Man recalls life after Vietnam

The crowd of 70 mostly veterans stood in applause for a 67-year-old Vietnam native at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History on Sunday afternoon.

Tim Nguyen had just told his life story — the story that has forever connected him to the central Arkansas town of 28,000.

On April 29, 1975, Nguyen, then an airman in the South Vietnamese air force, quite literally jumped on what is believed to be the last C-130 out of Vietnam.

The aircraft’s rear ramp remained open as the plane was stopping and going on an airstrip at Tan Son Nhut Air Base where Nguyen was stationed. During a pause in North Vietnamese fire, Nguyen, then 24, dashed to the moving plane and hopped aboard before the ramp door closed.

That C-130, which made it safely to Thailand with 492 people on board, now sits at the front gate of Little Rock Air Force Base.

“It’s emotional,” Nguyen (pronounced “win”) said of the two times he’s visited the Jacksonville air base to see the plane. “It brings back a lot of memories.”

The Nha Trang native spoke at the museum on Sunday afternoon before an hourlong preview of The Vietnam War, Ken Burns’ upcoming 10-part documentary series.

While an hourlong preview sounds more like a feature-length film than a teaser, the full series — billed as “an immersive 360-degree narrative” — spans 18 hours.

Sunday’s event, funded by a Public Broadcasting Service grant, was part of a series of local events across the U.S. promoting the series, which will air its first episode on Sunday on Arkansas Educational Television Network.

The preview shown at the museum over the weekend received a positive reaction, but several veterans wondered afterward whether the documentary series would capture the horrible treatment they encountered when returning home from the war.

Much like the displayed C-130, Nguyen said the images in the film conjured many memories from his youth.

He elected not to return to Vietnam after making his remarkable escape in 1975; instead, Nguyen fled to the U.S. where he was granted refugee status before attaining citizenship in 1981.

He learned English, attended vocational school and completed college.

Nguyen made it a goal to work on C-130s, eventually landing a job at Lockheed Martin, the defense technologies company which developed the aircraft.

“This country gave me too much,” said Nguyen, who now lives on the Alabama coast. “I needed to give back.”

It all came full circle when he helped develop aircraft self-defense mechanisms for flight crews like the one that extracted him safely from his war-torn country four decades ago.

The first five chapters of The Vietnam War will air in succession from Sunday-Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. on AETN; the sixth through 10th episodes will air Sept. 24-28.


The Arkansas Educational Television Network and community partners will host two more preview screenings of “The Vietnam War,” a 10-part documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The series will air on AETN at 7 p.m. Sept. 17-21 and 24-28. A discussion will follow each of the following previews.

2 p.m. Saturday: Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain St.

Source: AETN

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