– An Officer & a Caring Citizen  –

Hoi B. Tran

Disaster brings out the good and the evil side of human beings.  This is so true and so apparent in the momentous tragedy in New Orleans, LA.  In this article, I will not mingle with the efficiency or the incompetence of the local, state and federal emergency response.  Similarly, I do not want to waste any comment on those inhuman, heartless thugs and hoodlums who took advantage of the situation to loot and steal from abandoned stores.  But I respect many thousands victims, old and young, men and women, sick or handicapped, who stoically endured the unbearable hardships with admirable manner. I am also drawn to the exemplary conduct our military officers demonstrated during this disastrous event.  

Common sense tells me people have a tendency to loose confidence when certain prediction or promise fails to materialize.  Living in the Gulf Coast, people must have experienced too many inaccurate warnings and some futile evacuations.  They must have also seen a great number of supposedly dangerous natural disasters either downgraded or dissipated prior to reaching the coastline. As a result, people have become immune to disaster warnings.  Granted that in this day and age, weather forecast has been greatly improved with sophisticated equipment, and in many cases, advanced warnings have mitigated the losses of lives and properties.  But Mother Nature’s reaction remains mysterious and unpredictable!  Therefore, it is wise to comply with government disaster warnings, even though there are times it turns out a false warning because of changing natural phenomena.  As a former employee of the Department of Emergency Services – State of Washington, I had in the past, dealt with disaster stricken victims.  I do know a thing or two about this complex situation and my personal feeling is:  better be safe than sorry.      

When Katrina posed a deadly threat to New Orleans, local authorities issued a mandatory evacuation warning.  But not everybody followed the instructions.  Local police, federal agents, along with the military, were searching the flooded areas for survivors.  In one flooded section of town, soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division found a man defying the threat of the potentially deadly hurricane to stay in his house.  The man they found was Eddie Cooper, a 63 year-old, former Vietnam veteran.  Mr. Cooper, a former Army Sergeant who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam, refused to leave his house at the request of the previous rescue team.  A day or two later, officials sent a high-ranking officer back to the area to make another attempt at convincing the stubborn former NCO to evacuate for his own safety.

The officer assigned this delicate task was Lt. Col. Viet Luong, a Battalion Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division.  Prior to coming into this search area, Lt. Col. Luong had instructed his soldiers to carry their weapons on their backs instead of their hands to show the people they were there to render help, not to fight with the victims.  Viet Luong came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975 at the age of 8 with his family as refugees.  Having gone through similar dangerous circumstances in the past, apparently Luong is very appreciative of the elder’s worries and anxieties.  The young looking Airborne Lt. Col. appears to be perfectly fit for the sensitive job.  He patiently discussed with the former U.S. Army Sergeant and tactfully brought Cooper back to the days he served in Vietnam and tried to revive the military duty perhaps still ingrained in him.  Luong politely explained to Cooper of his mission and asked Cooper to go with him but Cooper continued to decline.  Luong also graciously thanked Cooper for his service when fighting for freedom for the South Vietnamese.  To this day, his family owes a big debt to all Vietnam veterans.  After lengthy polite discussion and amiable negotiation, Luong and his NCO, Sergeant Major Thomas Shoop, failed to convince the unyielding Vietnam vet to evacuate.  He told Luong after two tours of duty in Vietnam and was wounded twice; he should be capable of taking care of himself.  Of course, coercion was not an option in the plan so Luong and his soldiers had to leave after a friendly handshake with the stubborn man.  After leaving Cooper’s house, Lt. Col. Luong instructed his soldiers to return the next day with a Chaplain and a medic to ensure the well being of this victim.

Lt. Col. Luong’s conduct in the New Orleans search mission is impeccable. He treated the unfortunate victim with genuine kindness, compassion, understanding and respect. He has shown the delicate quality of a commander found in a trained psychological warfare officer.  Lt. Col. Viet Luong exemplified himself as an excellent officer and a nice gentleman. He deserves our big applaud. Lt. Col. Luong, we are proud of you and we salute you.  Keep up the good work.      

©Vietnamese & American Veterans of the Vietnam War, 2005 All Rights Reserved

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