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The American Surgeon Who Escaped the Viet Cong

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 3, 2023 3:02 am

The American Surgeon Who Escaped the Viet Cong

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 3, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Hoat Hoang's childhood in South Vietnam was filled with family and fun times... Until the North Vietnamese communists began to ambush his village. Once Saigon fell to the communists' troops, Hoat and his family fled. Hoat tells the story of their escape and his journey to becoming a surgeon in the U.S.

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Ask your doctor if Vitamacream is right for you. You deserve more from your topical. To learn more, visit And we're back with our American stories. And up next, a story from Wat Hoang. Today, Wat is a surgeon, but his journey to getting there was far from ordinary.

He's here to share the story of his family fleeing Vietnam and arriving in America with nothing. Growing up in South Vietnam, I was really young at the time, but the things that we remember are the things that we did all the time. And so we were Catholic. So we went to the mass all the time.

Every morning we would go to church. Our village was along the seashore. It was a fishing village. And so my dad was a commercial fisherman. He would leave every morning, come in every night. And so we would run out to the dock to see the day's catch. We didn't have running water, though we had the electricity.

It was really limited. So we had a light in the house. And my grandparents, my dad's parents, they had the only TV in the village.

And so we all of us would swarm to his house and watch his TV. We didn't have an ice machine. We had an ice box. So my mother, if she needed ice, she would send me to the ice factory. She always ordered the bigger block of ice because I would walk along the beach in the hot sand when I picked up the big block of ice and started walking home. Ice is cold, so the ice would fall on the sand and then it would start to melt. So then I would pick it up and start walking a little bit more and it would fall again.

So by the time I made it home, that block of ice was a lot smaller than the block that I started with. So those are some of the simple fond memories of the things that happened all the time. But at that time, the North Vietnamese communists, which they were supported by China and by the Soviet Union, were trying to overtake South Vietnam, which was non-communist. But so we were the democratic side of Vietnam and it was a civil war going on during that time. And so ultimately, South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communists. That's when I remember things such as the troops storming the South Vietnam and people just scrambling under military fire. I remember as a six-year-old hiding underneath the mattress, underneath the bed, and the North Vietnamese troops would run through our house and ransacking the house and hearing gunfire in the village and thinking, oh, my goodness, this is not going to end well.

I remember hearing them yelling, where's your dad? Because my dad was part of the South Vietnamese military. He had served a while back, but at that point, any grown man was considered a foe to them.

And so they were looking for any men. So the North Vietnamese, as they came down, we knew democracy was going to end because Christianity was not going to be loud. There was going to be a lot of tyranny as far as religion, as far as the economy, as far as finances. And my parents knew that was coming. And so when South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese, and that was April 30th, 1975, when it happened, it happened in a hurry. The North Vietnamese troops came in rapidly and my parents decided to flee. And so as the troops were storming the ground, the only place you can flee is to the ocean. We knew that the U.S. had some presence in the ocean. And so we thought, OK, well, if we stay on land, you know, we're doomed. But maybe if we head out to the sea, maybe there would be somebody to receive us. We just had to flee.

We didn't have time really to say any goodbyes. My immediate family and cousins and aunts and uncles, we all jumped on my dad's boat. I had three siblings.

One of them was a newborn. And as we fled land and headed out, we saw a larger vessel. And we thought, oh, thank goodness, you know, here's somebody that can help us. And as we approached that ship, come to find out that was a communist ship. And so they started firing on us and my grandmother was hit.

And of course, she was hurting. And she told her husband, my grandfather, listen, we need to get back to land because I won't be able to survive this. So when we went back on shore, my grandfather told my dad, son, there's no life for you here. Take your family with you.

Take the kids. We've lived a good long life and you go make a new life for yourself and your family. I think back now and I think, OK, so I'm a dad now with two kids and I can't imagine my parents telling me that. And I had to choose between do I stay with my parents or do I take my family to a new opportunity, whatever that opportunity was. We didn't know that it was going to be better. We just knew if we stayed, it wasn't going to be good.

So my grandparents stayed and I can't imagine my dad what he felt. He took the four kids, the wife, my mother, of course, and headed back to sea. And eventually we came upon a U.S. ship that received us.

We really had no idea of what a U.S. ship was going to look like versus a communist ship. And so when we came and approached one and it turned out to be friendly, my dad boarded first and then my mother handed me to my dad and then handed my youngest brother, who was a newborn at the time, to my dad. And so the three of us got on the naval ship first. And right then they cut off any more people coming onto the ship because the ship was full. So then my mother and two other siblings were still on my dad's boat. And so they separated us then because they had no more room. We were now parted from one another and who knows when we would see each other again.

You just literally watch it float away. That was hard on my dad because my youngest brother was still breastfeeding at the time. And so here he is with a newborn baby being breastfed and he can't feed the baby. I learned pretty quickly where to find milk in the ship. And so we just stumbled through it, but eventually got my younger brother fed. And I do remember the first good memory of being on that U.S. ship was when we were looking for something to eat. And the first U.S. food that I ever put in my mouth was a Hershey's chocolate bar. It was the best tasting thing I had ever put in my mouth.

Gosh, that Hershey's bar was good. So, of course, we were fearful and not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. But several weeks later, we were all reunited. We all met together back again in Guam, which was U.S. owned at that time.

Basically, we just stumbled across one another on that island. Then we were all brought to Florida. We were at a immigration camp there, and from there, the different families were sponsored by American and U.S. families to different locations within the U.S. So there was a farming couple in Kentucky, Campbellville, Kentucky, that through the U.S. Catholic Charities Association, they sponsored my parents and the four kids. And so we packed up, got onto a Greyhound bus to Campbellville, Kentucky from Florida.

There, my dad, who worked in the ocean his whole life, was now transplanted into a farming community. And at the time, none of us spoke English. The only English we knew was yes and no. So I started kindergarten in Kentucky, and somehow along the way, we were supposed to bring a blanket to take a nap with. Well, not understanding English.

My parents didn't pack a blanket, and so when I showed up for the first day of school, and all the other kids are napping, and they all had their blankets, and I'm standing around looking at the kids, I don't have a blanket to take a nap with. And so we quickly learned and adapted. I do remember things that made it easy, for example, math, because two plus two will always be four regardless of whatever language you speak. And whether you attend a Catholic Mass in Vietnam, or you attend one in Campbellville, Kentucky, it's, hey, we all worship the same God, we all have the same Savior, and we're all trying to get to the same location. But the rest of it, it comes quickly when you have to speak that language.

The material things that you accumulate over time, all of that you set aside, hoping you'd find a new life, a better opportunity for yourself and for your kids. And you're listening to Watt Wong tell the story of what happened to so many families when Saigon fell, when South Vietnam was captured by the Communists, and there were consequences when we left Vietnam. But my goodness, Americans did step up.

The role the Catholic Charities plays in so much of this, and all kinds of Protestant Charities as well in stepping up and taking care of the least of these. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, Watt Wong's story, here on Our American Story. Ask your travel advisor or visit Now we're voyaging. So when you see the Clean at Sephora seal, you know you're getting a clean you can count on.

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Learn more at slash metaverse impact. And we return to our American stories and to the story of Watt Wong. After fleeing Vietnam, we'd heard about how he and his family had begun to assimilate into American life.

Here's Watt to tell us about more of his adventures here in America. I think in growing up and in hindsight, you see the things that your parents do or did and appreciate their efforts. My parents made a lot of sacrifices along the way. And I hear stories like, for example, growing up in South Vietnamese culture, we eat a lot of rice.

And in Kentucky, it was all potatoes. And so my dad would come back and come home from a hard day's work and the farming couple that sponsored us, they would have a little bit of rice and so we would cook it up and there really wasn't enough to go around. And so my dad would just go hungry and sacrificed it and saved it for us. And so there's no telling how many countless sacrifices that I don't know about they've made, but they instilled on us the work ethic, the faith that is required through life. And so I tried to teach that to our kids as well. So in South Vietnam, Catholicism was not necessarily the most prevalent religion, but it was for us and it was impactful for us. And my parents, if they had their preferences, I would be a priest right now.

But I didn't go that route much to their dismay, so I went to med school instead. That's a funny story. My younger brother was asleep and my cousin and I were playing while he was taking a nap. And we had a coin, maybe a quarter or something like that.

And we were just spinning it on top of my brother who was asleep on his forehead thinking, oh, this is kind of fun. That quarter landed in his mouth. He woke up and inhaled and swallowed that coin. So that got us in so much trouble. So we went to the emergency department. The doctor came to see him, took him to surgery, took the coin out, saved the day, came back out. My mother, of course, is still mad at us, but her son is saved. And I thought to myself, you know what, that's pretty neat. He saved my younger brother's life. I think I want to do that one day. It was just by chance doing something silly, something I shouldn't have been doing that kind of piqued an interest. We never know what's in front of us.

And the experiences that we go through, at the time that we go through it, sometimes you don't really appreciate it until much after the fact. When we were growing up, we were poor. And in the U.S. we were poor.

My parents were not educated, so they did mostly labor jobs. And one of the jobs that my mother did was we worked in a crab factory. We picked the meat out of the crabs. And so here I was, middle school and in high school, picking a stinky crab. And why am I doing this?

All my friends during the summer were hanging out at the house, watching TV and all that. I'm going to a stupid crab factory. We were paid by production. So the more crabs you crack, the more meat you get, the more you get paid. What I'm getting at is the motor dexterity that's required to crack a claw precisely to get that meat out so that there aren't any shells in that meat. It helped improve my hand speed, my manual dexterity.

So my left hand is just as good as my right hand. And yes, my mother woke us up at four o'clock in the morning every day to go to the crab factory and it smelled horrible. And I hated it and I dreaded it. But here I am as a surgeon 30 years later with finger and hand dexterity that could not have been more polished than because of that manual work that I did.

So another something that I thought, gosh, why am I doing this, which then I later appreciate. So in college at LSU, during my freshman year, as I was walking around campus thinking about what I was going to do for a summer job, I saw a flyer about the Southwestern Publishing Company. And I had no idea what the Southwestern Publishing Company was, but it said $400 a week summer job. And I thought, man, $400 a week.

That's good money for a college student in 1987. And so I went to one of their seminars not knowing what I was getting myself into. And so come to find out it was door to door book sales, blind cold calls, knocking on the door, seeing if a mom or dad might want to buy educational books for their kids. And I thought, there's no way.

But I gave it a try. And so we learned how to approach someone, a complete stranger, try to determine what their needs were and maybe provide a product or service that can help them and their children do better for themselves. So fast forward 20 years later, I'm sitting with a patient who I've never met before. This person could be from any walk of life and they have a problem, an unmet need. And so you try to identify with that person, see what their needs are and how can I make their life a little better. And so that experience as a 19-year-old college student knocking on 180 doors per week, cold calling, really shaped how I communicate with people to this very day, you know, trying to identify what their needs are and hopefully make a difference in their life. As you're going through these experiences in life, most of the time it's there for a reason.

We just don't realize it at the moment, but you do learn to appreciate those things later on. As I was growing up, I had a lot of horrible dreams about the troops storming the village and crawling under the bed and the nightmares with them. And that lasted for decades.

It took a long time for those dreams to go away. The U.S., we, and I say we because I feel like I'm obviously I'm part of the U.S. now. We're a welcoming society and every one of us has a culture and a background that's interwoven into one another. And so the U.S. was welcoming and the U.S. Catholic Charities Association really did a great job with bringing us in and finding families and assimilating us within the U.S. I just remember the kindness of our sponsoring families. They had kids and grandkids that were about our ages. And so my siblings and I played with them and ran around the farm and did silly things. But I just remember their kindness.

If it wasn't for them and what all they did for us, we wouldn't be where we are now. I can't imagine what my parents went through. Everything is falling apart around you. You're leaving your parents. You don't speak the language. The only thing that we had was literally the clothes on our backs.

Who knows where are you going? Not everyone came to the U.S. It all depended on the immigration services and where they decided. So we just happened to be within that group that came to the U.S. You never know what happens in life and how that might impact you later on.

But appreciate it for what it is when you're going through it and try to make the most of it. And great work by Madison on the production and a special thanks to Watt Wong for sharing his story with us and what a quintessentially American story it was. His parents wanted him to be a priest. He disappointed them and became a doctor. His work at the Crab Factory. Well, that helped him with his hand dexterity and also his discipline. He had to get up at 4 a.m. His door-to-door book sales gig taught him to listen, taught him empathy. That helped him with his bedside manner.

He had bad dreams, he said, from all that happened in South Vietnam, but they diminished. And the U.S., he said, well, it's a welcoming society. Our cultures are interwoven. My Sicilian grandparents, my Lebanese grandparents would agree and a special thanks to Catholic Charities for all the great work they do.

The story of Watt Wong, the story of America in the end here on Our American Stories. You see, my family and I, we feel like we live in a luxurious hotel every day. I highly recommend that you go directly to to get yours today. Excuse me, did you know that when you use the Roto app to buy a car, Roto actually finds all the secret available rebates and discounts specific to you? So the price I see is my unique price? That's right, the lowest and best. Does Roto do this for every customer or just customers named Catherine? Well, that depends.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-03 04:37:12 / 2023-03-03 04:46:06 / 9

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