Monday, January 22, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 22, 2001

Island's Vietnamese celebrate lunar new year in Kapi'olani Park

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

After North Vietnam took Saigon 25 years ago, it imprisoned Army Lt. Nahiep Pham for five years and police Lt. Col. Muoi Le for 10 years, both in a "re-education camp" at Ninh Quang near the Chinese border.

But Pham, now 61, and Le, 73, didn’t learn their lessons.

The old soldiers stood guard yesterday at a booth in Kapiolani Park where a sign asked passers-by to donate to the Disabled Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam.

Five South Vietnamese generals who committed suicide rather than surrender to the North stared from photographs above an altar.

Posters proclaimed the work of Hoi Phu Huyen Hoc Sinh, a parent-student organization here devoted to maintaining language and culture among the children and grandchildren of men like Pham and Le.

And there were pictures from last year’s ao dai contest showing young girls in the traditional Vietnamese dress.

The booth was the political center of a Vietnamese lunar new year celebration attended by about 1,000 of Hawaii’s 10,000 Vietnamese residents, who smiled and greeted each other with "Chuc mung nam moi," or happy new year.

The entire area was festooned with the distinctive red-striped yellow flag of the republic.

"We hope this flag will represent Vietnam forever, because we are not recognizing the communist regime," Pham said through interpreter Steven Trung Nguyen, an insurance agent whose company sponsored the booth.

Le said he would like to visit Vietnam someday, but not under the present government.

"All my relatives, my grandfathers and uncles have passed away and are buried in Vietnam, and I want to visit them," he said.

"Every year, I ask my three older children still in Vietnam to visit the site of the family tombs in Central Vietnam, at Hue."

Pham’s grandchildren, Lan, 5, and Tu, 3, "do not understand the history of Vietnam, yet," the retired soldier said. "But they speak the language."

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