SEARCH AND FIND
by Ken Rehusch
I returned from my first tour in Vietnam in the summer of 1963. The year I was stationed in Saigon turned out to be one of the most interesting years in my military life. I really liked Saigon, the Vietnamese people, and I learned to speak the language fairly well. This was before the war really started in earnest and I had the time and opportunity to explore Saigon, its daily life, and the culture of the people. I liked very much what I experienced, and when it came time to leave, I felt a real sense of loss.
My next duty station was the Chemical Center and School at Ft McClellan, Ala. Shortly after I started my duties as an instructor at the School, I learned of a need for a social sponsor for two Vietnamese male officers who were attending classes at the school. Feeling that I owed something to the Vietnamese people for the graciousness and friendliness that they showed me during my tour in that country, I readily accepted the responsibility. The names of the officers were Lt. Tran Dinh Thuong and Lt. Nguyen Huu Cong. I quickly became friends with Lt. Thuong because of his ability to speak English and his outgoing personality. Lt. Cong spoke very little English and was much more introverted so we did not establish close contact. After a while, through Lt. Thuong, my wife and I learned that there were three female Vietnamese officers attending the Women's Army
Corps school, also located at Ft. McClellan. Soon all five of the Vietnamese officers were coming to our house on a periodic basis and we became good friends. The women officers were Lt. Ho Thi Ve, Lt. Pham Thi Bong, and
Lt. Truong Thi Que.
Ho Thi Ve in the 1960's.
Lt. Bong, March 1964.
We all shared a number of meals and evenings playing cards, etc. at our home. We tried to show them a typical American Christmas in 1963. Gradually, their time in the U.S. came to an end and one by one they left Ft McClellan.
‹‹ Bong and Ve knew Ken's children when they
were as young as five-years old.
We corresponded for years after they left, and I was fortunately able to see Thuong and Ve again in Vietnam when I returned there for my second tour in 1971-72.
I was stationed in Nuremberg, Germany when I heard that Saigon had fallen on April 30, 1975. I was heartbroken because I knew my friends would suffer mightily at the hands of the Communists if they were captured. I had no way of knowing what had happened to them and was afraid to try to find out for fear of putting them in greater danger. The years passed but I never forgot my friends. We had shared a special time and a special bond and I longed to know their fates, fearing the worst but needing to know. In January 2000, my chance had come. I had read in the paper about U.S. civilians going to Vietnam. Surfing the net to research this surprising news, I came across an organization called Tours of Peace, Vietnam Veterans, located right here in Tucson, which had started escorting veterans back to their old duty areas in search of peace of mind. By
March of 2001, my wife and I were on a tour to Vietnam with this group. While we were staying in Saigon, I placed an ad on Saigon Television, requesting information about Tran Dinh
Thuong and Ho Thi Ve. Miraculously, within three days (and one false alarm) I made contact with one of Ve's daughters still living in the Saigon area. Eventually, I established contact with Ve, now living in Oklahoma City and an American citizen. She endured 12 years in the reeducation camps, and eventually made it to the US. From her I learned that Major Thuong had died in North Vietnam in a reeducation camp in 1980, but the other women were all alive and well and living in the U.S. We did not locate Lt. Cong nor did anyone know his fate. I hope that he fared better than Thuong and, like the ladies, is well and happy. Though the news of my friends was not all good news, knowing is better than not knowing. I
can enjoy some peace of mind now about this chapter of my life.
Lt Col Ken Rehusch and
Col Ho Thi Ve
are reunited after 30 years.
From Left to Right:
Ho Thi Vinh, Ve's sister from Saigon,
Betty, Ken Rehusch, Ho Thi Ve.
In August 2001, Ho Thi Ve and Ken were reunited after 30 years. Ken and his wife had a reception in her honor and in attendance were most of the March 2001 Tour Of Peace participants. It was a memorable evening for all to finally meet Ve
and hear her story about post war Vietnam. Her life was extremely
difficult and her journey to the US was full of hardship. Ken gave her an
American flag, and she was clearly touched.
Citizen, Ho Thi Ve, receives an
American flag from Ken.
Recently Ken, Pham Thi Bong, and Ho Thi
Ve reunited. Of that reunion, Ken said, "I just got back from my visit in
LA with Pham Thi Bong, former Captain in the Vietnamese Women's Army. It
was wonderful to see her again after all these years (1964). She is even
more vivacious and outgoing than I had recalled; she, Ve, my daughter
Stephanie (whom Ve and Bong knew when she was about five or six years old)
and I had a wonderful time visiting and eating."
Ve, Ken's daughter
Stephanie, and Bong.
Of the original five Vietnamese friends
Ken had set out to find with TOP, only one remains to be found. "Que is
the only one of the five I went to find that I have not personally met. I
know she is ill and lives in Maryland. I don't know if I will ever
complete the reunion," says Ken.
Sadly, TOP Vietnam Veterans received the
following postscript to this amazing story. Writes Ken:
"It is my sad duty to inform you that at
11:47 AM on Thursday, May 26, 2005, Mrs. Ho Thi Ve, former Colonel in the
South Vietnamese Women's Army, passed on. She died from complications
following surgery for heart blockages in the hospital in Fountain Hills,
California. She had just returned from a month in Australia, visiting
relatives. She managed to travel quite a lot in recent years, to see
family and friends. It was a blessing she did this while it was possible.
She was a nice lady who managed to live a
happy life after undergoing an extremely difficult and painful ten year
experience in a detention camp in Vietnam.
I first met Ve in 1963 when she was
stationed at Ft McClellan, Alabama to attend WAC school. I saw her again
in Vietnam in 1971 when I was there on my second tour, but lost contact
with her after Vietnam fell to the Communists in April 1975. I always
worried what had happened to my Vietnamese friends but was afraid to try
to locate them. In 2001, I was fortunate to have participated with TOP
Vietnam Veterans in an exciting search in Saigon to find her and others; I
was then pleased to visit with her several times, including our last visit
in early April 2005."
We pause to reflect on those affected by
war who are now gone; as well as reflecting on those still living, in
their twilight. Some Vietnam veterans and families we know and love, and
Vietnamese whom we have become close to and effected our lives, are here
but for a little while longer. The doors are closing. Time is precious
between all of us.
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