TIEN VU, TUYEN PHAM, Hai Hoang and Hung Tran of the Vietnamese Apostolate of the Albany Diocese.
TIEN VU, TUYEN PHAM, Hai Hoang and Hung Tran of the Vietnamese Apostolate of the Albany Diocese.
Veterans' Day is traditionally a time to honor all those who served in the armed forces of the United States. At Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Albany, we also remember the Vietnamese soldiers who served during the Vietnam War.

The parish is home to the Albany Diocese's Vietnamese Apostolate, many of whose members served in their nation's fight against communism.

Recently, I joined some of them for coffee and a chance to reflect on the war and its aftermath. I was struck by the overwhelming sadness that many still feel of the loss of the war.

Hung Tran, a major in the South Vietnamese Army, said that every April 30 -- the anniversary of the fall of Saigon -- he tells stories about the loss to his children and grandchildren. He said the army was ordered to surrender in order to avoid further bloodshed.

It was, he said, the day that his country was lost.

While many consider that date as marking the end of the war, it was not the end for Mr. Tran. He spent another 13 years in a "re-education camp."

Nor was it the end for Hai Hoang's father, who served in the national police. He would spend a year in a re-education camp. Mr. Hoang said his father's time in the camp was less because he was not an officer in the official army.

As we talked, we were joined by Tuyen Pham and Tien Vu, members of local civilian militias in Vietnam that were organized to protect their communities from attacks -- first by the Viet Cong and later by the North Vietnamese, who, they all agreed, treated the South Vietnamese in a brutal manner.

Mr. Tran said he was very sad when the U.S. decided to pull out of Vietnam, leaving them to fight an army backed by Russia and the Chinese communists. He said he still carries that sadness.

As the four men talked, Thuy Nguyen, who served as interpreter for our discussion, said they all feel that sadness.

Mr. Pham said the South Vietnamese fought with all their might, even after the Americans pulled out, and were very brave in the struggle. They were all heroes, he said.

The terms "heroes" came up often in our discussion, and it was not reserved to the South Vietnamese. As the men discussed the role of American soldiers, they could barely mention them without calling the U.S. soldiers heroes.

"Many Americans died for us," said Mr. Tran. "We appreciate their sacrifice."

All the men said that, if the Americans had not left, the war would have been won.

The men also expressed their gratitude to the Americans who welcomed them when they came to the United States as refugees. They said America has done more to help the Vietnamese refugees than any other country.

As in many civil wars, the Vietnam War divided families. Both Mr. Vu and Mr. Tran had relatives who fought for the North Vietnamese.

Since coming to America, Mr. Vu and Mr. Hoang have both returned to Vietnam for visits. Mr. Pham said he would return to visit his family, not to visit the country now controlled by the communists. Mr. Tran said he would never return while the communists are in power.

As for the future, they said that as the United States and Vietnam improve their relations, life is getting better for the people. "Things will get better with American support," said Mr. Vu.

(Deacon Ayres is parish life coordinator at Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Albany and director of Catholic Charities' diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice.)