The Navy’s first Vietnamese admiral nearly lost his life as a young boy during the Vietnam War and was forced to play dead in order to survive and eventually escape his homeland.
Huan Nguyen was only nine years old when in 1968 he became involved in an incident captured by a photographer whose photo became world famous.
Photographer Eddie Adams took a photo of Viet Cong guerrilla Bay Lop being executed by South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan.
Published in newspapers around the world in 1968, the photo served to fuel the anti-war movement in the US, which saw the image as clear evidence that the war was unjust.
But Adams, a former Marine Corps photographer, has said there’s more to the photo than meets the eye.
South Vietnamese general Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the National Police, shoots a pistol in the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (aka Bay Lop) on a street in Saigon in February 1968, early in the Tet Offensive
Nguyen was promoted to rear admiral in October 2019 and, at age 60, became the highest-ranking Vietnam-born officer in the United States Navy to hold the rank of admiral at the time
Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, director of the National Police – South Vietnam, who killed most of Huan Nguyen’s family, turned 67 in 1998. Pictured in 1967
Bay Lop, the subject of the photo, had been executed in Saigon after carrying out the mass murder of Huan Nguyen’s father – South Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tuan, along with the officer’s wife, mother and six of his children , five boys and a girl.
Huan Nguyen, managed to survive despite being shot three times through the arm, thigh and skull. The younger stayed with his mother’s corpse for two hours after the cold-blooded murder according to Military. com.
As night fell, Nguyen escaped when he managed to evade the communist guerrillas and went to live with his uncle, a colonel in the South Vietnamese Air Force.
After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the officer and Nguyen, his cousin, now 16, fled to the United States.
They were just two of approximately 125,000 Vietnamese refugees who fled to the US after South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces.
In 2018, Commander Vice Admiral Tom Moore pinned Captain Huan Nguyen, Deputy Chief Information Officer, NAVSEA; with an Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) qualification badge on his uniform
The following year, in 2019, Vice Admiral Thomas J. Moore, departed, took the oath of office to Vice Admiral Huan T. Nguyen at Nguyen’s promotion ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial & Heritage Center, in October 2019.
Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American to be promoted to the rank of rear admiral and served as Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) at the Washington Navy Yard
The family was taken in by US Navy and Marine Corps troops as they passed through Guam along with thousands of other refugees.
While fleeing Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Nguyen had his first encounter with sailors and marines assisting refugees. He has since said it was a groundbreaking moment that fueled his desire to serve in the United States Navy.
United States Air Force Colonel Ed Veiluva sponsored the family, who eventually settled in Oklahoma as political refugees.
Nguyen earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University in 1981, along with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, engineering, and information technology.
In 1993, his engineering expertise led to his direct enlistment in the United States Navy through the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer Program.
Huan T. Nguyen, pictured in 2021, served as Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering at the Naval Sea Systems Command
Rear Admiral Huan Nguyen, also lectured and taught those who came through the ranks
At the age of 15, Nguyen, seen here in October 2022, came to the United States as a refugee and became a citizen. He was the first Vietnamese American to achieve ensign rank in the United States Navy
Nguyen was promoted to rear admiral in October 2019 and, at age 60, became the highest-ranking Vietnam-born officer in the United States Navy to hold the rank of admiral at the time. Nguyen retired in October 2022.
“The images I vividly remember when I arrived at Camp Asan, Guam, now Asan Beach Park, were of U.S. sailors and marines toiling in the hot sun, erecting tents and mess halls, distributing water and hot food, helping and caring for the people with dignity and respect,” Nguyen said.
“I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a place like America. Those sailors inspired me to later serve in the United States Navy.
America is the beacon of hope for all of us. There is no other place in the world where someone can get such an opportunity,” Nguyen said.