A great man died last night. Probably none of you know him or of him. Like so many others, he accomplished great things quietly. I never met him, myself, don’t even know his name, to be honest, but he was extremely important to my life and the lives of many others who know me and mine. As I write this, I am crying for the loss of someone to whom I had no direct connection and never thought about until today. But I find in the hours after his death, that I owe him so much.
You see, he was my wife’s grandfather. He was responsible for her ever coming to the USA in the first place.
Her parent’s were well off for Vietnamese citizens. Upper-middle class, even. They could afford a concrete floor and even a refrigerator and television set, rare luxuries at the time. And they busted their backs to provide them for their family. But to provide travel from Ho Chi Minh City to the USA? Never in their lifetimes. The best they could hope is that their son, my brother in law, would be able to bring His family over in time. But for the daughters, nothing.
in 1993, however, that changed. My father in law’s father had come across many years before. During the evacuation, I believe, and set himself up as a successful restaurant owner. Over the years, he brought many of his family to the USA for their chance at gaining riches and freedom. In ’93, it was my wife’s family’s turn. The youngest son, my father in law, never lived up to the riches part, never owned his own business and quite literally worked himself to death to provide for his children. Again, a man very important to me that I never got to meet. He died shortly after I met my wife.
Even in death,without ever meeting his future son in law, my father in law did me one last service. My wife and I had dated for a short time shortly after meeting, but broken up. It was her father’s death that sent her back to me as her only source of comfort and the only person not placing demands on her. The oldest child and a daughter with a mother who spoke no English, it was her job to assume her father’s role in his absence. No time for herself, no compassion from her family for her. No consideration of what she may need or want. That is the Vietnamese culture.
My wife has gone from a girl not only unwilling but fundamentally incapable of thinking of herself to a strong, vibrant personality that affects all those around her. Not with a careful nudge from the shadows where no one would pay her attention. Not in the manner that a proper Vietnamese woman should. But instead by walking in full view, in front of those who would previously have ignored her, Commanding their attention with her mere presence, melting the coldest of them with no more than a smile. Winning the love of those who’d forgotten what that was.
And none of it, not one little bit of any of it would have been possible but for the man who died last night. All of us whose lives have been enriched by her and by her sisters and brother, would have been far less without this man whose name we don’t even know. There is tragedy in that. There was a great man, a hero, who died without ever expecting anyone to know what he’d done for them. Without even knowing himself, in all likelihood, what he did for us.
He was a true American hero, whether he knew it or not.