A Doctor Serving In Two Armies: An ARVN Surgeon Becomes An American Anesthesiologist

Dy Nguyen
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Dr. Dy Nguyen was born in 1941 in his mother’s village, 50 kilometers south of Hanoi. He was the oldest in a family of 10 children and lived with his maternal grandmother and parents. His father was at various times a law student, a judge, and a professor of history and French. During the French colonial period, his father supported the Viet Minh before later switching to the French. In 1954, following the Paris Peace Accords, the country was partitioned, and the Vietnamese were given 300 days to relocate. His family decided to move south, and Dy Nguyen was the first of his family to make the journey. Shortly after the relocation began, as a thirteen-year old, he flew to Saigon to live with his uncle, who was a professor at the University of Saigon. About 200 days later, the rest of his family joined him in Saigon. When he was about 18, in 1959, he became increasingly aware of Viet Cong violence in rural areas. After graduating from high school, he decided to attend the Uniform Services Medical School. During the summers between classes, he participated in military training at the schools in Tu Duc and Da Lat. He was commissioned in 1966, and served in Military Region II, commanding a Clearance Company of 60 Soldiers. His company was responsible for providing first aid, performing triage, and determining whether to evacuate the wounded Soldiers or operate on them immediately to attempt to save life and limb. When Soldiers died, he maintained the bodies until family members could come to claim their deceased. He frequently coordinated with American helicopter units who provided the majority of the air evacuation assets. Additionally, he often worked with the province-level U.S. advisors. His unit began to feel the pinch of Vietnamization because most of their supplies came from the United States. In 1973, when the Peace Accords were signed in Paris, he left the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, planning to teach medical students. He received a one-year fellowship in the United States in 1974, and was a student in America when South Vietnam collapsed. He was immediately granted refugee status and given the opportunity to return to Vietnam. Fortunately, his wife and children left Vietnam three days before Saigon fell, and his parents and the rest of the family fled shortly thereafter. He was able to sponsor his family to come to the United States, and they settled in Texas. In 1977, he graduated from the University of Texas Cancer Center as an anesthesiologist, and remained at the school, where he taught for twenty-six years. In 1983, he joined the United States Army Reserves, rising to the rank of Major before leaving the military in 1991 after being mobilized for the Gulf War. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, moving to Saigon, and becoming an Army doctor. He describes his wartime experiences, and the challenges of running a forward hospital. He highlights his adventures in America as a foreign doctor on fellowship, noting the difficulties his poor language skills created. He discusses the arrival of his family to the United States, and indicates that he felt welcomed as a war refugee. He comments on the fall of South Vietnam and what he describes as complacency among his countrymen, who felt the Americans would bail them out, and he states that the North Vietnamese relied on terror as a weapon. Finally, he reflects on what his service in both the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the United States Army means to him.

VIDEO DETAILS

conflicts Persian Gulf War Vietnam War
topics Leadership Injuries Morale Refugee Vietnamese ARVN Civilians
interviewer David Siry
date 31 January 2020

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

name Dy Nguyen
institution Uniform Services Medical School / University of Texas Cancer Center
graduation year 1966
service Army of the Republic of Vietnam
unit Clearance Company
specialty Doctor, Surgeon, Anesthesiologist, U.S. Army
service dates 1966 1973
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