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A Story of Authenticity, Courage and Hope

Lawson Magruder

April 2015

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. It was a war that cost our great nation over 58,000 killed and 363,000 wounded. There has been much written and debated about the war "we lost "but I would like to devote this article to a friend, a brother who not only fought in the war but is from South Vietnam. It is a story of authenticity and hope and courage. The remarks below are from a speech I gave two years ago in San Jose, CA in honor of my friend, Nguyen Cong Luan.

Good afternoon everyone. It is a tremendous honor for my wife Gloria and me to be here at this book presentation for our dear friend Luan.  We have known him for over 40 years and consider him a member of our family and a "brother".  

Nguyen Cong Luan
Lawson and Gloria with Luan and his wife

If I may, I would like to spend my time speaking personally about Luan the friend, the soldier, and the family man. My comments are based upon personal observations, time with his family and months of reviewing and editing his book. If I get somewhat emotional, it is because Luan's story is one of Calling, Character and Conduct of the most authentic leader I have ever known.

First Luan our friend:
We first met Luan in July 1974 at Ft Benning Georgia when we attended a course for Infantry officers. I was a Captain who had served in Vietnam a few years before and was selected as the class leader.  Luan was a Major, the senior allied student and Gloria and I were his class sponsors. Over the next nine months, we would forge a bond and friendship that would last a lifetime. Luan was not able to bring his family with him so he became a member of our family. He joined us for so many significant family events: welcoming our second child Loren into the world; playing with our oldest daughter Shannon to include a memorable trip to Disneyworld; sharing in our special holiday and family traditions; and participating in the many fun class parties and events. It was a remarkable year for our young family to have a "new member" of our family to enjoy time together. 

Our lasting impressions of Luan during that special time together were:  His zest for life and how he savored every moment of the day; his incredible sense of humor; his ability to forge personal friendships; his tremendous memory; and how much he always talked about his wife and children and how much he missed them.

Next, I would like to speak about Luan the soldier:
I watched Luan the soldier each day for nine months and I can unequivocally state he is the most authentic military leader I have ever met. We sat by each other every day and totally immersed ourselves as young leaders in learning more about military doctrine, tactics and techniques.  I loved Luan's thirst for knowledge, his grasp for military history, his inquisitive mind, his creative thinking and his transparent nature. Needless to say, he understood counterinsurgency operations better than anyone in our class because he had observed it as a child and prosecuted it throughout his career as a soldier. 

Of special note, Luan was extremely admired by all the leaders in our class which was represented by over 15 nations. Luan knew how to connect with leaders from very diverse backgrounds. As a result, our class was touted for years as "The International Class that got it right". Our Allied officers were greatly inspired by Luan's leadership. Personally, I learned a great deal from Luan about the Vietnam War- a war I had fought in as a young lieutenant from 1970-1971 in Quang Ngai Province. He broadened my perspective during an important period in my career and it served me well over 3 decades of service.

Last, I would like to talk about Luan the Husband, the Father, the Grandfather and the Brother:
As I mentioned we started our course at Benning in July 1974. Of note, our class graduated in mid-March 1975. As the class was winding down, by late February, the North Vietnamese Army was starting its final invasion of the South. It was a sensitive and nervous time for the five South Vietnamese officers in our class. By early March, the situation in South Vietnam was very grave. Many felt the end was near. Luan and the other four were offered diplomatic asylum in the United Sates. I remember talking to Luan about this and without blinking an eye, he said he must go home to his family and fight for democracy to the end. Gloria and I absolutely understood his decision was motivated by his love for his family and his Nation.   The final two weeks were full of emotion as we spent time with our friend. It was a sad day when we bid Luan farewell after graduation. I thought we would never see him again but my beloved Gloria was ever hopeful and prayerful. 

We departed the next day for a new assignment at Fort Lewis Washington and Luan departed for home.  We last spoke on the phone on the 1st of April 1975 right before Luan got on a plane from Travis Air Force Base outside of San Francisco. By then the northern provinces of South Vietnam had fallen to the Communists.  We told Luan how much we loved him and would be praying for his and his family's safety. We said our tearful goodbyes to our friend, our brother and then we hung up. Through my tears, I looked at Gloria and said: "Honey, we will probably never hear from him again".

Over the next month we watched the images and video coming out of South Vietnam and Saigon and realized the country had fallen. We prayed for the safety of our friend and his family. Gloria wrote letters for months but we never heard back from Luan and the letters were never returned. 

Through the years, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, I lost hope for my friend but Gloria never did. She always said, "We will see him again". I remained in the Army and over the next eleven years we moved many times. 

In 1986, I was a Lieutenant Colonel and found myself back at Fort Benning, responsible for the same course that Luan and I attended a decade before .Over the next year, as I walked the halls of the Infantry School, many strong images of Luan and our time together 11 years before kept coming back to me.

Then one day I received one of the most important gifts in my life- a smuggled letter out of Ho Chi Minh City from our friend Luan!! There is no way to express the joy Gloria and I felt and the thanks we gave the Lord that night for delivering Luan back into our lives.

Over the last two decades we learned more about Luan and his family's journey to the United States. We have marveled at their courage while Luan spent seven grueling years in Communist reeducation camps. We have admired his son's journey to the United States as a boat person. We have been humbled by their love and devotion for one another, their assimilation into a new culture, their academic and professional achievements, and their patriotic zeal for their adopted Nation. 

In closing, for those of you who have read his remarkable book, you know what Luan endured over the intervening years since we last saw him. His is the story like many of yours in the audience: one of remarkable courage, of love of family and of indomitable hope and Faith.

For those of you who have not read Luan's memoir, you are in for a tremendous journey when you read it. It is a book for the ages. A book written by a friend, a soldier and a family man; a book written by a victim who never lost his purpose in life during the darkest of times; a book written by a leader who was always true to his values and demonstrated impeccable character every step of the way; and it's a book written by a man who has conducted himself with highest integrity throughout his lifetime. I strongly encourage you of all generations to read Luan's book to get the complete picture and whole truth about the War in Vietnam.

Once again Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you so much for this opportunity to say a few words about our friend and brother Luan.

Lawson W. Magruder III - LTG US Army Retired - A Proud Vietnam Veteran

True Growth Takeaway: When in your life have your personal values strengthened and sustained you during the most challenging times?

True Growth Journaling Questions: Is there a decision you made because of a conflict of values?  What did you do and would you do the same thing if you had a chance to do it again?

About the author: Lawson Magruder is a retired Army Lieutenant General, member of the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame, founder and principal owner of LWM III Consulting, and married for over 45 years to his beloved Gloria. They have three children and four beautiful grandchildren.

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