“A Bridge Between The Americans And Vietnamese”: An Interpreter On Service With The Americans, And In The Vietnamese Army And Navy

Diem "Jim" Nguyen


Diem Nguyen was born north of Hanoi, and moved south to Da Nang in 1954 when Vietnam was partitioned in the Geneva Accords. His grandfather was a landlord in northern Vietnam who lost a lot of property due to communist land reform. Two of his uncles on his father’s side died following the communist take-over because they were village officials, one executed after a “kangaroo trial” and the other committing suicide after hearing about his brother’s death. His father was a platoon leader in the ARVN 2nd Infantry Division. In 1958, the family moved to a suburb of Saigon. During his last year of high school, he worked in the morning at a sandwich shop that catered to Americans on Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and in the afternoon he attended school. In 1967, he joined the Army, and he attended the Armed Forces Language School before working as an interpreter for the 1st Infantry Division in III Corps at Bien Hoa. At one point, he was the interpreter for interrogations of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong prisoners. In 1968 he transferred to Psyops (Psychological Operations), and was wounded in War Zone D in a mortar attack. In 1970, he was assigned to MACV Team 90, where he met Richard Armitage. In 1972, he transferred to the Navy and worked in the Vietnamese Naval Supply, which was based on the U.S. model. As part of his training, he traveled to San Diego for instruction at the Naval Base. He returned to Vietnam in April, 1974, and worked at the Da Nang Naval Base. From November 1974 to March 1975, he was back in the States for additional training. He escaped from South Vietnam on April 29, 1975, on a Higgins Boat and sailed to Guam, where he was processed for twelve days before continuing on to Fort Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania. He eventually got a job with Sears. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, the brutality of the communists following the Geneva Accords, and growing up in South Vietnam. He describes working for the Americans, and some of the missions he accomplished. He discusses his time in the Vietnamese Army and Navy, and escaping the country the day before the Republic of Vietnam fell. Finally, he talks about coming to America through the refugee camps, and what his service means to him.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics ARVN Vietnamese Vietnamese Navy Camaraderie Character Injuries Military Techniques Wartime Decisions Refugee
interviewer David Siry
date 20 June 2018


name Diem "Jim" Nguyen
service Army of the Republic of Vietnam / Republic of Vietnam Navy
unit NHABE Electronic Center; 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
specialty Interpreter
service dates 1967 1975