By the summer of 1975, the first of the Vietnam War refugees evacuated from their country by U.S. forces began to arrive in the Quad-Cities. Organizations in Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline had pledged to help these families find housing and employment, to learn English, and to adjust to a new culture. Their stories, covered by the local press, are summarized here in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Thu T. Nguyen & Phuong X. Ngo
The first family to arrive in the Quad Cities arrived at the Quad-City Airport on the 4th of July, 1975. Thu T. Nguyen, his pregnant wife Phuong X. Ngo, their daughter Yuan Thuyen (age 12), and sons Huy (age 10), and Nang (age 4) were sponsored by the Friends of Children of Vietnam, Quad-Cities Chapter.
Their son Richard was born on August 27, 1975, at St. Luke’s Hospital in Davenport. Thu enrolled as a student at Palmer College of Chiropractic.
Thu had been a lieutenant colonel in the South Vietnam Army. An expert in psychological warfare, he was instrumental in negotiating the release of prisoners of war between North and South Vietnam. His wife Phuong was a jade specialist in Saigon.
“It’s hard to adjust at 40. When I fled from Communism in Hanoi, I was only 19 so it was not so hard to adjust. Now, at 40 with a wife, three children, and another on the way, it’s like starting my life all over.” Quad-City Times, August 17, 1975
Jean Carizey & Ton Nu Thi Sam
Jean Carizey, his wife Ton Nu Thi Shaam “Sam,” and their children Juliette (age 11), George (age 9), Robert (age 7), and Rene (age 2) arrived at the Quad City Airport on July 6, 1975. The family was sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church (Lutheran World Relief) in Moline and initially lived in a house owned by the church. They came here after sending time at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.
He was born in Dien Bien Phu to a French father.
Carizey had worked as a field and survey engineer for an American firm in Saigon. He was able to find work as a combine tester for Deere & Co. before landing a job as a surveyor for American Engineering Co. in Moline.
Jean spoke English and the rest of the family started taking classes at the camp, then continued through the church.
Hoanh Vo & Anh Thi Ngoc Pham
Hoanh Vo, his wife Anh, daughters Trinh and Tram, and son Trung arrived at the Quad City Airport on September 22, 1975. Their son William was born December 22, 1975, in Davenport. The family became citizens of the United States on April 1, 1982. They stayed in the Quad Cities through the mid-1980s, then moved to Texas.
He was born in 1940 in Saigon. He had a 15-year military career and had been a Major in the South Vietnamese Army. He worked as a French professor at the University of Saigon and instructor of Political Science at Saigon Military School. He wrote anti-communist articles for both French and Vietnamese newspapers.
He bought an 8-foot boat for $5,000 in gold and diamonds. The family left Vietnam on May 3, 1975. It took them 4 days to get to Thailand, where they spent 3 months and lost their youngest daughter. He feared that his parents may have been killed.
The Vo family was sponsored by First Baptist Church in Davenport. They rented an apartment at 3300 E Kimberly Road. He got a job as a security guard for International Harvester Farmall working 2nd shift. In the mornings before going to work he helped new refugees. He wrote articles for New Life Refugee newsletter, the Spirit of Vietnam, and Tan Dan newsletter.
His wife Anh started working at Bettendorf Bank and learned bookkeeping at Scott Community College. She then worked for a furniture company during the day and helped refugees in the evenings.
Doung Ba Le & Minh-Quang Thi Vu
Duong Le was born on February 10, 1947, in South Vietnam. He met Minh-Quang Vu when he was buying airplane tickets for his family to get out of Vietnam. They ran into each other again at Camp Pendleton. Duong, his mom, dad, 2 brothers, and 1 sister arrived in the Quad Cities on September 15, 1975. Minh-Quang and her father arrived on September 24, 1975.
They were sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church in Pleasant Valley and Zion Lutheran Church in Burlington. The couple was married on November 1, 1975.
Duong took English classes at Black Hawk College and wanted to study electronics or mechanics. Minh already spoke English, French, and Chinese. She took typing classes.
Vinh Quang Pham
Vinh Quang Pham was born June 4, 1952 in Ninh Binh. He was a soldier in the South Vietnamese Army. With the help of his sponsor, Calvary Lutheran Church, he found a job as a mechanic at Tom Tague Dodge. Although he did not speak English, he was able to read the manuals. He opened Vinh’s Auto Repair in 1980.
Vinh married Cynthia M. Carlson on June 6, 1976, at Calvary Baptist Church in Moline. Cynthia, a recent graduate of Augustana College, volunteered to teach English to Vinh and his brother, Quy’s family.
Vinh Quang Pham died on November 12, 2020.
“When I come to American , I have nothing. Now I have everything.”Vinh Quang Pham, Moline Dispatch, February 28, 1976
Buong Trong Hoang & No Thi Hoang
Buong Trong Hoang, his wife, No Thi, and children Thi Thuy Tiem (age 7), Duc (age 4), and Thao (age 15 months) arrived in the Quad Cities on July 24, 1975. The family was sponsored by South Park Presbyterian Church in Rock Island.
He had been an Air Force pilot and flew about 60 refugees to Thailand. They then went to a refugee camp in Vietnam and a military base in Arkansas, where they waited for a sponsor.
Buong had a degree in Agriculture, Lumbering, and Husbandry. He found work in the assembly line at International Harvester Farmall. His wife No Thi had worked as a secretary-accountant for the South Vietnam government and was looking for work as a tailor or dressmaker.
The Hoang family became U.S. citizens on January 13, 1981. Buong’s brother, Minh Trong Hoang, escaped from Vietnam on June 16, 1988. He had been a manager of a radio station in Nha Trang and received telecommunications training from Americans.
Nghia Thi Nguyen Oxendine
Nghia Thi Nguyen was born on March 15, 1945, in North Vietnam to Tinh Hiu and Gian Thi Nguyen. She met Master Sergeant Stanley Oxendine while he was stationed in Vietnam in the late 1960s. After his 2-year tour with the Army, Stanley stayed in Vietnam as a civilian, working for Bell Aircraft and the U.S. Embassy. The couple moved to the Quad Cities in 1975 when Stanley was transferred to the Rock Island Arsenal to work as a Supply Management Specialist.
Nghia and Stanley were married on November 4, 1978 in Davenport; they next year they opened their restaurant, American Vietnamese Oriental Foods, at 1507 Harrison Street. It was so successful that they moved to a bigger space at 1228 Brady in 1981, changing the name to Nghia’s Restaurant. The couple had 3 children.
Learn more about Vietnamese families in the Quad-Cities by viewing this gallery of images from local newspapers:
(posted by Cristina)