They devote their time to honor the fallen, their “aunts and uncles” on The Wall
Huong Le and Thao Phung have come to The Wall since 2011 to honor the service and sacrifice of the more than 58,000 American service members who gave their all in the Vietnam War. The married couple with two young sons hold a special place in their hearts for those who served. They have been volunteering their time to remember the fallen men and women who they call their “aunts and uncles” on The Wall since 2016.
In recognition of their dedication to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, they are this year’s recipients of the Libby Hatch Award. The award is given annually to a Wall volunteer who has shown outstanding commitment and tireless effort in preserving the legacy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The award is presented by VVMF. This is the first year the award has been presented jointly.
Huong and Thao’s commitment to honor Vietnam veterans and educate about the impact of the Vietnam War began almost a decade ago.
Thao became involved with VVMF in 1998 when he was a member of The Council of the Vietnamese American Organization (Council of the people, soldiers, cadres, and officials of the Republic of Vietnam with former Colonel Ban Kim Nguyen as President). The Council would participate in the two major holiday events at The Wall – Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
“After Thao and I got married, we came down to The Wall on those holidays to lay a wreath, express gratitude and participate in many other activities with VVMF,” Huong said.
On Memorial Day weekend, The Council would also participate in the Rolling Thunder parade in Washington, D.C. where thousands of bikers would ride to bring awareness to those who remain unaccounted for. This gave them the opportunity to publicly “remember those who had sacrificed protecting freedom for the three Indochinese countries – Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.”
Events like these also helped Huong and Thao better understand that the service of America’s Vietnam veterans was honorable. These brave men and women were following the U.S. military tradition and protecting freedom for humanity. As a result, Huong and Thao wanted to give back, which led them to volunteer their time at The Wall.
For the both of them, the Vietnam War was also personal. Huong’s maternal grandfather was a police lieutenant for South Vietnam, supporting American forces during the war. However, after the war ended, he was imprisoned. In 1975, after the North Vietnamese took control of Saigon, North and South Vietnam were reunited under communist control to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Those who had worked against North Vietnam during the war faced harsh punishment. “Reeducation camps” were established, which were essentially prisons where former government workers of South Vietnam were forced into labor and compelled to adopt a communist perspective.
Huong’s uncle also served as a soldier in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force, and her own father and his family fled by boat after 1975.
“He sponsored my mom and me to America after he settled in the U.S. for some time,” Huong added. “Thao came to America through the Amerasian program.”
Huong and Thao are a living example of the good that came out of the Vietnam War, as their families were able to take refuge in the United States in hopes of a better life.
Today you can see them stand at the memorial that holds the names of their personal heroes, men and women who fought alongside their family in the name of freedom and independence for South Vietnam. For Huong, she says they left “a humane value of noble character,” doing what they felt was right. They volunteer to show their gratitude for the sacrifices that were made on their behalf.
You not only see Huong and Thao at The Wall on weekends, but also at many activities at the Memorial. They attend candlelight vigils, tend to Honor Flights, and support annual ceremonies. Many times, their two children accompany them. Thanh Phung is 5 years old and Dat Phung is 3 years old. You will see them walking closely with their parents, dressed in customized outfits with images of the POW/MIA flag and sayings such as, “Never forget” printed on them. Huong and Thao bring them here to make sure they grow up with a strong sense of patriotism.
“We bring our children to The Wall for them to learn the value of service and sacrifice by those ‘aunts and uncles’ on that Wall,” Huong said. “And for them to love freedom.” She hopes they grow up to be of strong benefit to society and to the country they love so much.
The Wall has given their family a beautiful opportunity to express gratitude and admiration. Those “aunts and uncles” died “protecting freedom, following honorable tradition, and preventing the consequences of the tragic starvation, death and suffering of the common people from the Indochina War.”
Over the years, Huong and Thao have shown tremendous care for The Wall and the people who visit. They have devoted their time to answering the public’s questions, being a voice of comfort for veterans, helping visitors locate names and make rubbings. Every day they show people why they should never forget
“This is the place that teaches our younger generations to live and understand the value of service and sacrifice,” Huong said about the power of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She insists that this place will help “younger generations follow that noble value to maintain freedom,” so that it may last into the future.
VVMF thanks Huong and Thao for their selfless years of dedication, their spirited effort to ensure the names of the fallen are never forgotten, and for the pride they hold in educating the next generation. VVMF congratulates them on being the recipients of this year’s Libby Hatch Award.