA- I'm number two. I'm second? Um My older brother later on, he joined like
cop in America, but in Vietnam, we joined them. And he got married, he moved
out. But all of us feel in the same house, we are at school. Um My father
retired and he went to work, I forgot what he was doing. He do something else,
but we just make enough to eat. You know, we're not middle class, we're not, you
know, we just have enough to eat at.
THOMAS- Why were you living with your grandparents when your other siblings-?
HOA- At the beginning- Well, see my mom have a baby every two years. So, my
older brother live with my aunt. Me, live with my grandparents, and she had two
kids that with her because my father's move around. So, it's better that, you
know, someone would help her take care of us instead of all of us live in the
one house. they live on post, just like, you know, one room apartment and too
crowded. So my older brother live with my aunt I live with my grandparents.
HOA- My mom still have you know the other two babies or whatever.
THOMAS- So they spread you around because it was too crowded in in the apartment
00:24:00on the post.
THOMAS- And then later on they brought you back. Watch your
THOMAS- And when you moved back in, did you have. Was it all eleven of you at
HOA- No every two years, you have a baby. So, when I moved there, I took care my
little brother. He would be number six. Um He just. Maybe a year old. Then.
Another year, she have another baby boy. Then I would take care of baby helping
her, and so is every two years and a baby.
THOMAS- I want to I want to ask you about your dad's job now. So-
HOA- I forgot what he did, but he left the army the service. He went to work for
00:25:00some kind of lumber company. I forgot.
THOMAS- When did he leave the service?
HOA- Um he could be like, and he's forty, just like.
THOMAS- Do you remember Ballpark- what-what year it was?
HOA- Maybe it could be in the early sixties. OK
THOMAS- Do you know what he did in the military?
HOA- He rank was sergeant at beginning he go with the group of men to the field
or whatever that need him, so they move him around a lot. And later on, he got a
desk job, but then he still go out. Somewhere, and he got hit by a grenade. So,
he kind of like injure two his fingers. So, then he got discharged from the army.
THOMAS- You know where they moved them around at all?
HOA- Oh, no,
THOMAS- that's OK.
HOA- Yeah, it was.
THOMAS- It was a long time ago
HOA- was a long time ago.
THOMAS- And you would have been really young.
HOA-Yeah, yeah. I really don't really know my dad that well because, you know,
to see him, but that it.
HOA- They all the one taking the little one. Help them with homework. so my dad
really not there a lot.
THOMAS- I'm-I'm really interested in your relationship with your siblings, and
we'll get back to that because you have quite a bit of them. And I imagine they
all have an interesting lives.
THOMAS- So we're at Bien Hoa. You first got there. We know your we know what
your dad and your mom. You said your mom was a stay-at-home mom. And you
were-you were doing OK and you were living on post. When did you guys move off
00:27:00post off of the military base?
HOA- Oh. It's got to be like. Early sixties, I remember it was like sixty-three
when Kennedy got killed. That's when we we don't live on post anymore. That's
got to be only sixty.
THOMAS- And you still stayed in Bien Hoa?
HOA- Yeah, we stay there we didn't move.
THOMAS- And you. The land parcel you said that the government gave to your dad,
was that in Bien HOA?
HOA- Yeah, yeah.
THOMAS- And you you moved about why you moved to the land parcel, built a house
in that spot. (HOA shaking head yes). I see. OK. And this would have all been in
the early 1960s. You, you mention the Kennedy assassination. And that's so
interesting with you.
HOA- I remember that because we have black and white TV now. I remember it was
1963 And I also remember we saw the news in Saigon that there's a monk. He
00:28:00burned himself. And that's how I remember things you know like.
THOMAS- You saw that news when you were in Saigon. Yeah. OK. OK. But I want to
hear a little bit about the Kennedy assassination and what you were hearing and
what you were thinking.
HOA- Well, we know he's the president of the United States and he just got killed.
HOA- And that's what the news is, you know, like many older people might read
the newspaper, but the younger of us, we don't. And we just thought of how black
and white TV. So, we only have one station at night when it come on. You cannot
shut it off because you want to see what's going on and you can change the
channel. That's the only station you have. So that's how I remember.
THOMAS- What did you-what did you think about it?
HOA- I was too little to think about. It's like you. That's when things start
to. Real I- for real for me. You know, like.
THOMAS- What do you mean by that?
HOA- Because um now that I can understand the news. The war. That's for me to
remember that far. That's like part of my, you know, landmark that I can
remember that other- other stuff, it's like, I'm coming young to remember things
THOMAS- I see. So, it's like the start of like you being able to remember things.
THOMAS- And you were still in Bien Hoa when Kennedy was assassinated. Do you
remember? Do you remember anything else about Bien Hoa?
HOA- Oh, then I still go to school. And. Late sixty. When American Army start to
move in to Bien Hoa. And that's a lot of jungle, not a tree, they have to cut
down to build some kind of base. um. I remember I skip school to go to work.
Because I want to make money to help my mom. And that's how I remember that Bien Hoa?
THOMAS- Where did you work when you were that young?
HOA- They, they the American army, would come by the army truck. And they come
00:31:00by in one location and you're wait in line and they go, OK, I pick up twenty or
thirty, you get in the truck and they pay you.
HOA- Eighty American money back then, a could be maybe twenty dollars, but
Vietnamese dong with eighty dong. For us, that's like feed your family for a day
or more, so I skip, I start skipping school, my mom never know. So, I would be
too short because they count the head, you know, like I take twenty that they
counted. I would be kind of short. So, I have to tip toe and I wear the
Vietnamese hat so they just don't see me, but they take me because I'm in line.
THOMAS- What do you mean by the Vietnamese hat?
HOA- Oh, the Vietnamese straw hat. Have you ever seen them?
THOMAS- Yeah, that's the triangle.
HOA- Yeah, the round um that protect us from the sun. Yeah. So, wear that and
they wouldn't see my face because I'm very young.
THOMAS- What were you? What work were you doing?
HOA- OK? So, at beginning when, I think for me, I just hire a bunch of
Vietnamese so they can- We are human shields for them. You know, you go in
there, you cut wood, you really cannot cut the wood. Everything is machine, but
you just there. I didn't. I remember that I was there like two days. I didn't do
much at all. Then later on, they start to build the mess hall, the mess hall.
Then they take me inside to work in a mess hall or, you know, to peel potatoes
00:33:00and do whatever. Then later on, they had regular service man, but not officer.
They wait in line for food. Then they have the officer that we would, you know,
clean their plate. You know, they'd get food, but we have to give them water or
whatever. And later on, they put me in there and I got dropped out the school. I
went to work and my mom never know until like a month later that I don't have school.
THOMAS- What, what makes you think that they were using you as a human shield?
HOA- because we didn't do much. I mean, they take how many of us, 100 a day and
we just spread out in the jungle. How-how can we cut wood? We can't. So, I feel
00:34:00like we are human shield. But nobody confirmed that.
THOMAS- Was it something that the other Vietnamese people with you talked about?
HOA- We don't really discuss about it. I only in the jungle for two days, then I
started working inside of mess hall, I saw the other woman that I work with. We
are not into politics. We don't talk about things, you know, we just small talk,
but that's about it. Um then they start to build a U.S.O, so you remember that.
And that's when my older brother, works in there? So now Bien HOA, it's kind of
like hopping before, just like a very humble small town. Now the G.I. come in
and so the business is booming and--
THOMAS- It's hopping.
HOA- Yes. Then um. Then I went to work for the American army at the officer
club. I was seventeen now,
THOMAS- and this is this is in Saigon?
HOA- No, no, no. In Bien Hoa
THOMAS- I thought you. So, when did you move out of Bien Hoa?
HOA- No, I never. I do work for them, but now I work for officer club now, so
they have a build house for us. We don't go home and I call that a monkey house
like a whole bunch of girls stay, there eighty of us. They have two story and we
ought to have bunk bed. We don't have our own private room. What we had. Um two
00:36:00locker for us to put our stuff in, we did sleep in a bunk bed, one top, one bottom.
HOA- In the morning they are your boss or whoever is come to that monkey house
to pick you up like ten o'clock? So you go to the club, you do your prep work or
whatever. And you work until eight when they close and they take you back to
that monkey house, but you stay on post, you cannot get out. You only get in and
out, during the day with your pass. But at night the gate is locked. You don't
get out at night, so we stay there. I have one day off a week that I can go home
and visit my family. And next day I have to come back to work six days a week
00:37:00and they pay you by a month. So, I still at Bien Hoa. That's where I met my ex-husband.
THOMAS- So let's let's-let's jump back to 1963. You're trying to run away HOA
you're not getting away that easily. Yeah. Let's jump back to 1973(I meant 1963
here). So, you're-you're in Bien HOA. You know about the Kennedy assassination,
and that would have been fairly early on you. I think Kennedy was assassinated.
In spring or summer,
HOA- I don't know.
THOMAS- So um you're fairly close to Saigon in Bien Hoa. (Hoa shakes head yes)
Oh, yeah. Twenty miles away. Did anything that was going on in Saigon at the
time? Nothing (Hoa Shakes head no).
THOMAS- What was it- What was it like to be a? Because you're a Buddhist?
THOMAS- What was it like to be a Buddhist in Bien HOA?
HOA- Most Vietnamese are Buddhist, maybe thirty percent are Catholic. Um But we
00:38:00don't go round and. Preach about it. You know, we just keep it ourselves. You go
to Temple, fine you go to church. Fine. We're not really into that kind of
religion and my family is not religious people anyway. You know you go because
you want to.
HOA- Nobody really forced you, but so it's very quiet, normal life. Nothing
really going on. We we know that the war is going, but not in the city. I don't
see anything happen in this city.
THOMAS- In 1963, there was um there is the the big protest in Saigon anti-Diem
protest, (Hoa Shaking her head yes)
THOMAS- and there was the you mentioned the monk who lit himself on fire in
protest. That's why I ask about that.
HOA- Yeah, see, I only know about it because the TV, but otherwise we just not
into it. You know you. You would not dare you.
THOMAS- What do you mean?
HOA- You're a normal citizen. You don't really have your opinions and you dont
talk about it as a government run things um you. You don't count really. You
know, later on, they make you go vote, but you do it because you have to, not
because you want to. They trap you by if they stop the bus, whatever they want
to see you vote. If you don't, you know, something might happen to you. So we
listen, we um just a citizen. You don't have your voice.
THOMAS- When was the first time you voted or voted with quotation marks?
HOA- I think I think I was like seventeen-eighteen. I think age, I have to vote.
I forgot who I was vote for. But you have to do it. Not like here. I don't want
to vote. That's fine.
THOMAS- So in 1963, in November, there was also the-the military coup against Diem.
HOA- You know, I remember vaguely, cause you know, we're not really into it and
we don't talk about it. The people in the city, they more advanced, they're more
liberal, um but not us. We in a small town, quiet.
THOMAS- So you didn't hear a lot about.
HOA- No, and we don't we don't allowed to watch TV that much anymore.
HOA- Yeah, you save electricity.
THOMAS- And what about the successive coups? Because there was, I think, two or
three more coups in the following couple of years?
HOA- I don't know. Now. We're very common people,
THOMAS- that's perfectly all right.
HOA- Just live your life.
THOMAS- So the next big event. Correct me, if I'm wrong, there might be events
that will big to you before this, but the next thing I can think of the Gulf of
Tonkin incident in 1964. Do you remember anything about that?
THOMAS- OK. It was the official reason why the US declared war on the north to
support the South.
HOA- Okay. I didn't.
THOMAS- And right around then is when. The American troops start coming in in
much larger numbers, yeah.
HOA- Only thing I remember when the French left and they declare it north and
the south is separated now. I remember people talk about that a lot, but I don't
really remember that. With President Johnson decided to help the south, okay.
THOMAS- What do you remember about the north and the south being split?
HOA- that was like in the fifties before I was born? If you want to stay in the
north, you stay there, and if you want to go to south, you can go. But then
after that you can't go back.
THOMAS- So we're getting into the escalating process of the war, the American
00:43:00troops are coming over big numbers and they've built the American post in Bien
Hoa, probably around this time.
THOMAS- Your earliest recollection of the war was with your aunt who went and
joined the Viet minh or the Viet Cong.
THOMAS- What um- but you didn't find out about that until later on?
THOMAS- But what were the first things you heard about the war?
HOA- I know that they fighting, but I didn't know anything about the American
help in Vietnam.
HOA- Until later, the very later. At the age of seven, I guess I couldn't care
less what going on. Um Oh, you worry about it, just like my mom going to have
enough money to eat, you know, all of us because we are so big, so crowded. Um I
00:44:00guess it didn't bothered me at all. Until later um. Meanwhile, the American
people, what came over then I lost three of my uncle because the bombing. And my
father, um my grandfather die from that, too. Um But I never went back to the
village. For thirty years or more. Um but that's a about that's all I remember
about the war.
THOMAS- So you're your grandfather and your two aunts didn't go to Bien HOA with you?
THOMAS- They stayed in in the village. And you said your two aunts there. Where
did the three uncles come on?
HOA- My uncle number six. Um When I was doing a village one night, he went out
with a bunch of guys, they supposed to be Vietcong, but we never know that he
joined them or whatever he's doing. He went out one night and never come back.
We would never find out how he died could never find the body so that one number
six. Then later on, my uncle number seven. Went in and we never know where he
went. We never seen him. Until I left and late- very, very later day, he finally
return, but he is a wounded person now. So, I guess they don't use them anymore,
00:46:00so he came back. Um He died later, but not from war. From the bombing,
THOMAS- do you know when? Do you know when you're your first uncle, number six
will say, you know, and uncle number six died?
HOA- I don't know the year, I still in the village, so it could be in the 50s.
HOA- I Born in fifty-one. Could 1953, fifty-four, fifty-six.
THOMAS- So if it were if it were when you were still in a village in the middle
1950s, he might have been fighting the French.
HOA- It could be. It just like very quiet. You know, we. Yeah. Back then could
00:47:00just like at night. Things happen, but I don't know. Little kid and I. Later,
like meetings, you know, they have a location where they meet and they talk
THOMAS- Did your family talk about it at all?
HOA- Un Uh
THOMAS- What about your dad, because at this point in time, he was he was in the
ARVN and he would have been a sergeant in the army.
HOA- Yeah, yeah, he-he went in to the other side of the south. I guess before I
was born. He. He took my mom from the village and went somewhere and joined the
South. He's the only one that the family talk about. They did not like me
00:48:00because my father is the other side.
THOMAS- Did your-did your father work with the French?
THOMAS- Oh, yeah. What so
HOA- that was before I was born so
THOMAS- What did your family say about that?
HOA- Oh, I don't remember. My, my aunt used to tell me, oh, you father is. Look,
I what the name she would call him his brother, but still, when. We have peace
when the war is over. He can't come back here what no one will take him and he's
disowned and they go on and on and on. That's so he's the only one that. Different,
THOMAS- and that's why he moved to Bien Hoa instead of going back to
HOA- he never go back. They would kill him. Um my older brother, born in 1948.
00:49:00He born in the village.
HOA- So I guess right after my brother was born that when my father joined the
French. So it's going to be like 1948, forty-nine,
THOMAS- you know, how old your dad would have been?
HOA- Remember one day my mom died ten years ago, she was eighty-four. My dad two
years younger than my mom. So, nineteen, he would be ninety-two, ninety, ninety.
If he is still alive.
THOMAS- So at that time, he would have been.
HOA- He's pretty young, he twenties.
THOMAS- So he-he fought or worked with the French and then later, the Americans,
HOA- Um the South,
THOMAS- don't see it. Sorry.
HOA-Yeah. Not the man from the South.
THOMAS- Did he ever talk about his work with the French?
HOA- No we're not very close. I mean, most men in Vietnam, they just. I'm your
father, that's it. We don't talk.
THOMAS- So we're-we're-we're going to get back to our timeline. I'm getting
discombobulated because this is this is really good stuff, Hoa. Wow, that's.
That's really interesting that your-your father worked with the French, and
later went on to serve the South Vietnamese army too. Um Let's go back to 1964
is, I think, where we were last at. You mentioned that you were working with the
00:51:00Americans when you were very young, you must be ten-fifteen somewhere.
HOA- I was fourteen, fifteen
THOMAS- When-when did you first meet your when did you meet your first American?
What was that like?
HOA- Um For a kid, I don't think they any different. I mean, you know, the
American soldier, they wear the uniform. I'm just a kid. I really am. Later on,
maybe I was sixteen. I start to get. Yeah. And colored officer. And he looks
very mean. And I was really scared him. But beside that. To me, they just. So
THOMAS- And when you say colored officer, you mean an African-American?
THOMAS- Was that your first time meeting an African-American?
HOA- Yeah, yeah. And he's not friendly at all. He's very mean, it's like it's
scary for a sixteen-year-old, fifteen years old.
THOMAS- And how did you meet him?
HOA- I think he was like an officer, and I worked there in the mess hall. Um He
just I don't look at you, but you can tell his face that, hey, you know, get
away from me, don't go near me or whatever.
THOMAS- How did the Americans treat you?
HOA- Um I think they're very friendly. They-they treat everyone well. Um I don't
think that they mean at all. Even though when I was just a teenager, I know the
00:53:00war is going on and this is what happened. So, you just go with the flow.
THOMAS- I'm the same way Hoa. I got it 100%.
THOMAS- Other than your ex-husband, obviously, and the African-American officer,
were there any other Americans that you met that you remember any of your
HOA- No, I think most-most, most people, most American people I've met, they're
very decent. They were very friendly. I don't know. I never met anybody that
kind of mean at all. So, even though I walk around them a lot, but no.
THOMAS- How did your family feel about you working on the Americans post?
HOA- They very discriminated. They think that you worked for a man and people,
00:54:00you're going to sleep with them, you not good and you're not. No Vietnamese men
will marry you and all that stuff. And to me, it's like, I really don't care. I
need money. Uh I have to have money to help out with my siblings. So, I really
don't care what they think, and I don't really looking forward to marry because
I see my mom. I would not want that life.
THOMAS- What do you mean by that?
HOA- I don't want to marry Vietnamese guy.
HOA- Maybe I-I don't see anyone that love their wife. just they treat women just
like your wife. You know, I don't have to have to help you that your job, so I
00:55:00just didn't want that.
THOMAS- where did you? Where did you get that idea from?
HOA- Well. My dad always have affair with other woman beside my mom, I start to
know. And I get very angry, and I told my mom, I'll go with you. To you know
confront him or whatever, my mom would say no can't do that. Um And if my mom
complained or something, he would, yeah, it would beat her up. I remember one
time I was at work on Bien Hoa post and I only come home one day a week. One day
00:56:00I came home, my mom was all bruised, and I said, "Why are you staying here and
take this?" I was a teenager, but I really understand things. And she said, "Oh,
you know, I have to take care you guys what I'm going to do?" I say, "leave him.
I put all of them in apartment and I work to support them to help them." You
leave and you don't have to stay. She would never leave him. So, I thought that
that's something that I don't get out of my memory. I don't want to stay here
and marry. You're lucky. You got someone decent. If you don't, you end up like
my mom. So, I'm very strong against that.
THOMAS- You know you're very fiery Hoa.
HOA- I know. At seventeen, I always is like, I never like. I know he's my dad,
00:57:00but if I see him here, I go to different room. We never talked.
THOMAS- Were any of your siblings close your dad?
HOA- maybe my younger, younger brothers and sister, but I left when I was nineteen.
HOA- I still afraid of him, even though I live in America. See how terrified I
was afraid of. Now that I know my brother ourself sometime talk about him and I
just say, oh yeah, yeah, I really don't know that guy at all.
THOMAS- Why do you think your dad was like that?
HOA- He's that typical Vietnamese man? Um It's OK to have an affair. Cause I
00:58:00mean, there's no divorce, no law or. Interfere with your family, whatever you
do. But now they do that but back then. Yeah, it's OK to hit the woman. I've
been grow up. Have this kind of idea, but back then I was really against it. And
I kind of resent my mom. I said, you know that he hit you and he have an affair.
Why do you keep having kids? And one time I said to her, I'll take you to a
woman doctor, put an eye and whatever prevent you from having kids. She won't
take pills and she won't do it. I just like, you have a other alternative. And
00:59:00she just won't do it. She kept having kids.
THOMAS- What birth control was available at the time?
HOA- Back then it I-U-D (Intrauterine Device). Yeah. And we have pills and to.
THOMAS- And these were these were available in Bien HOA?
THOMAS- and you could afford them?
HOA- Yeah Because what I work for American Army now. I bring home the money now
and I know things. And I want to help out. I left. In 1972 and 1973, my mom,
still have another baby. So, my brother is 50 years old now, the youngest one. I
01:00:00just like can't believe you still have kids every two years. You can, you
pregnant? (HOA laughs)
THOMAS- How does your dad see that? How did your dad treat your siblings in you?
HOA- Oh, we all afraid of him.
HOA- I tell you, I take care, Number Six. Then number seven, he very clingy.
He's only cling to me and I have to go to school. And I left for school and he's
crying, screaming and stuff. I didn't know this, but my next-door neighbor told
us. And my father was home taking a nap and my brother screaming and crying
because I left for school. So he went. My father went and took my brother,
01:01:00turned him upside down, dump him in the water. That's how punish boy for crying.
So my neighbor came stop. Otherwise, the boy would die. We all afraid of him. Um
so later on my neighbor, tell me my mom didn't say anything, but my neighbor
told me what he did. I guess my brother never cried again. That's how bad he is
this? I mean, he can be very loving. I mean, he would buy things for you to eat
and stuff but. When he'd taken a nap, done your dare fight.
THOMAS- I'm sorry to hear we went through all that. And I imagine that's a big
part of why you were so fiercely driven towards independence. (Hoa shakes head
01:02:00yes) So let's-let's jump back to you starting at the at the military base so you
start off, you go out to the post to help them build it essentially and then
they get the mess hall up and running. And this is when you're how old again?
HOA- was sixteen
THOMAS- Sixteen when the mess hall gets up and running? And so you start working
in the mess hall immediately. What was that like?
HOA- Um In the morning, they would come and pick you up at certain location.
They took you there you work Um until five or whatever time they take you back
and drop you off, there then you get pay by the day.
HOA- Is not really bad. You work with American GI. They cook. So, you have one
peel potato. Do vegetables or whatever, and they cook whatever they serve that
01:03:00day. And you got to eat there, so that was. Um it's really not hard work, but I
guess. Not really working, but we were just there.
THOMAS- So. So, you dropped out of school to go do this? Um When you went to
Bien Hoa, you started going to school almost immediately there,
THOMAS- and so that was when you were, I suppose, about-about ten to when you
were fifteen, you were going to school. What was what was that education? What
did you learn?
HOA- You learned a lot of basic. The woman learn how to sew, um we don't have we
don't have music dancing here, everything is like math basic. So, you know how
01:04:00to write and read. I don't have gym like here. You don't go out and run, just
learn your basic things with um a little bit English, very little. But that just
THOMAS- And so you said you picked up a little bit of English. When you move to
the base, I guess you would have kept on learning English. How much English did
you know when you when you started working on the post?
HOA- Um broken English? A lot, you learned by listen. Later on. I went I took a
couple of classes like basic English, but that's about it. Mostly it just pick
up on whatever.
THOMAS- Was there any difference between how the officers treated you and how
01:05:00the enlisted men treated you on the American base?
HOA- Well. I know. Um I don't really deal with a lot of them. But later on, Um I
work on the base in Bien Hoa I work for the officer club, so we know to respect
what's going on in officer.
HOA- Um. I think it is more. More manners than their enlistment, Um but I
wouldn't know because I never worked for them. I always work for the officer people.
THOMAS- Ah so, the mess hall was an officer's mess hall. (Hoa shakes head yes) I
see, OK. What was what was security like on the base?
HOA- Um I don't see any big security. Um When I worked in the mess hall. I mean,
01:06:00I don't see anything but on the base is all barbed wire, security all around,
and MP. It's very tight. It's a big base in Bien Hoa. They-they have an airport
nearby. They have a big hospital there. There's three gate. One is for the
hospital and other number two it for general and number three is for something
else. It's really a big base in Bien Hoa.
THOMAS- Was it easy for you, so you you lived on on the base in Bien Hoa but you
just went every day to the post? (Hoa shakes head yes). So these are different things?
THOMAS- How old were you when you started working at the base?
THOMAS- How did you get chosen to work on the base?
HOA- Well, you know someone.
THOMAS- so you knew someone
HOA- to get me in. Yeah. So, I got a job, then they-they go through a process,
you have to have an I.D. to get in and out. And by the gate, there's always the
MP checking your I.D. when you get out and even when you get in, they have to
check you. If you don't have a pass and you can't get in.
THOMAS- How did your dad feel about you working on the the ba- the post or the
base or with the Americans in general?
HOA- Well, he didn't really know that I worked on the post at beginning until
later. And so, you know, he just not say anything about it.
HOA- Just let it go. And when later on, I work in the base. He knows about it,
01:08:00too, but he can't prevent me. But I don't see him. When I come home, I don't see
him. Then I just leave. I just got to go. So. But then he never know that I've
met American guy and left the country in so.
THOMAS- he-he didn't really have strong feelings one way or another.
THOMAS- You said you said people discriminated against you earlier, who were the people,
HOA- the Vietnamese
THOMAS- Were other-other people who you didn't know that well?
HOA- Right, yeah. But because they consider that if I work for the American
people, I must've fooling around with them. Yeah.
THOMAS- So we're up in 1966, 1967, which is when you started working on the big
01:09:00military base in Bien Hoa-
THOMAS- Um What was the translate- the transition like from working on the post
to moving to the base?
HOA- Oh, it's totally different and it's very um. On the post, you just like a
worker and they pick you up and drop you off. You go home, you just do your
work. You don't really know people. And. But then later on, you walk on the
base. Uh You are a person now. You got your I.D., you can come in, you can go
out. Um It pays different, and now you have friends. Before, you just works. I'm
glad it worked with a bunch of old people. I really don't care about you. But
now you a person. You can learn more English now. You feel little different
THOMAS- and you move, you moved to the monkey house from the post to the base.
HOA- Yeah, yeah, there.
THOMAS- Tell me, tell me a little bit about the monkey house.
HOA- It's a big building. Two story. Um.
HOA- They each side have showers like four and toilet, and we all go there. We
use a shower. We sleep there and sometimes we just you know, talk, but we really
don't. At twelve o'clock, I think the lights go off. So, you-you're not allowed
to cook there you because you eat already. You come home, take a shower and
sleep, and next day you go to work and all girls. Now there's no boys and
01:11:00there's a-a security guard at the gate outside, he stayed there overnight. You
can't get out, you go in there, you're done. Don't get out to the morning. So
that's why I called that the monkey house, because it's bunch of girls, Oh my
God, they're noisy and. It's fun.
THOMAS- So you mean-you mean monkey house in like a lighthearted.
HOA- Yeah, yeah.
THOMAS- What was it like living with-with eighty other young? I assume these
were all young girls.
HOA- Mmhmm mmhmm.
THOMAS- What was that like?
HOA- Yeah. We-we kind of like. Some of us officer club, we work for officer and
most of them, they work for the enlistment and they all have boyfriends and they
talk about it and they have money and so on the day off we would go to Saigon.
01:12:00You know buy things like clothes, get your hair done and all that you are pretty
up now because you know, the money. You work for the officer Club. You only get
paid. They don't tip you, they don't, you know. But the enlistment when they get
pay it tipped them pretty well the girls that work there. So, they have lot of
money. But for us, it's like, no we poor thing. We just have that salary. So,
it's totally different.
THOMAS- So they made more money than you guys did working with the enlisted man?
HOA- They make more money but the enlisted men, they just spend all their money
when they get paid. (Hoa laughs)
THOMAS- The officer save their money.
HOA- Yeah, the officers they tight with my money. Yeah, I remember the drink is
always twenty-five cents and they pay twenty-five cents. They're not going to
tip you. Yeah, you don't get tip at all. They not allowed to tip you anyway. But
01:13:00the enlistment they just like, throw their money out.
THOMAS- So the enlisted men weren't supposed to tip, but they did it anyway.
Interesting, and this was at a bar, an Enlisted Bar on the base,
HOA- the base.
THOMAS- Tell me about your work in the officer club.
HOA- Um Well, we have a kitchen. If the officer doesn't want to eat the food at
the mess or whatever they can come to the officer club, they can buy their
steak. The chef there he's the army, but he know how to cook, so he cooks
whatever meal and they only sell very cheap, like a dollar, 50 cents or
whatever. So, I remember my ex-husband make two thousand dollars a month and
they give you. Food then room. Hey, don't pay anything, you know. OK, so 2000
01:14:00dollars safe every month? Yeah. So, you want to spend money at the officer club,
you pay a little bit. The drink is like twenty-five cent. Steak it could be
like, Oh yeah, the steak for two twenty-five (HOA laughs). And T-bones steak.
THOMAS- way cheaper than now.
HOA- Yeah. And you've got french fries or whatever chef cook for that day.
THOMAS- And when you say drinks, what kind of drinks?
HOA- is like mix drinks, you know, you can have rum and coke, gin tonic? Twenty
THOMAS- Not too bad now. And your job there was?
HOA- I would behind the bar.
HOA- Doing mix drinks? And sometime if they have the food, I would bring out the
food and then they have movie. Outside the patio, they-they show movie, but
01:15:00inside they just drink and talk. Then live music sometimes. Uh The-the regular
club for the enlistment they do have movie, they do have food, I do have same
thing again, but you have to pay a little bit. And that's why my job is I was
behind the bar for most time.
THOMAS- Did you like it?
HOA- Yeah, I like it because I work with this girl. She's-she's my friend. Later
on, we was friends. Just one of the girl. Yeah, yeah, just me and her, and she
really good, little older than me.
THOMAS- Is she the one that got you into?
HOA- No, there's another story. My dad was dating a woman. That's her sister in,
01:16:00work inside. So if she's told her sister that I want to get a job, so I got a job.
THOMAS- You got the job essentially through your dad. (Hoa shakes head yes) Interesting
HOA- from his woman. (Both laugh)
THOMAS- Oh my goodness. (HOA stands up from chair) You want to take a break or anything?
THOMAS- Well, I can keep on going as long as you're fine with it. All right, so
we're-we're around sixty-six, sixty-seven still,
THOMAS- And then. The next big event I can think of is the Tet Offensive
HOA- Tet? sixty-eight?
THOMAS- Yeah, you-you jumped right on that.
HOA- Yeah, I remember that very clearly. The North came in and do a lot of
01:17:00damage to the South. I remember my older brother was in the army at that time,
and I didn't know where he was. And I went all over the place looking for him
and just. Really a horrible scene. And I think that's the beginning of whatever
happened after that.
HOA- Sixty, sixty-eight. That's when the war started to really active, but
before that was pretty low key. You know, because we in the city. So, you were
in in Bien Hoa for Tet at the Lunar New Year, you're not necessarily the offensive.
THOMAS- So when did you find out about it?
HOA- And I think right after that happened, I don't remember the news or
01:19:0001:18:00whatever happened, but I know that a lot of people got killed. And everyone went
to looking for their loved ones, especially if you in the service. And at that
time, I only have my older brother was in the service, so I was really concerned
about him. Um And then after that. I still work on the post and the war going
on, but for me, it was like fun. It was nothing happened. We just do know things
and the day off. We went to Saigon to see a movie and buy things and have fun.
THOMAS- Was- What was what was Tet like in Bien Hoa?
HOA- I was the first I don't remember where I said a lot of killing. I don't
remember exactly what city that was. Um But Bien Hoa was very quiet. At just one
location, that's where a lot of people got killed. I forgot where I was.
THOMAS- You mean in Bien Hoa? There was there was a battle, but in only one part
of the city,
HOA- in one part.
THOMAS- So they didn't attack the base.
HOA- No, no. It's very quiet there. The base is very secure.
THOMAS- When did you start looking for your brother?
HOA- I think the day after, because we didn't hear anything from him, we didn't
see him and. I don't know. I don't remember is he married already I forgot, but
01:20:00I have no idea where he was at just-just went to look and I didn't see anything
but a lot of people crying and a lot of death and some.
HOA- Scary, like now when I turn on the news, I don't turn on the news anymore.
But you can war and all that stuff. I just. You know that's remind me of that.
Lot of people die.
THOMAS- Are you are you OK if we go through this story?
HOA- Yeah, sure.
THOMAS- I'd like you to take me from a start to finish. So, you're-you're in
Bien Hoa. You know, there's some sort of battle going on with Tet. And what-what
made you want to start looking for your brother?
HOA- Because we didn't hear anything from him. Um He didn't come home. We know
01:21:00he's in the service, but I don't know what he did, what, what he'd do. So, I see
people panic. Oh, I just like, OK, let me go see. If I can find anything about
my brother, but I didn't. I didn't find him. He turned up later. I don't know
where he was anyway. I don't remember very much about it, but we all remember
that sixty-eight. That was it.
THOMAS- Was your brother OK?
HOA- Yeah, he's OK.
THOMAS- What um- What was it like having a brother fighting for the South?
HOA- It's very common. It's the thing to do. You. You live in this house; you
have to joined the army to fight um the depending like here. What do you want to
go? Do you want to go to an air force? You want an army, you want a navy over
01:22:00there, it's the same. You have to join the army at certain age now, like here
they draft you and that's it. Same thing over there.
THOMAS- Did everybody in your family know he was in the army?
HOA- Yeah. We know.
THOMAS- Was it- was it contentious?
HOA- Sort of, yeah, he's in there for a short time. Then later on, my father got
him out and he joined the MP like the cop, so it was mostly in the city.
HOA- he don't have to go fight anymore. So that's what you do. First, you have
to join some kind. Then you find your way. That's what I don't want to do.
THOMAS- How old were your other brothers around this time?
HOA- Oh, I was seventeen, my older brother was nineteen, then my sister. Yeah,
he's still maybe young, ten, eleven. So young. So, he. No, it didn't affect him
THOMAS- Did he?
HOA- He joined on the year after I left for America. He joined.
THOMAS- So that would have been around 1972.
THOMAS- well, we'll come back to your brother in a little bit. Your- your second
brother. We talked about the one that's ten years old in 1968. Um Do you know?
So, you're your older brother was presumably fighting in the Tet Offensive at
01:24:00the time, and it turned out to be OK. You know where he was?
HOA- I didn't ask. And know he's saying he was OK but we didn't get into it. And
I'm like, Yeah.
THOMAS- How did the Tet offensive affect your family?
HOA- I don't think it's affecting us. It's just like we know it's happened. You
live in Vietnam. That's part of the things. There's the war going on. We mostly
like, OK, we live, that's it.
THOMAS- Um What-what did they say in the Monkey House, where you were still
living at the on base at the time, what did they what were the other girls
HOA- We were pretty young, so we know things happen. We just go on with our
01:25:00life. We don't get into it. We're kids (Hoa laughs), we're talk about
boyfriends. We talk about work, and fashion and things like that, we're not
really into this thing.
THOMAS- Were you isolated in the monkey house?
HOA- No, no. We don't have doors just like one open gigantic space with bed,
with bunk beds.
THOMAS- I mean, more-more as needed from the rest of Bien Hoa, because you said
you can only go out during the weekends and not really at night.
HOA- Yeah, no, not-not isolated, no we um. We go there like nine or ten o'clock
at night and we shower, we chat and we go to sleep. So, we have a lot of friends
01:26:00around. We're not supposed to go out because they don't want you. You know.
Well, fool around with other guys or I don't know. (Hoa laughing) They lock you
up in there,
THOMAS- but you still talk to everybody else.
HOA- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
THOMAS- What was the- what were some things you heard about the Tet Offensive at
HOA- No, we didn't, you know? Well, no, not much. We know that the North people
came in and attacking us, but that's about it. Yeah.
THOMAS- It's-it's a good thing that you are fairly unaffected.
THOMAS- Did you- What did you know about American politics at the time?
HOA- Not much.
THOMAS- So you didn't hear anything about like the Nixon election or anything
01:27:00that was going on with that?
HOA- No, no. We- We know that President Nixon was elected and he gonna pull the
troops out, and that's all we know, and that's all we care. (Thomas laughs)
We're not into politics. We just, you know,
THOMAS- what was the feeling about-about Nixon pulling the troops out?
HOA- For young girls. We was like, OK, now we have to go back to work for the
Vietnamese. How is that life going to be like? All we concern about. Because for
past five years or whatever, we happy, we like it. And now we have were concern
01:28:00about. Going back work for the Vietnamese people. So that how most concern.
THOMAS- What do you think would have happened if Nixon pulled out the troops in
1968 or 1969 when he first got into office?
HOA-No, I didn't-didn't thought about that at all.
HOA- but I know eventually we talk about that. He gonna pull them out. And he
finally did but at beginning and we just like, Okay, whatever. We're just not
THOMAS- you're teenagers?
HOA- Yes. Yeah, well, teenagers, we're young, we don't care whoever wins the
war. It didn't affect us.
THOMAS- And at this point in time, your dad is working for some lumber mill or something.
HOA- Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he's still in the lumber, didn't make a lot of money.
01:29:00Most of the money that I made, I gave it to my mom. And I spent some, but mostly
I gave it to her so she can help the little one. Um in Vietnam when you go to
school. You're done with your elementary school, you don't pay. But when you
start to go to high school, you have to pay, and if you don't have money, then
you don't go to school. So I pull out, I drop out because I want to help the
little guys so they can go to school. That's something, you know, the older
brother or sister sacrifice. They-they more concern about the boy had education,
than the girl cause the girl kind of a homemaker anyway. And the boys, this
01:30:00time, you know, they have to have education.
THOMAS- And your-your family at this point time only has four school aged
children, your older brother who's kind of too old for school.
HOA- Yeah, he done. me and him with them and now I still have my number three,
sister, four brothers go into school. Then number five you know it just like
they all need schooling.
THOMAS- How was the money you were making on base?
HOA- I make pretty good for Vietnamese person any way. I could say a I like.
Almost like eighty dollars a month, and you change that into Vietnamese money,
01:31:00that pretty decent.
THOMAS- You said you worked in the officers' club and you were doing all this
for the money. Did you ever thinking about trying to work in the enlisted club
for more money?
HOA- No, I didn't want to go there because um. They the girls they either have
boyfriend. Or they have to take the grab and the stuff from American guys, and I
think, you know, I'm pretty safe here and pretty clean, and I stay here. I
didn't care about making more money.
THOMAS- Tell me a little bit about the relationship between the Vietnamese girls
in the monkey house and the American soldiers in the enlisted club.
HOA- We. Go to work. They some of them have boyfriend and the boyfriend would,
01:32:00you know, give them money, some would leave with boyfriend, some stay behind. Um
But I think we all just happy teenagers. Um The-the American people treat us
better than the Vietnamese. Men that I know Um. we don't really talk about, you
know, whatever the future is. We just happy one day and whatever tomorrow is.
THOMAS- But you weren't you weren't really um bothered by the officers.
HOA- No, no, they're pretty decent people. They- The-the sergeant that in charge
01:33:00at the officer club. He giving eyes on em. But, you know, the either lieutenant
to two star general, they are army career people. Um They know that they
shouldn't, you know, do stuff that way. And they're pretty decent.
THOMAS- Did any of them ever harass you?
HOA- No, I don't think so. All the time that I've been in there, they're pretty nice.
THOMAS- When did you meet your ex-husband?
HOA- Um, it's got to be seventy, 1970. My ex-husband stationed in another part
of the country. He's in charge of mortuary. You know, people die and bring the
body there. The morgue. he had a friend at station at Long Binh so before he had
01:34:00to go home to see his dad, he was on leave for a month.
HOA- His dad had an eye operation, so he before he go to America, he stopped by
to see his friend. In Long Binh, that's where I was. So his friend took him to
the Officer Club. And he saw me behind the bar. And uh and we talk that day and
they say, well, I'm leaving for America tomorrow, but when I come back in a
month. I'm going to take you out on post. We do have some um like the restaurant
that we can go. And I said, OK. So. And he came back a month later. He stopped
01:35:00by to see his friend before he go back to the other part of the country where
he's stationed. And we talk and I don't know but he kissed me that day (Hoa
laughs). Then he went back. To Da Nang, that's where his station is. And he
called me every day on the phone. Then finally, he had a leave for a month, he
had a couple of days leave, so he would come back to Bien Hoa and we meet in
Saigon and we'd go out and back then be- Saigon is hopping with GI and girls.
And people. Really hopping. But they still discriminate. A Vietnamese girl
dating an American guy so he would walk in front of me, and I make believe I
01:36:00don't know him, so I walk behind him to follow him. Um Sometimes we get in the
taxi to go to a restaurant or whatever. But if the Vietnamese army soldier see
us, they would, you know, cuss at you because you date an American guy and you
just take it like-like you can't defend yourself. You know, they cuss at you,
you know, they call your name or whatever. You just take it. That's hard, it's hard.
THOMAS- So they would cuss at you, but not the American?
HOA- No not the American. They cuss in Vietnamese, how the American guy would
know. (Hoa laughs)
THOMAS- Oh, I see, and you don't want to cause problems.
HOA- No, you just take it. You just quietly leave. you don't answer, you don't
THOMAS- you have any experience with that
HOA- Yeah one time. Yeah. And I don't say anything because, you know, in Saigon,
01:37:00sometimes they say I'm the Amer-Vietnamese servicemen would come back and they
would go to Saigon because all the action was in, you know, the bar and stuff.
So, like, you know, a couple of them would hang out and they if they see me
going out with American guy, they get very angry. You know? Now.
THOMAS- Can you tell me a little bit more about the discrimination you faced for
dating an American?
HOA- Um My family didn't know. Only when I go out with him that I have to be
careful, you know, don't go somewhere that not a lot of people, because you know
that you could-could harass, you could get beat up. So we have to be very
careful. We go and stay in main Street. And just one incident at one time, you
01:38:00know, a couple of guy, a couple of Vietnamese soldier who would call me names
and cuss at me and stuff, I keep walking. And after that, we just have to be
THOMAS- Were you-were you aware of the discrimination at first or was this
incident that made you
HOA- No, we-we kind of aware. Even 2002. After all that done right, I went back
to see my family in Vietnam and they know that I'm from America because I look
different. And one guy from my brother neighborhood, he's start to call, cuss at
me and call me things and stuff. And I just ignore it. I'm not with American
01:39:00guy. What the hell are you talking about? You know but I don't say anything
because I look different.
HOA- He probably know that. You know that. But even before that, they all talk
about, "oh, you work for American people and, you no good and nobody want to
marry you and all that stuff", you know? But what you gonna do?
THOMAS- I want to go back just a little bit. 1969 and the My Lai massacre. Did
you hear about that at the time?
THOMAS-Were the Vietnamese and the girls in the Monkey House, were they talking
about any American atrocities?
HOA- No. So, I didn't know about.
THOMAS- Do- you didn't see anything on the TV about? (Hoa shakes head no) That's
definitely interesting is it was it was this big, old, huge thing in the United
States. So it's it's kind of- kind of strange that
HOA- no I missed that one.
THOMAS- So then in 1970, you meet your husband, ex-husband and um you're-you're
dating and what have you and- and that takes you into about 1972, which is when
THOMAS- And in that time between 1970 and 1972, the American presence is really
drawing down. They're pulling out troops. What does that look like for you? You
said you were Long Binh base, right? (Hoa shakes head yes)
HOA- Um so my ex-husband had an order that he had to come back to America cause
they don't want, They don't need him there, so he just met me. So he asked to be
extended for two more years and they granted. So, he asked to leave where he
01:41:00was. Now he work in Long Binh, so he can see me every day. So, then he moved
from Danang, and he's stationed in Long Binh now. He's in charge of supplies,
you know, for food and all that stuff. And. Um And one day in-in seventy-one. Um
He went on vacation to Hong Kong. Came back and he bought me a diamond ring and
he asked me would I want to go to America with him.
HOA- I said "no. I can't be my family," and he said "OK, then I only have one
month left. If you don't come, I gotta go home." Then I went home to the monkey
01:42:00house and I told this girl that my friend (Hoa lifts photo for camera), I said,
"I'm envious. He asked me to marry him and I said No." And my friend, Lee, she's
say "you should go." I said, "why?" Leaving my family. She's like, "You know,
better life for you because you stay back. Think about it. Vietnamese men are
not going to marry you and they don't respect you. How are you going to support
your family with the Amer- a Vietnamese job? You don't have any degree we don't
have any experience. It's going to be rough for you." So, I've thought about it,
she right, you know. I can come over here and send the money home better. And
next day, I kind of know, yeah, I'll go home with you (HOA laughs).
THOMAS- I-I did a little research on Vietnamese war brides for-for this
interview and. They're-they're very rare. I was surprised by the low number, a
New York Times article I read from, I think it was like 1974-1975 said it was
only 8000 Vietnamese war brides who-who went from Vietnam and moved to America
to marry a husband.
THOMAS- So I'm really interested in that experience.
THOMAS- So you-you decided to go to America for a better life with your now
ex-husband. Ah and you said in a previous our previous discussion, you didn't
say anything to your family about this,
HOA- Nope, just went.
THOMAS- Well, tell me about the the decision to not say anything
HOA- because I think my father would be very upset. That, you know, I've been
working all that time and he didn't know that I was dating American guy.
HOA- I would leave. That's something you don't do. And I didn't tell my mom
either because I don't want her to get sad you know. I told my sister that next
to me, I said I'm leaving and whatever the money I have left, I give all to her
and I said, "Don't tell mom until later." So, I didn't come home that week, so
my mom finally realized that, hey, how come she not coming home. And my sister
told us that a month later. And then my father find out. So, he come home and
he's like, hit my mom. He was like, "you knew about it. How much money did she
01:45:00give you and all that stuff?" And once I figure out, she just left. A month
later, and there's nothing I can do. I'm in America. So, two years later, in
1974, I went back to Vietnam to visit and I met my dad and he- like um, I want
to talk to you. I'm still afraid of him, even though, you know. And he said,
it's OK. Um you left without telling us. I say, if I told you, would you let me.
He said No. That's why I didn't tell you. And he said, Oh, I forgive um you now
that you marry, you have in your life, you have a husband. I can't prevent you,
I can't stop you. So I'm OK. And the following year he died.
THOMAS- I want to get back to that, but. Back to you, marrying your husband, I
01:46:00know there's a lot of paperwork he had to do.
HOA- He did all for me in one month.
HOA- I couldn't do it. I mean, I went to people to pay to do it and they could
do it. But he told his father he wanted to marry me.
HOA- It's like K visa. Ninety Day Fiance. So, his father got the paperwork in
Staten Island and sent it to him. All I have to do it, get my birth certificate
and pay little money. And I got my visa in one month.
THOMAS- Wow. So, his family was supportive of the marriage,
HOA- beginning when he told his mom, he going to bring me home. The mom saying,
"No, I don't want to have a grand-children that- I wanted to communicate with my
01:47:00grandchildren." And my ex-husband will say, "well, I'm marrying her, not you."
So he brought me home anyway (Thomas laughs). They didn't like me at first. I
think she's jealous. Because uh he gave me a really nice big diamond ring. And I
wear it. And she says to me "I never got a diamond ring." And I didn't say
anything. It take her five years to like me.
THOMAS- So relationships were a little tense at first.
HOA- She didn't like me
THOMAS- His dad must've, though, to get the paperwork in order.
HOA- His dad was a retired New York City cop. So they live in Staten Island, so
he probably knows how to get things.
THOMAS- So you-you come to the United States in 1972, you said when we talked
01:48:00previously that you your first, your first spot. The first place you went in
America was San Francisco.
HOA- Yeah, I yeah, that's where my ex-husband got discharged in San Francisco.
So, he left April, twenty fifth. Yeah, he left two days before he left. April
twenty-fifth, he went to San Francisco to get his paperwork for discharge. They
don't need him anymore, so he's out on. So, in April twenty-seventh, I came in
to San Francisco he was waiting for me there. Very naive, nineteen years old. I
left Vietnam, not even a dollar, in my pocketbook.
HOA- He got me airfare ticket. So, I got to (Inaudible) and I said, "I have no
01:49:00money. What if he don't come to the airport to pick me up?" I know his name. I
know he's out of army. I don't really know his address in Staten Island. Back
then you have no phone. I said, "Oh my God. What I do." So when the flight
landed in San Francisco, I didn't get off. I just stayed in there. I was like I
don't know what to do. So, I was the last person got off and he was there
waiting for me. So, nineteen years old, I'm so stupid. (HOA laughs)
THOMAS- So you meet him at the plane.
HOA- MhmmTHOMAS- And what's it like coming to an American city?
HOA- just like, Oh my God, I was like, so amazed of how the highway and bridges
in America was. And to today I was still amazed how they build the highway. Um
01:50:00Totally different for me. Um He's like 90 days your visa expired if you don't
marry me. You have to go back. So, we got back to Staten Island in May. Then we
set out the date to get married in June. So that was that.
THOMAS- Tell me about your wedding.
HOA- It's very small. Um He's only invite. I don't have family, I don't have
anybody, he only invite his family and some friends that he knows. Um We have
that up in church behind the church. We have catering come in. Very small, small
01:51:00and nothing would do.
THOMAS- What was it like being-being a Buddhist in America?
HOA- I don't really practiced, so it's OK. My ex-husband is um Protestant. So, I
would go to church with him. I didn't get baptized until after my son was born.
Because it's not that important to me.
THOMAS- Um What was your what was your first job in the United States like?
HOA- Um See, I got here in 1972, after I got married, my ex-husband went back to
college to get his degree.
HOA- Um Oh, we live with my in-law for the first six months in their house. Then
01:52:00we went out and bought our own house in Staten Island. My first job got to be
1972 or so. I worked as a waitress in a place called Moulin Rouge in Staten
Island. It's like a club and the restaurant. I was a waitress then and they all
loved me because they call me China doll (Both laugh). So I get good at English,
but oh yeah. But during the day, I went to school for the whole year to learn
English. I work only three nights over there. During the day, five days a week,
I go to school learn English
THOMAS- and your-your husband was ex-husband was.
HOA- He went back to college.
THOMAS- He was going to school at this time.
HOA- He went back to like college full time?
THOMAS- So you didn't. You didn't speak English when or you didn't speak English
Well, when you first came to United States
HOA- Yeah like broken English and after a year of English, then I learned how to
do office work, learn how to type and do filing and all that stuff for another
year. And right after that, I got a job in the stock brokerage in New York City.
I work in, I call it a cage, but it's a cashier. Um You know, they transfer
stock and I would do the paperwork and typing and all that stuff.
THOMAS- Oh, that's so interesting. So what was what was that like?
HOA- As I remember, the name is Raino's Securities and 120 Broadway, New York.
01:54:00Um I didn't get paid much, but you know, I need the skill because I just got the
skill from school. Um I would walk. I would take the bus to the ferry and from
the ferry I walk up.
HOA- Um Because if I take the express bus from Staten Island to New York, it's
three dollars, and I didn't want that three dollars and spend three dollar, so I
spent a quarter on a ferry. So then after work, I walked to the ferry. Take the
ferry to Staten Island. Take the bus to home. I did that until 1976. That's when
my son, my other son, was born.
THOMAS- I didn't know you had two sons.
HOA- My oldest son died. Drunk driver.
THOMAS- You want to tell me about your-your oldest son
HOA- His name was Adrian. Born in 1976. Um he just turn seventeen. Uh In
December, and he was seventeen and a half, and he died in August. He came home
from his father house to my house after playing hockey and got to be like around
ten, eleven o'clock at night and Friday night. Him and his brother, Dan, in that
one car. And a drunk driver hit him from behind. And died of accident. And my
other son, Danny, so.
THOMAS- I'm sorry to hear that. So, when did you divorce your first husband?
HOA- Uh 1986.
THOMAS- So your second son-
THOMAS- is he from your first marriage?
HOA- My husband- current husband have two sons of his own. Between two of us,
two older kids, thank God. (Both laugh)
THOMAS- When did-when did you marry your current husband?
HOA- Um 2007.
THOMAS- OK. That's a that's a big jump in time, and I promise we're going to
we're going to start settling down this interview because it's been a it's been
a bit, Hoa. This is a really interesting story, and I'm so grateful that you're
telling me all about you. So, let's go back to 1972. That's a bit of a time
jump. But um so your you first came to the United States and.
THOMAS- Uh did you experience any- How did-how did the Americans treat you?
HOA- Well, I was I think I was the only Asian in that part of Staten Island
01:57:00because one day we-we walked by and people staring at me. I guess they never
seen Asian people before. So, every time I go out with my ex-husband, they
always staring at us. And so, I don't have any friends, and I don't know where
to buy Asian food. So, we eat, you know, American food all the time. But anyway,
every year United Nation have a party for us at around Tet time. You know the
Vietnamese Tet. So, they would have partied there and we all go there because we
need to meet friend. And that's where we meet all the Vietnamese friend. They
all came from different part of New York. And uh I met my first Vietnamese
01:58:00friend in Staten Island because it's my ex-husband. He went to (Inaudible) at
that time of night and he saw an Asian woman, so he go after her and he say,
"Are you Vietnamese?" Turn out she is. So, she live in then island also. And he
got her number and I got friends with her. Then after UN. I also met one of my
friend that I used to know from the base. See, I work for officer clubs. We work
for the mess hall, next to each other. We never talk, we never friend. But from
the UN we met her over there so she became my friend and she lived in the Bronx.
I live in Staten Island.
THOMAS- Oh, that's-that's a lot. Tell me about the U.N. Tet celebration, that's
HOA- Yeah. We didn't pay any money. I don't know who organized it, but every
year Um we know the date and we go there and they have food for us and we would meet.
HOA- Even a college student that did come on board to study, then they go there
and we met there uh just once a year. And in 1974 from the UN party, um I got in
contact with some college students and they organized a flight to Vietnam. So,
it's only about $900 from Washington DC Airport to Vietnam roundtrip for $900
that when 1974. That's how I went home. Um, after that I don't think I go back
02:00:00to UN party anymore. I think I went back two or three times.
THOMAS- Tell me about the return trip in 1974 to Vietnam.
HOA- Uh It's still the same. But now our friends or the friend from monkey
house. They have different jobs. Some still live in Saigon, being the bar girl
and stuff. Some returned to their village. Very quiet. There's no more American
people in Vietnam in 1974. It just quiet. It not like hopping before. Life is
still the same. My family still lives there. Nothing changed much in two years.
02:01:00I did met some friends that I used to work with at-in the base, but then after
that? That's it, I don't get contact.
THOMAS- Um What did what did people in Vietnam think about where they were? Like
with the war.
HOA- Um Before. When I was still in Vietnam, we cannot we from the south, we
cannot go to Ha Noi because Ha Noi is north, we not allow. But then after the
war? They open. So, we can go to visit Ha Noi now, but I never been to Ha Noi, I
don't know what it's like. So, my recent trip with my husband, we make a trip to
02:02:00Ha Noi and to see people there, mostly younger generation. They're very
friendly. They don't talk about the war. They don't regret anything. We even
went to visit the jail that where- where that guy is-
THOMAS- John McCain.
HOA- McCain. (THOMAS laughs) Yeah, they still hang his suit. You know, at the
airport, too and still hanging there, his name still there. We went to that
jail. People forget all about that war. They don't talk about it. They don't
look at you different. It's like none of that. It's really friendly, warm. We
forget all about that war.
THOMAS- I just have a few more questions, so I want to I want to circle back and
02:03:00talk about your family members that were supporting the Viet Cong or the North
at the time. You said most of them were in the village, not Bien Hoa.
HOA- No, not
THOMAS- My Tar.
HOA- Yeah, My Tar, but not Bien Hoa. Mostly in the village Um.
THOMAS- So tell me, what did you know about your family members and what they
did during the war for the North?
HOA- Um, especially my last aunt, she the youngest one. She's involved because I
think she was nineteen and she's dating a guy, and I think she would go to the
meeting with him and all that. Um but I don't know much because I'm just a kid.
But you don't have a choice. You have to join. The other side. Um that's it.
THOMAS- You don't know anything about your-your two brothers.
THOMAS- Or sorry, your two uncles.
HOA- My two uncles. My yeah. I don't- I know that they had meetings, but I don't
know where. I don't know what they talk about. I would just six, six, seven
years old kid. I know they involved, but that's all. And it's sad at one time, I
realize that, yeah, there are two brother and one brother. That's my father.
They fight against each other. That's all I remember. Yeah.
THOMAS- And what about your-your grandfather's death?
HOA- I think he's. He got to be in his sixties.
HOA- I think it's from the bombing and he probably in the-he's still in the
02:05:00village at that time. I don't know what he was doing, but he killed from the bombing.
THOMAS- You know, if they tried to kick him out of the village?
HOA- No, no.
THOMAS- There was an American program at the time where they-they tried to force
Vietnamese civilians into certain villages, and then they-they labeled other
villages free fire zones so they could essentially shoot anybody in them.
HOA- No, I didn't know that. Now, now he's still in his own home, and he's
still. My grandfather had a lot of land. So that's how we survive. We live on
that. And now.
THOMAS- All right. There's just a few more questions I want to ask you.
THOMAS- Did you know-you know anyone who was affected by Agent Orange?
HOA- No, but that's a funny story because when I was married to my ex-husband
02:06:00sometime, sometimes he act stupid and I say, I think Agent Orange got you (Both
laughs). I mean, but no, no.
THOMAS- What? So the-this interview is going to be published. Is there is there
anything you want to tell your-your grandkids or your son about your experiences
HOA- Not really. Nah. Let them be happy. My son never asked about it, and I
just, you know, not volunteer.
THOMAS- Why don't you think he asked about?
HOA- I think he just like, OK, I know you came from a big family and how hard
you work and. I just want him to be happy, that's it. Whatever I did, I did
02:07:00because I need to survive.
THOMAS- What do you think people should know about the Vietnam War?
HOA- I think most of us knows is kind of stupid, but we went in anyway.
HOA- American people, I don't know why we help the south fighting the north, in
my opinion. They should just leave it alone. But it my opinion.
THOMAS- What do you think? People should know about Vietnam, the country?
HOA- Oh the country is beautiful. People are very good hearted. Um It's more a
small country, but I don't know about the North, but the South. We very, very
02:08:00green. Um I mean, we can grow a lot of things. Vietnam can be, I don't know.
It's small, but it's very clean, is very healthy looking. We always have rain,
we always, you know. It's like ninety degrees every day, (Both laugh)
THOMAS- Too hot for me Hoa.
HOA- and you have eighty something every day.
THOMAS- Is there anything that I didn't ask about that you want to talk about?
HOA- No I think you cover a lot. And.
THOMAS- All right Hoa.
THOMAS- I think we're going to we're going to end it here