RICHMOND, Va. (June 5, 2012) -- In 1975, while under enemy fire on an ammunition barge fortified on two sides with layers of sandbags piled 10 feet high, 9-year-old Manh Nguyen fled Vietnam.

Nguyen, now an aviation employee with the Defense Logistics Agency, works as a demand planner for naval and Marine aviation. He is one of thousands of Vietnamese who were evacuated during Operation Frequent Wind.

"We were 11 children, so my father and mother split us up," he said. "I stayed with my mother, who was pregnant, along with one brother and sister. My oldest sister, Ty, stayed in Vietnam to take care of my grandparents."

The ammunition barge, which had standing room only, eventually made it safely through the Saigon River and into the Vung Tao Harbor, where crew members of the USNS Sgt. Andrew Miller helped Nguyen and his family to safety, he said.

"My mother gave birth as soon as we were on deck," Nguyen said. "She didn't have time to go below. She named my brother 'Miller,' in honor of the ship that rescued us."

Retired Marine Master Sgt. Eugene Kaptur was on the Miller working as a Vietnamese-speaking interrogator-translator. He remembered Nguyen's ordeal, as well as that of the thousands of others who managed to safely make it to the American ship.

"I grabbed sheets for the woman and made sure the children went down below," he said. "We were still getting enemy artillery rounds. It was extremely chaotic. But I could see the resilience of the Vietnamese people and their will to be free."

Nguyen 's father and other siblings met up with him and his mom a day later and were transported to the USS Midway. But prior to boarding the ship, Nguyen's father asked Kaptur a question.

"He asked me if his son who was born on the Miller was an American citizen," Kaptur said. "I asked the captain, and he said yes. The father and the entire Nguyen family smiled."

Nguyen's childhood memories fill him with tremendous gratitude for American service members and are why he did not hesitate when he had the chance to join the military and serve his adopted country, he said. He spent nine years as a Soldier and participated in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

"America has a big and generous heart," he said. "We are always the first to lend a helping hand to a country in need. I wanted to give back to the country that gives so much."

Nguyen, who has worked for DLA for six years, said he loves his job because he knows DLA is on the front lines supporting warfighters and providing humanitarian aid when disaster strikes.

He is also a member of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, which promotes equal employment, reaches out to Asian communities throughout the country, and mentors youth. He shared his story in a Navy documentary titled: "The Lucky Few: The story of the USS Kirk," which highlights the incredible mission to rescue Vietnamese refugees during Operation Frequent Wind. The documentary was shown at the Smithsonian Institution on Veterans Day 2010.

"I'm very proud to continue my heritage in this great country," Nguyen said. "Our forefathers left us the right to continue the legacy. I'm proud to do that and at the same time contribute my part to America."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War. For more information about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is available at http://www.asianpacificheritage.gov/.

Page last updated Tue June 5th, 2012 at 00:00