“Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese, 25th Anniversary Celebration: An Immigrant Success Story of Triumph, Agony and war Suffering, and Freedom”
This past weekend, Sunday, December 18, we had the pleasure and great honor to attend the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the American-Vietnamese Friendship Foundation. Also, I am happy to report that Margaret W. Wong and Associates, LLC was one of the main sponsors of this important event.
This event was also in honor of Ms. Luong Thi Gia Hoa Ryan, a Vietnamese immigrant who embodies the wonderful achievements of many ambitious immigrants to the U.S. Her colleagues and friends alike all laud her as a champion of human rights and humanitarian help and support. In order to achieve her immigrant dream, she persevered through numerous hardships and challenges; yet she did not give up, and accomplished noble goals for the Vietnamese and American people following the Vietnam war era.
In her opening speech that she delivered to the first public meeting of the foundation at Lorain Renaissance Hotel in Lorain, Ohio in December 16, 1993, Ms. Hoa Ryan stated, “I am very happy to see everyone come to our first public meeting. This is the first step toward the dream I have had for many years. For those who know me, you know how long I have been waiting for this moment. I would like to see the American people and the Vietnamese people in Vietnam know and understand one another, their histories and their cultures.
“There are many different concepts of Vietnam and the Vietnamese war. In America, in everyone’s mind when they think or talk about Vietnam they think it was just a bad war or a nightmare country because so many had died or are still missing there. And in Vietnam when they think or talk about America, they remember the soldiers who bombed and killed people.
“Because of the war, because the Americans had been in my country, because so many people died there and so many are still missing in action, and because many soldiers returned to the United States without a warm welcome to this country, many suffered and still suffer from the Vietnam war.
“Because I have had to relate to both countries, I know and understand. I feel it is my duty and responsibility to do something about it. If it was not for you—the American soldiers-being there, I would never be here with the opportunity to talk to you today. We need to bring these two countries closer together again with an understanding of each other, especially for the younger generation.”
When Ms. Hoa Ryan went back to Vietnam, she was very sick over the whole thing. She kept telling herself, “I must do something about it now. I just cannot be sick and sit back and do nothing to help those people there.” She added that she had a great opportunity that had come along. Her children were almost grown, and she had the time now to work and help those people and fulfill her dream, especially the difficult task of bringing both countries together. After a long thought, Ms. Hoa Ryan decided to speak about these problems and challenges with Mr. Joseph Meissner, who, she found out, had the same goals as hers regarding Vietnam and the people in America, particularly the Vietnamese Veterans. She asked Mr. Meissner to help start the foundation, and following several meetings and much planning, they achieved their goal and were there.
Mr. Meissner is an attorney and has worked for the Legal Aid Society for almost twenty-five years. He has been with the Active Army Reserve for twenty-eight years and has helped many of the Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and other minority groups in Cleveland and its neighboring areas. He not only helped them, but was very concerned about all those people, especially the children he met and knew while he was in Vietnam in 1966.
Ms. Hoa Ryan also told us about other great people and heroic stories, one of whom was Jason Lin. They met in 1975. Jason lost both of his legs when he was helping one of his workers start a car a few years back. “You would think Jason would slow down, but no, he is more active than ever. He has been back to Vietnam many times since 1988, and is still involved with the group helping Vietnamese Veterans in Da Nag”. Mr. Lin now owns several successful restaurants and businesses.
Also, she met Ms. Suzan Gluntz, who is an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. “She is very much interested in helping us”, Ms. Hoa Ryan added. Ms. Gluntz did not know much about Vietnamese people, but she was very interested in getting to know them a lot more.
Medical and Educational Needs are a focus of the foundation’s visits to Vietnam: from the Journal of The Psychological Operations Association, and under a heading of “Perspectives”, Mr. Joseph Meissner wrote an article in Winter of 1995 that summarized the goals of the American Vietnamese Friendship Foundation: “The Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese, founded by Gia Hoa Ryan, a former secretary-interpreter for the U.S. military during the Vietnamese War, is composed of Vietnamese and Americans, including war veterans. The Foundation’s goal is to build bridges of friendship between the people of America and the people of Vietnam.
“During its year and a half of existence, the Foundation has compiled an impressive series of accomplishments. Recalling civic action, MEDCAPS, the Foundation in February and March sponsored the visit of seven physicians who worked for almost a month in the hospitals, clinics, and medical university of Vietnam. Led by Dr. Gerhard Flegel, a former Special Forces physician, these doctors gave lectures on the latest medical advances to hundreds of Vietnamese medical personnel, advised Vietnamese doctors on difficult cases, and performed many operations and surgeries for the poor.”
“The Foundation this past December and January hosted thirty-four English teachers who set up classes for children at an orphanage in Khanh Hoa Province. These teachers also collected thousands of dollars of school supplies from their home schools and then distributed these to students and families in four Vietnamese villages, including one Montegnard Village.”
All in all, the noble humanitarian work of the Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese continues to accomplish greater goals and will be taking back Vietnam Veterans suffering from Post- Traumatic Stress Disorders resulting from combat. “It has always been my dream” says Ms. Hoa Ryan, “to bring together in friendship the peoples of both my countries—Vietnam and America. Because others, both in Vietnam and America, share my dream and have worked together, our Foundation has enjoyed many successes.”
By George Koussa
Ethnic Consultant and
Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC