‘I live because he had to survive’

Montgomery. Vian Tran awarded first Rumshock Veterans Foundation scholarship for her essay about her grandfather, a Vietnamese soldier who fought alongside an American soldier for freedom.

14 Jul 2020 | 12:51

The Rumshock Veterans Foundation has announced the First Annual 2020 Scholarship winner. Rumshock awards an annual scholarship of $500 to a student who has written about a family member being in the military who helped create the foundation of who that student is today. This year’s winner is Vian Tran.

She wrote about how her grandfather, a Vietnamese soldier fought alongside an American soldier for freedom. Both her parents had fathers who fought with American soldiers. While they are still alive, both fathers experienced what it was like to fight alongside an American soldier and endure the extreme hardship after they were captured by soldiers from North Vietnam.

Vian was born in the Bronx but has lived in the Hudson Valley for all of her life. Growing up surrounded by a small number of Vietnamese people other than her family, she always felt more connected to her American side rather than her Vietnamese side, forgetting where she came from.

Glimpses of his life

Her grandfather, who still resides in the Bronx, fought against the North Vietnamese communists during the war. Although he does not talk about it much, over the course of my lifetime he has told her small pieces to a story that is deeper than she could ever even begin to understand.

“After fighting alongside the U.S for freedom,” she wrote, “my grandfather was arrested by the communists and was put in a labor camp, which was worse than jail. They put him there without telling him how long they would stay, saying that they would be released when the government believed they were reformed. He, alongside his fellow soldiers, endured hard labor and physical and mental abuse for ten straight years, never knowing when or if they would ever get out. They were forced to build houses, farm, plant and cut trees, and more. Despite the hard work, they were starved, only having white rice and salt water to eat. Once a month, they allowed family to visit the prisoners, which was when my grandmother brought him proper food - other than that, they were forced to eat rats, bugs, or anything to keep them from starving.

“Working conditions were at the worst they could be, with no medical and no sanitation. They did not have enough clothes to keep them warm in the winter. My grandfather told me that on Vietnamese New Years, the communists gave them the treat of a small bowl of rice with animal skin, some of the only ‘real’ food that they would be able to enjoy from the communists while they were imprisoned.

‘He constantly asks if I am hungry’

“When visiting my grandfather, he could be seen as overbearing at a glance. He constantly asks if I am hungry, tired, or if I am in any discomfort at all, in order to solve this problem. It is possible that this persistence is a result of his old age ; but I believe he is making sure that I never come close to feeling the way he did back in Vietnam. Every time he had come over to me with a bowl of food, pushing me to eat more and more, I never realized it was only because he barely had any to eat himself in the labor camp.

‘So that I would never have to feel the cold against my skin’

“Every time he had given me one of his scarves or hats to warm up as we go out in the winter, or wear multiple uncomfortable layers, I never realized it was so that I would never have to feel the cold against my skin that he felt while enduring hard labor. Every time we had gone on vacation and my grandfather wanted to visit as many of his old friends from Vietnam in the area, I never realized it was because he had watched so many die beside him during those ten years, and wanted to savor every moment he could, as if these moments with his friends now could be taken from him as they were in the past.

“His worries and his protectiveness stems from the care that he holds for his family. Despite his age, my grandfather is always the first one to try and help bring groceries in, clean the dishes, help carry heavy items, and more. Going through hell and back, my grandfather did not want anyone that he cares about to experience a fraction of the same thing.

‘Because of my grandfather....’

“The life that my grandfather has lived, and continues to live, has truly shaped me into the person that I am today. People learn about the Vietnam War in social studies class, read about it in a book assigned to them by an English teacher, or watch war movies in their free time. But what my grandfather went through was not only a movie, or a story that would be forgotten in a few days. It was real, and it is still real today.

“Because of my grandfather, I savor every meal that I am given, because he was not able to.

“Because of my grandfather, I help my family do work around the house, because I am given the choice to do so, a privilege that he was not given.

“Because of my grandfather, I appreciate every moment I am given with my family, because he could barely see his for ten years straight. His experiences have allowed me to see things in a different perspective, that is more real than anything else in my life.

“Because of my Ông Ngoại (grandfather), I live because he had to survive.”

The Rumshock Veterans Foundation
Rumshock Veterans Foundation invited veteran family members in Orange County to write about how a veteran helped create the foundation of who that student is today. Winning essays illustrated how coming from a military background influenced their values and goals in life.
The Rumshock Veterans Foundation, RumshockVF.org, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation.
Rumshock programs are intended to help veterans after discharge address any challenges they may face as a result of their military service, while honoring their dedication and the sacrifices they have made on behalf of our country.