Lassen Visits Vietnam in Storybook Return of Its Commander
NNS091107-02 By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew R. White
DA NANG, Vietnam (NNS) -- The guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), commanded by a man who as a boy sought escape from those once war-torn Vietnamese homeland waters, arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam Nov. 7, for a scheduled port visit.
"My crew and I are proud to be able to represent our country to the people of Vietnam," said Lassen's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. H. B. Le. "This visit is a symbol of the friendship between our two nations, and we are deeply honored to be a part of it."
Nearly thirty-five years prior, Le left aboard a fishing trawler; he now returns at the helm of a U.S. Navy warship.
"I'm very humbled by the amazing opportunity to get to Vietnam after more than 34 years," Le said. "I feel so fortunate to bring Lassen and my crew to Vietnam."
Le's story of escape followed by prosperity in the United States can read like a Hollywood script.
"My father was a Commander in the South Vietnamese Navy and was serving as the Deputy Commanding Officer of Nha Be Naval Support Base when we left Vietnam," he said. "The evening of the 29th of April, 1975, his commanding officer left the country with his family without telling my dad, and when his officers told him about that he assumed command," said Le. "The next day, only after realizing Saigon had fallen, did my dad tell his remaining men to go home to their families and to make sure to take care of them," he continued. "My dad navigated a fishing trawler with 400 passengers out to sea, where we were picked up by USS Barbour County (LST 1195) on May 2, 1975."
"Leaving Vietnam had a profound impact on my family," said Le. "My parents had to start all over again with no money in their pockets. Thanks to some truly generous and wonderful Americans who sponsored us, my Dad was able to forge a new beginning," he said.
The Le family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Northern Virginia. As Le grew older he heard the call of the seas as his father heard many years before him. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 1985, Le attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating with merit in 1992 and was commissioned a U.S. Navy officer.
"Growing up my father never pushed me to join the Navy or anything like that," Le said. "He said do what you want to do, but whatever you do, do your best at it. So when I did decide to go to the Naval Academy, he was proud of me for that,"
The crew that Le leads is one of few in the Navy who have had the opportunity to visit the Asia-Pacific nation since the end hostilities in 1975.
"I never thought I'd have a chance to visit Vietnam," said Logistics Specialist Seaman Michael McLean, who hails from Gahanna, Ohio. "All that history that happened in Vietnam, and now I get to see it first hand," he said.
McLean and his fellow sailors will have the opportunity to interact with the local people of Da Nang as well as experience their customs and culture. The crew will also compete in soccer and basketball games against students from the University of Da Nang. The visit is not just about fun and games, though, as many of Lassen's crew will take part in two community service projects in the Da Nang area.
Le assumed command of Lassen and its crew of nearly 300 in April. The ship is one of seven destroyers assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, as part of the U.S. 7th Fleet.