FORT HOOD, Texas (Aug. 8, 2014) - "In 1975, when I was 9 years old, we had to make that escape from Vietnam, and my family got out of South Vietnam the day before the fall of Saigon," said Brig. Gen. Viet Luong, 1st Cavalry Division's deputy commanding general for maneuver.
That experience would change Luong's life forever.
Now, almost 40 years after his rescue, family and friends watched as Luong became the first Vietnamese-born general/flag officer in the U.S. military during a promotion ceremony on Cooper Field here, Wednesday.
"This is certainly a momentous event for my family and the Vietnamese diaspora," Luong said. "But my journey from a refugee child to the deputy commanding general of the storied 1st Cavalry Division is as much a story of our great nation, and our Constitution."
Luong said the promotion wasn't just about him, but the men and women he has served with over the years.
"I don't want the promotion to be too much about me," Luong said. "I think it's a great tribute to my Soldiers and non-commissioned officers, the folks who really have worked to get me to where I'm at. They have made the most significant impact on my career."
Luong came to the United States as part of Operation Frequent Wind, a mission to help rescue Vietnamese citizens from the country during the final days of the Vietnam War.
"I was actually at the Tan Son Nhut Airport getting extracted by a (U.S.) Marine Corps helicopter," Luong said.
That helicopter was one of the last to fly as part of the operation. Luong's nearly 27-year military career stemmed from his experience on the deck of the USS Hancock when he was a little boy leaving Vietnam.
"That was such a profound moment for me to be able to see our servicemen and to see what serving meant," Luong said.
He was unsure what branch he would serve in, but later in life he stumbled onto an Airborne ROTC instructor, who told him about the Army. Following that encounter, Luong made the decision to join.
On this day, Luong stood on Cooper Field's Cavalry Patch, as his wife, Kim, removed his colonel's rank from his chest and added a single silver star.
Luong credits his dad, a former Vietnamese Marine officer, as being his biggest influence from a leadership perspective.
"Everything I learned about duty, honor, country, sacrifice and selfless service I've learned from my dad," Luong said.
Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, presided over the ceremony and praised Luong for his competence, and most notably, his courage.
"He has also demonstrated immense courage from his early youth in Saigon and his escape," Milley said.
He also noted Luong's commitment to the United States.
"He has deployed on multiple tours," Milley said. "He has commanded our most elite forces. There is no one in uniform today that epitomizes what it takes to be an American Soldier more that Viet Luong," Milley said.
Luong joined the First Team in March. With the division staff deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Luong is the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general (rear).
He said serving his country is an honor and privilege.
"I'm very patriotic," Luong said. "There's a sense of service for me to be able to give back to this great nation after all the opportunities that have been afforded to us, saving us from harm's way and affording us the opportunity to not only assimilate but to move up through education."