His Life

Vinh Ngoc Le counts his blessings.

Although he was an army medical officer, Le was allowed to have a private practice. He bought a clinic for about $30,000, a great sum of money in Vietnam. But as the war in Vietnam escalated, Le spent less and less time at the clinic and increasingly found himself coping with traumas caused by mines and bombs and bullets.

His country and his people were being battered. And as the peace talks in Geneva progressed, the South Vietnamese became increasingly concerned. "People discussed whether the USA would forsake South Vietnam," Le wrote. "Que sera, sera." In 1973 their fears were realized when the U.S. withdrew its forces.

In February 1975 the last convention of the National Vietnamese Evangelical Churches was held in Da Nang, where Le was now the commander of a large blood bank and working as a pediatric surgeon at a children's hospital established by a Christian missionary group. "I had the privilege of leading the choir in singing the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel," Le remembered.

But such peaceful moments were rare. The fighting was growing closer to Da Nang. Refugees flooded the streets as the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong overran other cities. Rumors circulated about the horrors being perpetuated by the victorious armies. Le began to prepare for the inevitable.

On March 27, 1975, with the Communist forces approaching the outskirts of Da Nang, Le put his wife and four youngest daughters on a plane to Saigon. "For me, as a commanding officer, I thought I should not leave my post without receiving an order from my commander."

That order never came. Two days after his wife left, the Communists entered the city and raised their flag. "Only at that moment did I try to escape from Da Nang with my two remaining children on a small ship," Le wrote. "But God did not let me go away."

The overcrowded ship, carrying seventy refugees, got out of port but soon lost power. "Many other refugee boats passed by," he remembered, "but nobody paid attention to us, even though we begged many to help us by SOS signals."

When darkness fell, they were still adrift. A storm blew in and huge waves crashed across the deck, tossing the ship like a toy. Le prayed, entrusting his life and the two children still with him to God. "My thought was that life and death were His. If He wants me to live, I will live for Him, and if He wants me to face death, I will be with Him right then. So either way was good for me."

When another Christian refugee fearfully asked, "Don't you think we'll all surely die?" Le replied by reciting Psalm 118:17-18: "We shall not die, but live and tell of the works of the Lord. The Lord has disciplined us severely, but has not given us over to death."

On the third day the storm abated, and the morning dawned with a dazzling display of light reflecting off the now-calm sea. It was Easter Sunday.

A fishing boat passed by, and the refugees beseeched its crew for help. The boat returned to shore. A short time later, a large motor boat flying a Communist flag and carrying soldiers came roaring toward the refugee ship. "As it was approaching our boat, a soldier of the former army, who was standing right behind me with his back leaning on mine, pulled out the pin of a grenade to commit suicide. There was a big explosion, and many people were killed," Le remembered.

"I saw here a hand, there a leg, over there intestines...Oh, what a terrible scene!"

But the worst was yet to come. Hearing the detonation, the soldiers in the Communist boat thought they were being fired upon and raked the refugee ship with automatic weapons. By the time they stopped shooting, only twenty people still lived--including Le and his two children.

The Communists ordered Le back to his job at the blood bank. A few weeks later, though, all of the medical officers were called together and "invited" to attend a special education camp to learn about their new government. They were told it would last a week, after which they would return to work "in a new spirit of understanding."

Le's wife and four of their children were still trapped in Saigon. He left his other two children with friends when he boarded the bus for camp. He had no idea when, or if, he would ever see any of them again. He could only hope and pray.

At the camp, Le and his colleagues found themselves joining a thousand former officers of the army of South Vietnam. The new arrivals were greeted with the news that the others had been at the camp for two weeks already and there had been no education programs, only daily demands to write down what they had done for their former government. "So everyone was sad and worried about his future," Le remembered.

As the days passed, the men were given nothing to study, just more forms and more lectures saying that they had not written enough. If they wanted to return to their jobs and families, they were told, they had to write more.

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