Saturday, December 19, 2009

Capt Hung Ba Le - First Vietnamese-American Navy commander

Vietnamese 'boat person' back home as commander of US Navy ship

Boat people is a term that usually refers to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers who emigrate in numbers in boats that are sometimes old and crudely made, rendering them unseaworthy and unsafe. The term came into common use during the late 1970s with the mass departure of Vietnamese refugees from Communist-controlled Vietnam, following the Vietnam War & Sino-Vietnamese War.

Hung Ba Le's first ocean voyage was aboard an overcrowded fishing trawler when he was 5 and his family and hundreds of other terrified refugees fled Vietnam as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese army. Today he is Commander Le and at the helm of the warship USS Lassen as it makes a good will visit to the country he once fled.

Five-year-old Le, his family and 400 other refugees crammed aboard a fishing trawler. Le's father, Thong Ba Le, was a commander in the South Vietnamese Navy and helped navigate the boat.

"It was crowded, we were running out of water, definitely low on diesel fuel," said Le. "We were rescued I think just in time."

Thirty-four years later, he made an unlikely homecoming — as the commander of a U.S. Navy destroyer. Commander H.B. Le is the First Vietnamese-American Navy Captain. On 7-11-2009,he arrived at Danang, Vietnam.

Le piloted the USS Lassen on Saturday into Danang, home of China Beach, where U.S. troops frequently headed for R&R during the war, which ended on April 30, 1975, when the southern city of Saigon was taken by communist troops from North Vietnam.

That was the day Le and his family embarked on an uncertain journey in a fishing boat piloted by Le's father, who was a commander in the South Vietnamese navy. They were rescued at sea by the USS Barbour County, taken to a U.S. base in the Philippines, a refugee camp in California and finally to northern Virginia, where they rebuilt their lives.

Le returned on the Lassen, an $800 million, 509-foot destroyer equipped with Tomahawk missiles and a crew of 300. The ship and the USS Blue Ridge, the command vessel for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, are making the latest in a series of goodwill visits to Vietnam, which began in 2003 when the USS Vandergriff paid a port call to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.

"I thought that one day I would return but I really didn't expect to be returning as the commander of a Navy warship," Le said after stepping ashore Saturday. "It's an incredible personal honor."

Le grew up in Hue, a city on the central coast about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of Danang where he still has relatives. Along the Danang coastline where U.S. troops used to swim and surf, luxury hotels such as Hyatt and Marriott are springing up. Tourists are flocking to the region, where they can shoot a few rounds at a course designed by professional golf star Colin Montgomerie.

( Extract from article, Unique Homecoming to Vietnam for US Commander, by CLARISSA WARD and SADIE BASS, abc News, dated Nov. 13, 2009. For further detail on the article, please read it from their website,, Part 1-3)

For the young generation, if you do not know about boat people, you can read the article from wikipedia, Boat people, Many of boat people are either Vietnamese Hoa(or Vietnamese Chinese) or Vietnamese working with South Vietnam or US Military, and their families.

Commander H. B. Le
Commander H. B. Le is a native of Hue, Vietnam and was raised in Northern Virginia. He earned his commission in 1992 from the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating with merit with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics.

CDR Le’s initial sea tour was in USS TICONDEROGA (CG 47) in Norfolk, VA, where he served as Auxiliaries Officer and First Lieutenant. Subsequent assignments included tours as Fire Control Officer in USS WASP (LHD 1) in Norfolk, VA; Weapons Officer and Combat Systems Officer in USS HUE CITY (CG 66) in Mayport, FL; and Executive Officer in USS CURTIS WILBUR (DDG 54) in Yokosuka, Japan.

His staff assignments included tours in the Requirements, Policy, and Experimentation (N8/9) directorate at U.S. Second Fleet and in the Joint Training (J-7) directorate at U.S. Joint Forces Command.

CDR Le has a Master of Science degree in Operations Research with distinction from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Business Administration degree summa cum laude from Touro University International. He is a graduate of the Naval War College Nonresident Seminar Program and a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College.

CDR Le’s personal decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal.


Related websites & articles:
1. USS Lassen (DDG-82),

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