Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Hoa Nguyen, March 16, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Wow, that's pretty cool

Segment Synopsis: Wood introduces the interviewee, Hoa Ngyuen, the date, and the West Chester Oral History project

00:00:55 - Childhood in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: I want to start of as early as possible

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen gives a brief overview of the locations she lived in as a child in Vietnam, including being born in a village, moving to Bien Hoa due to her father's time in the army, and then living on the American army base where she worked for the U.S. Army.

Keywords: Bien Hoa; My Tar; My Tho

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Mỹ Tho (Vietnam); Travel; United States. Army.; Vietnam; Villages

00:02:21 - Early childhood in Mỹ Tho

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Partial Transcript: So I want to get back to Bien Hoa--

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses her early childhood in the village of Mỹ Tho, before they moved to Bien Hoa at the start of the war. She explains what the village looked like, the farm crops her family grew to support themselves, work her family did, and the remoteness of the village from cities and markets. Her grandparents helped care for her. She recalls starting school at a young age in the village, but that her parents eventually pulled her out and sent her to a school in the city. Her extended family including grandparents and aunts lived with her family on the farm in the village. The Viet Cong recruited her aunt to serve, and she never saw her again.

Keywords: Bien Hoa; Farming; My Tar; My Tho; Viet Cong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Childhood; Family; Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Mỹ Tho (Vietnam); Vietnam; Villages

00:11:04 - Early Memories of the beginning of the war

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Partial Transcript: And when you were living in the village

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains what she remembers as a child from the early stages of the war in the 1950s. She explains that as children they knew that the North was fighting the South and remembers men and women hiding from Viet Cong soldiers that came through the village and the violence that occurred. Nguyen also discusses her family's ties to both the North and the South and how the bombing of the village forced them to leave. The Viet Cong ignored children and older people, but recruited young adults and were known to rape younger women. As a result, her father chose to leave the village. She explains how complicated it was to know loyalties and to navigate the violence.

Keywords: North Vietnam; South Vietnam; Viet Cong; Vietcong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Childhood; Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Villages; Women

00:15:20 - Memories of the French impact and other knowledge of the early conflict

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Partial Transcript: What, uh, what did you know about the French growing up,

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen continues to talk about her knowledge of the ongoing war, particularly her knowledge of the French involvement in Vietnam, President Diem, and how information in the village was hard to come by.

Keywords: Early War; French; Ngo Dinh Diem

Subjects: France; Newspapers; Ngô, Đình Diệm, 1901-1963.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Villages

00:18:27 - Moving to Bien Hoa and family life

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Partial Transcript: So then you would have moved to Bien Hoa--

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recounts moving from the village to Bien Hoa when she was around seven years old. She describes her family life, living with her many siblings and sometimes living with her grandparents when her mom had another baby. She also describes her life going to school and struggle of taking care of her many younger siblings

Keywords: Bien Hoa; Vietnamese Culture

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Family; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Center city Bien Hoa
Map Coordinates: 10.56.6814,106.49.4592
00:27:52 - Memory of the Kennedy assassination

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned the Kennedy assassination. That's so interesting

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls that in Bien Hoa, her family’s' access to black and white TV made her more aware of news like the Kennedy assassination and the war overall. She describes this event as the moment things became "more real" for her.

Keywords: Bien Hoa; JFK; Kennedy; Kennedy Assassination; News

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963.; Television; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:29:55 - First Experience with Americans in Bien Hoa

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Partial Transcript: you were still in Bien Hoa when Kennedy was assassinated?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls the first jobs she performed for the United States Army when they first moved into Bien Hoa such as standing in the jungle with the soldiers and helping in the mess hall, and then she briefly jumps ahead to talk about her time in the Officers’ Club. She explains how she began skipping school to work and make money for her family even though she hid her job from them for some time.

Keywords: American army; Army base; Bien Hoa; Mess halls; Officer's club

Subjects: Americans.; Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Jungles; United States. Army.; Vietnam

00:37:11 - Religious identity / Reaction to protests

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Partial Transcript: So let's let's, let's jump back to 1963.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen briefly touches on her Buddhist background and how she did not feel people talked much about their religious identities in Vietnam. She discusses her lack of knowledge of major political events happening in Saigon at the time like anti-Diem protests

Keywords: Diem; Protest; Saigon

Subjects: Buddhism; Buddhists; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Monks; Religion; Vietnam

00:39:09 - Lack of political voice

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Partial Transcript: You would not dare.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses how people outside of the larger cities did not have much of a political voice and did not get involved in politics. She describes how the government forced them to vote otherwise there could be consequences. Nguyen says that she remembers many of the key events from this time, such as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, from television coverage and that in towns like Bien Hoa she was removed from a lot of it.

Keywords: Bien Hoa; Civilians; Diem; Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; Military coups; Protests; Saigon

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Tonkin, Gulf of; Vietnam; Voting.

00:42:32 - The War’s effect on her family over time

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Partial Transcript: What do you remember about the north and the south being split?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen jumps back in time and discusses what she learned about the split between the North and the South when she was younger. She then explains that the war did not become a big deal to her until later when members of her family who remained in the village of Mỹ Tho had either died or become injured, some before the American involvement and some afterwards.

Keywords: My Tho; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; South Vietnam Army

Subjects: Bombings; Mỹ Tho (Vietnam); Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Villages

00:47:28 - Father's allegiance to French and South Vietnamese Army

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Partial Transcript: What about your dad? Because it is this point in time

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls that her father joined the army in the South and fought with the French. She recalls her family's disdain for her father when he fought for the French. Her extended family did not like her and other members of her immediate family because her father had joined the South, while others in the family stayed loyal to the North. She suspects that he would have been killed if he returned to the village. She also observes that many Vietnamese men are not very warm or forthcoming, and as such, he did not share much with her

Keywords: ARVN; French; North Vietnam; South Vietnam; South Vietnamese Army

Subjects: France; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Villages

00:50:32 - Interactions with American soldiers

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Partial Transcript: So we're gonna get back to our timeline, I'm getting discombobulated.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls some of her first interactions with American soldiers while she worked for them, explaining how she felt they were nice and good to her. She recalls the first time she had ever met an African-American man, and the initial intimidation she felt. She believes he was an officer while she worked in the mess hall on the base.

Keywords: African-Americans; American Army; American soliders; Mess halls

Subjects: Soldiers; United States. Army.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:53:55 - Nguyen's family's reaction to her job / Desire for independence

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Partial Transcript: How did you family feel about you working on the American post?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains her family's reactions to her working on the American base and the negative opinion other Vietnamese had about interacting with American men. However, she did not want to marry a Vietnamese man because she did not see them treat their wives well. She discusses her own father's mistreatment of her mother and how that led toward her seeking independence. She details what she experienced in her teenage years while working at the American post and visiting home only once a week, including the resentment she felt toward her father. She left her family completely at age nineteen.

Keywords: American bases; Domestic abuse; Vietnamese culture; Vietnamese women

Subjects: Discrimination; Family; Vietnam; Women

01:02:02 - Life working on Long Binh Army Base

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Partial Transcript: 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.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen discusses a typical day in the life of working for the American Officers at the mess hall and on the base. She began work there at age sixteen and was paid by the day, working alongside GIs. She does not remember the work as hard and appreciated that she could eat at the base. She describes the physical characteristics of the base as well as her usual daily tasks and responsibilities. She lived on the Bien Hua base but worked regularly at the Long Binh Post. She mentions how life was different between working on the post versus working on the base; working on the base made her feel like a real person with friends and responsibilities. Nguyen also briefly mentions what she learned in school before dropping out and how she continued to hide her job from her family.

Keywords: Army bases; Bases; Mess Halls; Officers

Subjects: Education; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Long Binh Army Base
Map Coordinates: 10.939, 106.884
01:10:17 - Experiences in the Monkey House

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Partial Transcript: Tell me, tell me a little bit about the monkey house.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls what it was like living in what she calls the monkey house, the residence where all of the girls working on the Army base lived. She recounts living with many other girls, the friends she made, and what they talked about together. She also explains the differences between working for the enlisted men versus working for the officers and how they would go out into Saigon.

Keywords: Army bases; Daily life; Monkey House; Officer Club; Officers; Saigon

Subjects: United States. Army.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Women

01:13:20 - Work in the Officer Club

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your work in the officer club.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recounts the daily tasks of working in the Officer Club, such as mixing drinks, serving food, and other duties. She describes some of the friends she made as well as how she was able to get the job.

Keywords: Bars; Officer Clubs; Servers; Women

Subjects: Women

01:16:39 - Nguyen's Memory of the Tet Offensive

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Partial Transcript: All right, so we're-we're around sixty-six, sixty-seven still--

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen describes her view of the Tet Offensive from Bien Hoa, explaining how she knew the war became more intense and she stopped watching the news as much. She explains that her brother's (who fought for the South) involvement in the Tet Offensive, but how otherwise she felt fairly unaffected by it. Nguyen tells how the girls in the Monkey House did not talk about events like the Tet Offensive much

Keywords: Bien Hoa; Monkey House; News; North Vietnam; South Vietnam

Subjects: Biên Hòa (Vietnam); Tet Offensive, 1968; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:26:47 - Knowledge of American politics

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Partial Transcript: Did you--what did you know about American politics at the time?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains how she and the other girls on base knew little of American politics going on at the time, they did not hear about it, but also did not affect them. She recalls their concerns when Nixon pulled out American troops.

Keywords: American Poltics; Politics; Vietnamese

Subjects: Nixon, Richard; United States; Vietnam; Women

01:31:45 - Relationships between American soldiers and Vietnamese girls

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about the relationship between the Vietnamese girls

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains the relationships between the Vietnamese girls working on the army base and the American men. She recounts that the Americans treated them well and she did not experience harassment or abuse of any kind.

Keywords: American soldiers; Army bases; Boyfriends; Vietnamese girls

Subjects: Soldiers; Vietnam

01:33:32 - Discrimination from dating an American man

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Partial Transcript: So when did you meet your husband?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains how she met her ex-husband and the beginnings of their relationships. She also describes the discrimination she faced from the Vietnamese who did not like the Americans and the lengths they would go to to avoid verbal and physical abuse.

Keywords: American soldiers; Relationships; Saigon; Vietnamese women

Subjects: Discrimination.; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Soldiers; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Women

01:39:27 - Nguyen's memory of the My Lai Massacre

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Partial Transcript: I want to go back just a little bit. 1969 and the My Lai Massacre. Did you hear about that at the time?

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen explains how she and the other girls did not hear of the My Lai Massacre or other American atrocities

Keywords: American atrocities; My Lai

Subjects: My Lai Massacre, Vietnam, 1968.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:40:08 - Coming to America

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Partial Transcript: 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 you leave.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recounts the process of getting married and coming to the United States by getting a visa through her husband. She explains how she left her family without telling them, experienced an American city for the first time, and found work. She explains how she first came to San Francisco before moving with her husband to Staten Island.

Keywords: America; Visas

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Marriage; San Francisco (Calif.); Staten Island (New York, N.Y.); United States; Vietnam

GPS: San Francisco, California
Map Coordinates: 37.774,-122.388
GPS: Staten Island, New York
Map Coordinates: 40.815, -73.071
01:54:48 - Marriage and Children

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Partial Transcript: 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.

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen briefly discusses the death of her first son, Adrian, who a drunk driver hit. She also quickly explains when she divorced her ex-husband and her current marriage.

Subjects: Children; Divorce; Drunk driving; Family; Staten Island (New York, N.Y.)

01:56:33 - Acclimating to America / Return to Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: 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

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen recalls how the Americans treated her when she moved to Staten Island and how she began to make Vietnamese friends through the United Nation’s Tet celebrations. She explains how she even met one of her friends from the Army Base where she worked through these events. She also briefly recounts the first time she revisited Vietnam after moving to America

Keywords: America; U.N.; U.N. Tet Celebration

Subjects: American culture; Emigration and immigration.; Staten Island (New York, N.Y.); United Nations.; United States; Vietnam

02:02:57 - Hoa's family in Mỹ Tho and Agent Orange

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Partial Transcript: I just have a few more questions, so I want to I want to circle back and talk about your

Segment Synopsis: Nguyen retells her family's involvement in the South Vietnamese Army and the North Vietnamese Army when she was younger and the death of her grandfather due to the bombings. She relays that she still has family members l living in Mỹ Tho and were not affected by American programs that threatened villages. Nguyen then explains how she knew about Agent Orange, but did not know anyone affected

Keywords: North Vietnam; South Vietnam; Viet Cong; Vietcong; Việt-Cộng

Subjects: Agent Orange; Mặt trận dân tộc giải phóng miền nam Việt Nam.; Mỹ Tho (Vietnam); Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Villages

02:06:24 - Conclusions

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Partial Transcript: 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 in Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: She explains how she does not tell much of her experience during the war because she wants them to be happy. She gives her concluding opinions on the war and what she wants people to know about Vietnam as a country.

Subjects: Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975