Above: Still proud of his service as a South Vietnamese Ranger, Mr. Nguyen (pictured here with his son) wears his uniform whenever he gets the chance.
When you meet him, you are immediately struck by Mr. Nguyen’s enthusiasm. Through an interpreter, you learn that Mr. Nguyen is ecstatic to be in America.
What you wouldn’t know is that Mr. Nguyen has had a long journey to get here. His smile hides the many challenges he has overcome. Born in Vietnam, he fought for the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces (South Vietnamese Army, Special Rank in the Tiger Unit 42). In 1972, during battle, he stepped on a landmine. Once transported to the hospital, his left leg was amputated almost to his hip.
After the war, he faced a very difficult situation under the Communist government. While he was very proud of his military service, he had to flee to Thailand as he was not safe being a former South Vietnamese soldier. Life in Thailand still presented many challenges, the first: mobility. The United Nations provided him with a secondhand prosthetic leg, which was not customized to his frame and was very heavy, and he found it to still limit his mobility.
He did what he could to survive living in Thailand. He was a balloon vendor and received help from Buddhist temples with food. Mr. Nguyen lived in Thailand for 26 years before finally being granted the opportunity to resettle in the United States.
In June of 2016, Mr. Nguyen, his wife and son were resettled in Clarkston by New American Pathways with Ladan Adan as their case manager. In addition to the work of New American Pathways in their resettlement, Mr. Nguyen and his family received support with food, gift cards and social support from the large Vietnamese American population and partner organizations like BPSOS-Atlanta (local chapter of the national Vietnamese American aid organization) and the Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS).
Our Healthcare Navigation team led by Sarah McCormick, our Senior Ongoing Services Coordinator, focused on Mr. Nguyen’s health needs. As his previous prosthetic leg not fully functional, we knew we needed to connect Mr. Nguyen with the most up-to-date technological advancements for optimal mobility. The process to order and fit the new prosthesis was another challenge, with multiple appointments and functional evaluations, followed by the wait for insurance approval.
The day that Mr. Nguyen finally received his new prosthetic leg, he exclaimed with tears in his eyes, “America got me this. America got me here. America loves me.” The process was not complete without training sessions on how to care for the new prosthesis and how to use the “smart” knee when walking, kneeling, and sitting down, and some cultural lessons as well. As he is a handy guy, he was warned, if he were to adjust any parts on his own, he would void the warranty!
After he felt more comfortable getting around, in April of 2017 Mr. Nguyen traveled to San Jose, California, to receive an award. Wearing his army uniform proudly, he was presented the award by Mayor Sam Liccardo, for his “perilous journey and lifelong commitment to defending freedom and democracy nationally and internationally.” Accompanying the award was a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.
New American Pathways couldn’t be prouder of the resilience and grace of the new Americans we serve, as exemplified by Mr. Nguyen and his family. We are incredibly appreciative of everyone, including partners and the Vietnamese American community organizations, who helped Mr. Nguyen and his family on their long journey. Mr. Nguyen expresses his deepest gratitude to all who have made this journey possible, including those who fought alongside him in support of South Vietnam and President Nixon who supported the military efforts.