Hello, all. Before I begin, I’d like to thank you all, ex-Navy Class 19 members or not, for a wonderful weekend. It was great to see all of you. I was asked to journal my experiences while in Maryland, and I am eager to hear of yours. That being said let me begin:

Upon arrival into Maryland, the most spectacular thing that struck my eyes was the greenness of the environment. Leaving the Baltimore airport, we drove along I-95 to get to our hotel for an overnight stay; we could not but enjoy the green forests along the highway and the fresh appeasing verdure of the trees.

                                        New Jersey/New York visit

We had several days before the Reunion, so the next morning we drove to New Jersey to visit my sister, Doan. It was here that we spent the beginning of our wonderful, but short, vacation. It was such a wonderful joy to see my two teenage adorable nieces, Charlene and Irene. They all spent a great amount of time preparing the dinner to welcome us. We had a fabulous dinner indeed. Hung and Tuan, my brother-in-law, met for the first time. I treasured every minute we spent together. I was so very happy to see them all again.

                                  The Intrepid Sea Air Museum Complex

The next day, Saturday, Doan and Tuan helped us explore New York. Being an ex-Navy man, Hung did not pass up the occasion to visit the Intrepid Sea Air Museum. It has three major components: the Aircraft Carrier USS Intrepid, the submarine USS Growler, and the Destroyer USS Edison, all berthed at Pier 86 on the Hudson River in Manhattan. The Intrepid was launched 26 April 1943 by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, VA. Although built to serve in World War II, it had not been retired from service until after the Vietnam War.In fact, Hung was indeed excited upon seeing it. It must have awakened in him some of the nostalgic memory of his years in the Navy. Mid 1966 found Intrepid with the Pacific Fleet off Vietnam. Here her gallant pilots delivered powerful blows for freedom and scored what is believed to be one of the fastest aircraft launching times recorded by an American carrier.

                                           Downtown New York

We then drove through Wall Street, although driving through it is prohibited during weekdays. The street is very narrow and is sided with very tall financial buildings. During the weekdays only pedestrians are allowed in here. We also walked along Broadway Avenue. We saw the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq building, the GTE building, where Tuan works, the NBC Broadcasting building, the World Trade Center, and Times Square. This was Hung’s first visit to New York. Was he excited about it!

In the evening, we went to see Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway Ave. One striking point about the show was that the actor playing Jesus was black, which, I recall, had caused some controversy. It was astute of the producer to pick the actress to play Mary Magdalene to be black also. The show depicts Jesus’ relationships with those around him with such first and foremost mortality, including his disciples, notably Judas. His relationship with Mary Magdalene (who had been a prostitute before she met Jesus, and who was present at his Crucifixion and Burial) portrays him as a man, which is in direct contrast to the general accepted version of him. I enjoyed it immensely; especially it was presented with rock music for the background. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the theatre. Here’s for your enjoyment the lyric of the song I don’t know how to love him, which depicts Magdalene’s love towards Jesus:

I don’t know how to love him
What to do how to move him
I’ve been changed yes really changed
In these past few days when I’ve seen myself
I seem like someone else

I don’t know how to take this
I don’t see why he moves me
He’s a man he’s just a man
And I’ve seen so many men before
In very many ways
He’s just one more

Should I bring him down?
Should I scream and shout?
Should I speak of love?
Let my feeling out?
I never thought I’d come to this
What’s it all about?

Don’t you think it’s rather funny?
I should be in this position?
I’m the one who’s always been
So calm so cool no lover’s fool
Running every show
He scares me so

I never thought I’d come to this
What’s it all about?

Yet if he said he loved me
I’d be lost I’d be frightened
I couldn’t cope just couldn’t cope
I’d turn my head I’d back away
I wouldn’t want to know he scares me so
I want him so, I love him so.


                                 Ellis Island Immigration Museum

We visited the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the next day. Being once an immigrant, looking at the buildings on Ellis Island from a ferry on the New York Harbor was quite a nostalgic breathtaking experience to me. This was the gateway for more than half of the immigrants entering the U.S between 1892 and 1924. Now it is served as a museum, exhibiting objects, photographs of millions of new Americans. On the front, so conspicuous is the American Immigration Wall of Honor, which displays names of countless of Americans who risked everything to come to America. Their children and grand children inscribed their names to honor their courage and commitment towards their dreams. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the Island and had the opportunity to explore the island on foot. This is without any doubt one of America’s most unforgettable scenic landmarks.

                                                  The Statue of Liberty

From there, we went to visit the Statue of Liberty. In 1865, political activist Edouard René Lefebvre de Laboulaye and sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi first came up with the concept to build a monument to honor the American conception of political freedom at a dinner party. Twenty-one years later, on 28 October 1886, the 151ft (45m) Liberty Enlightening the World, modeled on the Colossus of Rhodes, was unveiled in New York Harbor. It's a 354-step climb to the Statue's Crown, the equivalent of climbing a 22-story building, and if you want to go to the very top, you need to start early as the only tour that goes to the very top begins at 8:30 in the morning.

                                 Reunion of the Class 19 De-Nhi Thien-Xung

The next day, after lunch, we said good-bye to my sister and her family, having their assurance that they will be in California next year to visit us. We drove back to Maryland in order to join in the celebration of the Year 2000 Reunion of the South Vietnamese ex-Navy Class 19, held, this year, in Fall Church, Virginia. Although, most of the class members came from within the States, some arrived from Canada and Australia. Their pledge of allegiance to the old South Vietnamese flag is still as steady now as ever. This is only one of the very few consolations they have left, now living in their adopted homeland. It was with much regret that Hung and I could not make it to the Pre-Reunion Gathering at T. V. Tinh’s personal residence as previously planned. We were held back in New York and could not make it down South to Maryland on time.

                                       Reunion with the Vus and Kim

At around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, we finally arrived at the Vu’s residence, which was ostensibly sited on a private road in McLean, VA. It was a raining day. We first explored their little garden in the rain. Then we waited for them in our rental car. You can’t imagine how much the rain could have such an effect on me. It was such an exhilarating feeling that I hadn’t felt in years, almost an exotic spell, enhanced by the fresh air and the abundant green trees of the area. I love the rain so. Then, Vu was coming home from work, and so was his wife, Ha, a little bit later. We hadn’t seen one another for almost two years, since we left Sydney. They had kindly invited us to stay at their house during our short vacation here. We were glad we accepted their generous offer. As you will see later, it was such a friendly and warm get-together we had. It was not so impersonal as it would be in a hotel.

Then soon arrived Kim to join us in the evening. The three men were high school classmates. He brought over some of his favorite food and beer and Ha prepared some of her fine dishes for a delicious dinner. It was my first time to have the privilege to know him. I was so very happy over the fact that I could meet them all, in a serene and happy ambiance, to take my mind off my work and enjoy the flavor of life. We had our little desert under candlelight that Ha had gingerly put together. We talked until late and until we were all so tired that Kim had to leave and headed for home.

                                              Round-Tree Park Picnic

The first official gathering commenced at the Round-Tree Park in Falls Church, Virginia, on July 26, 2000. The fresh, green canopy of the trees, bountiful vegetation, and wildlife, all splendid aspects of this beautiful park, appealed to the senses. Unfortunately, the rain kept us huddled within the picnic hut, making any attempted investment into discovering the beautiful surrounding environment a drenching affair. However, that would not be the last time we were confronted by such weather. This early rain was only minor sprinkling compared to what we would see later on.

We ate and shared our little stories here and there. It was also here that Hung was elected Representative for the term 2000-2004. Chien had held the position for the past four years. He was actually re-elected by the group for his exemplary performances and dedication, but due to responsibilities at home, and also due to the fact that he would like to see others take turn to accept responsibility, he declined the honor. Hung had the second largest number of votes and accepted to take over the mantle, with Chien’s promise to help on as needed. The women gathered and talked about their children, about how they fare so far in the new country with their schooling and how much they have alienated from their parents; a culture conflict.

In the evening, Kim took the Vus, Hung and I, to his favorite Chinese restaurant, where he frequents almost every lunch. After the delicious dinner, we spent a wonderful evening at his house, where we watched a video of a ChuVanAN Reunion conducted two years back, where he was the Master of Ceremony.

                                                  US Naval Academy

The highlight get-together event was the visit to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the following day. Hung and I had also invited the Vus and Kim to join us, and were happy to have their additional company, as I hope and believe everyone else did. We had five tour guides taking our five small groups around, explaining to us a little bit about everything.

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  Preble Museum
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   Visitor center

I remembered well the Academy chapel, the tallest building in the yard. With smooth rays of sunlight beaming off its copper dome reflecting the spirit of the Academy, a symbol to its magnificent design and glorious history. The remarkable stained glass windows, which appears blue from the outside, but looks a transparent white from the inside, tells of art history lost. The technique to the manufacture and design of such windows now lost, it saddens the art-lover in me that nobody knows how to reproduce them anymore.

 During the tour we visited the tomb of John Paul Jones, Father of the American Navy. Legend has it that he was a son of a gardener, growing up in Scotland and apprenticed as a seaman with the name of John Paul. In the tumultuous years before the American Revolution, he had worked as a ship owner and tried to abandon the slave trade.  After killing a mutinous crewman, he fled to America and docked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1777, adding his well-known last name, Jones. He would later be appointed by Congress to outfit and man the sloop Ranger. What I found most interesting was the story of what great lengths were made to find and properly give Jones a respectful burial. John Paul Jones died quietly in France in 1792. However, after a 7-year search and with the help of United States President Theodore Roosevelt, Jones’ body was discovered in 1906, within another casket in an ancient cemetery in Paris. Placed in a leaden coffin, well preserved in alcohol, the corpse was autopsied and identified (thanks to his bust sculpture made for him by Auguste Rodin, a French sculptor) to be shipped to the United States in a hugely publicized event. By the time the body was finally interred at Annapolis in 1913, John Paul Jones was one of the most recognizable names in American history. He was also a hero of the French people, having helped them fight the English at the end of the 18th century.

Next we visited the U.S. Naval Academy museum, Preble Hall, which displays a collection of more than 50,000 paintings, prints, and artifacts. Among them is a flag of the former South Vietnamese Liberation Front, captured during one of the battles during the Vietnam War. There are outstanding ship models, including models made of bone, the official class ring collection and the flags carried to the moon by Academy alumni. There is the table on which the surrender documents ending the World War II were signed, as well as documents about the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Other items included belongings of John Paul Jones, George Dewey (1837 - 1919, US Admiral), and Oliver Hazard Perry (1785 - 1819, US Commodore).

Our group’s tour guide did not forget to take us by the Dahlgren Hall and explained to us about Rear Admiral Dahlgren, who invented the Dahlgren gun, used in the Civil War; he also developed a percussion lock. We passed by the Michelson Hall, named for Albert Michelson, a member of the Class of 1873, the first American scientist to win the Nobel Prize. He received it for measuring the speed of light. The actual line of sight he used in his experiments with the speed of light is indicated by a series of metal discs in the Radford Terrace, which is known for its open view of the Severn River. Arthur Radford, a member of the Class of 1916, was Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff between 1953 and 1957. We then passed by the Nimitz Library, and several other buildings that house some five thousand midshipmen and accommodate their activities, concerts, athletic events, lectures and plays.

We watched midshipmen parade in unison in Tecumseh Court at a noon meal formation during Plebe Summer. Tecumseh is the original wood figurehead, designed for the wooden battleship USS Delaware and intended to portray Tamanend, the great chief of the Delaware Indians. Several years after it was brought to the Academy, the midshipmen renamed the figurehead Tecumseh, honoring the great Shawnee warrior chief. We made videos of the midshipmen’s noon meal formation, in front of Bancroft Hall. It is a home away from home for the Brigade of Midshipmen. It is named after former Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, who founded the Naval School in 1845. We took a few moments to take several pictures of us in front of the Hall. Last, but not least, we paid a visit to the Mahan Hall, the oldest building on the Yard, which boasts a grand ballroom and an ornate, historic auditorium.

After having brunch in the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center, we watched a 12-minute film: To Lead and To Serve. The film captured the Academy’s formidable tradition, a place about expectations, integrity, responsibility, and leadership. It was also here, in the Visitor Center, that I had the privilege of meeting Mr. V. K. Huy, Webmaster of the DE NHI THIEN-XUNG Website, for the first time, and promised to write up this report.

This visit must have awakened in our ex-Navy buddies the need to revive their formidable naval traditions that they had inevitably integrated for themselves, during their training in South Vietnam, thirty years ago. The pride of their traditions was also in the Initiation Practice, the difficult ordeals and ceremonies with which one was made a member of the Navy.

There are many other buildings that we did not stop by. Some of them are not open to the public. The US Academy sits on about 338 acres along Maryland’s Severn River, overlooking the Annapolis harbor and the Chesapeake Bay, adjacent to the Naval Academy cemetery that has been there since the mid 19th century.

After, a few of us went on cruise and excursion boats. Hung, Vu, Kim and myself went, instead, to a small coffee shop nearby, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. In the evening, the Vus took Kim, and Hung and I to a Chinese restaurant, known for its Peking duck specialty.

                                            The Farewell Reception

 Our farewell reception was held at the Harvest Moon Banquet. It was all going well. People met, laughed, saluted, drank, and talked. The colorful decoration, our cameramen filming the festivities, the merry and noisy ambiance, and the restaurant staff were all ready for the night’s celebration to get underway. Mr. Co^n, our MC, gave his oratory welcome speech. We seemed to be rejoiced by the fact that we had more attendees this time. All saluted the US Flag and then the SVN Flag, and joined in to take pictures, one with the men, another with the women.

All of a sudden, it rained. I had never seen such heavy rainfall since I have been to the States. What started as a heavy downpour quickly turned into a severe storm. Looking out from the restaurant, I could see the lightening accompanying the loud booming of thunder. Luckily we had arrived before it started. Imagine driving in your automobile around an unfamiliar city during a thunderstorm.

In spite of the weather, everybody finally made it to the party, especially, our guests are friends, Mr. & Mrs. Vu and Mr. Kim. The Vus had to go pick up their daughter from tennis camp, a two hours long drive from where they live and bring her home safely before they could manage, braving the unrelenting storm, to get to the Reception.

Thunderstorms not only produce strong gusty winds and rain, but also power outage. An audience of more than a couple of hundred guests watched, stunned, as the room turned dark. I was sitting there, hoping that the restaurant might have a backup generator. But soon, candlelights were distributed, one for each table. The evening event turned into a candlelight dinner, so fun that nobody seemed to remember the power outage problem anymore.  Our first light appetite, the crab asparagus soup, was served, to everybody’s delectable taste. Our empty stomach was, after all the wait, warmed up.

Our little stomachs were not yet filled. It was getting on towards ten o’clock. Some of us were tired and hungry, but we waited patiently. Mr. Kim’s life long stories came in handy. He had a lot to share with his two friends, Mr. and Mrs. Vu, whom he seemed to be genuinely interested in. Hung was busy with his new activities. Mrs. Phi and I had a good time together. We had a lot to share with each other.

As a freshly elected representative, Hung had had no time to prepare for his inauguration speech. This was all a new hat to him. He acted with mitigated confidence and delivered an impromptu speech. He devised a plan for the next four years for the SVN Class 19 Naval Association. It entails consolidating the existing camaraderie among the classmates, emphasizes on maintaining the moral and economic support to those classmates who are still in Vietnam. The Association will also continue the publication of the DNTX Newsmagazine, promote maintaining relationships with Overseas SVN Naval Organizations within the boundary of its rules and regulations, and communicate and coordinate with the other regions’ representatives in organizing the 2002 Reunion in Sydney. Knowing that he did not have time to prepare, I was impressed by the content of his speech. I am very proud of him.

An hour later, after Hung made his speech, the power came back on as suddenly as it had gone. Everybody was ecstatic. Hands clapped and joy expressed through everybody’s face. The restaurant staff was now immediately back to work. They served us good food, as fast as they could. I suppose they wanted to go home for bed too. It was getting late. After the food came the music and dance. We had such a good time. Vu and wife and Kim left at around one o’clock in the morning.

At around two o’clock in the morning, we were finally dragging ourselves out of the restaurant and down to the car where we parked. It had been eight hours since we left for this party and in three hours’ time, we had to take some rest and sleep, and we still had a twelve-hour flight ahead of us. It was dark and damp and fog was spread across the sky. It was beautiful and I was glad I got to see it.

In the early morning Vu woke up to have, with us, a final coffee and to say our good-byes.

                                            Memory of friendship

I brought home with me a lot of memories. All the times Vu and his wife, Hung and I, and Kim sat together and Kim talked about his life in Vietnam, in Europe, and in America. He talked about his early childhood in Vietnam, a little bit about how he was raised and about his young adult life in Germany and in Europe as a foreign student. He also talked about how his life was when he first came to America, after 1975, how hard he had to struggle, as are we all, to raise a young family, while in Graduate school in Maryland. As a divorced man for some few years now, he also talked about how he adores and is looking for a lovely woman of French educational background, as friend, partner, companion, and wife perhaps. He now works as a research scientist at NASA. He is also a businessman. In the evening, he finds time to manage his business. In his spare time, he is also an MC, organizing and setting up receptions and musical shows. He is very sociable. If you are a young attractive woman of French educational background and want to get in touch with him, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Si vous parlez le francais, ce serait tres chouette. If he could just bring you laughter, then your laughter would have touched his heart a million times in a million ways.

We want to thank the Vus, Kim, my sister and her family for their wonderful hospitality, for sheltering us, for their delicious home-cooked meals, for showing us around, and for cleaning up after us. I want to thank again the Class 19 members and friends for allowing us to participate in the wonderful event. We hope our paths will one day cross again so that we can do to you all the wonderful things you did to us.

We had a terrific time. It is the kind of time that inspires families to spend it together and enjoy each other’s company.  It is the kind of time that should happen more often.

Bien Luc (bien_luc@hp.com)
September 11, 2000