On August 1, 2015, Apple Valley resident Wally Linn held a reunion for his extended family, which includes a Vietnamese family that he sponsored when they were refugees 40 years ago.
The happy occasion at Wally’s home was a little different than the circumstances of that first meeting of the Than Cong Nguyen family.
At 10 a.m. on April 30, 1975, the Communists took over Saigon. At 2:30 p.m. the last ship carrying South Vietnamese refugees pulled out of the harbor. One of the families aboard was the Thanh Cong Nguyen family.
Thanh recalls that by that time the Communists were all over the beach, and the ship had to sail a white flag (actually, someone’s shirt which was volunteered for the purpose), so that they would not be shot at.
The family thought it was only temporary, and had brought nothing with them, including food, possessions or clothing.
They first sailed to the Philippines, on this ship that was an old Vietnamese Navy vessel, and was in bad shape. They had no electricity, and no radio for those six days, with 5,000 people aboard.
After a brief stop, they continued on to Guam, and eventually made their way to Camp Pendleton in the United States to begin a new life.
They stayed at Camp Pendleton until August 21, when Apple Valley resident Wally Linn (then living in Orange County) came to meet them.
Wally found out about the refugees when he heard former Vice President of South Vietnam Nguyen Cao Ky speak in Anaheim. The speech impressed upon him the plight of these families.
Then, he heard of a couple in Santa Ana who had sponsored a Vietnamese family, so he and his wife, Vicki, decided to do that also.
On July 31, they went to Camp Pendleton and talked to several families. Originally they intended to sponsor a family of three, but when they arrived Thanh’s two brothers were also there, so they ended up with five people living in their home.
The August reunion at Wally and Vicki’s home in Apple Valley was a joyful occasion. A buffet of Vietnamese food was served, and it was delicious. Wally said he developed a taste for it while during the three months that the Nguyen lived with them in 1976.
The family has done well, and are productive citizens of our country, with Thanh going into banking, and then law (he was a judge in Vietnam). Of the two brothers, one is a doctor and the other is a successful Silicon Valley businessman. The family of three expanded to include more children and granchildren.
Wally Linn, a representative for Congressman Paul Cook, is thankful for having this experience. “This is the way immigration is supposed to work,” he said.