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Successful Refugee 'CVT' Helps Veterans in Vietnam

Asian Fortune, News Feature, Peter Hickman Posted: Mar 02, 2008

WASHINGTON -- CVT, the initials of Ca Van Tran stands for Courage, Valor and Tenacity. Heres why: Ca was a translator for the U.S. Marines in Vietnam and barely escaped his country when Saigon fell to communist Viet Cong forces in 1975. He and his family managed to get to the Philippines, where -- because of Cas prior association with the American military -- they were given priority processing and a one-way ticket to the U.S ... and nothing more.

But Ca did not let grass grow under his feet. He got a job sweeping out a mall in Northern Virginia. He found work as a cook in one of the mall restaurants. He went on to become manager of the restaurant and owner of the place, then owner of other restaurants. Ca and his family now own a mansion in Northern Virginia.
tranCa Van Tran (center) has been internationally recognized for his work
among Vietnamese veterans. He is shown here receiving an award in Japan.

Ca, and many other successful Vietnamese refugees in the Washington area and other parts of the U.S., were happy with their lives, adapted well and became productive members of society. But for Ca, as writer James Zumwalt observed, something was still missing.

What was missing was knowing the fate of his fellow Vietnamese who also had fought for the losing side, but were not fortunate enough to escape. So he went back to see what was happening with them. As Zumwalt described it, it was analogous to what happened to American southerners after our Civil War. At best, they were neglected. And that included rehabilitation treatment, such as prosthetic devices.

Ca has since developed two programs to provide Vietnamese amputees -- from both the winning and losing sides of the war -- with artificial limbs and other forms of assistance. His two McLean, Virginia-based organizations are Vietnam Assistance to the Handicapped (VNAH) and Health and Education Volunteers (HealthEd).

All or None

At first, the communist government tried to block Ca from providing any aid to southern military veterans. Ca said he would provide to all, or none. The government relented. Those programs have been underway for more than a decade, and have helped countless Vietnamese victims of the war.

But Ca now has another mall to sweep.

Ironically, it is in form or the attitude of some of his fellow Vietnamese refugees in the U.S., also successful and comfortable in their relocated lives, but who are not overly, to be charitable, concerned with the plight of their compatriots back home.

As Zumwalt put it, Ca has been hard-pressed to be able to enlist the help of his fellow Vietnamese-Americans to undertake similar efforts themselves. He feels there are 2,000,000 Vietnamese-Americans who, enjoying a better life today in the U.S. than their counterparts in Vietnam, now should be doing something to share the wealth of being able to live a better life. For the most part, however, he finds his fellow Vietnamese-Americans reluctant to do so. Content with their own lives, they have little interest in improving life beyond their own.

Perhaps that is true, perhaps not. But if it is - and Ca says it is -- he wants to do something about it. Zumwalt wrote that Ca thinks Vietnamese-Americans have a moral obligation to pave a road of opportunity in their (original) homeland as well.

And Ca -- the former translator for the American Marines in Vietnam, the former mall sweeper, cook, restaurant manager, restaurant owner and now manufacturer and donator of artificial limbs for his fellow Vietnamese back home -- will no doubt keep up the pressure on his fellow Vietnamese-Americans here to help his and their fellow Vietnamese back home.

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