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US Navy’s 1st Vietnamese-American admiral watched Viet Cong kill his family

Rear Adm. (Lower Half) Huan T. Nguyen is currently the Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering at the Naval Sea Systems Command. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark D. Faram)
March 16, 2023

Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen made U.S. Navy history by holding the distinction of being the first Vietnamese-American promoted to his rank in the Navy. Born in Hua Vietnam, Nguyen immigrated to the United States in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. Now, Nguyen’s tie to history as a young man has come to light. 

Nguyen officially began his Navy career when he was commissioned through the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer program in 1993. According to, Nguyen decided to dedicate his life to service due to his experiences as a child in his war-torn country. 

“The images that I remember vividly when I arrived at Camp Asan, Guam, now Asan Beach Park, were of American sailors and marines toiling in the hot sun, setting up tents and chow halls, distributing water and hot food, helping and caring for people with dignity and respect,” Nguyen said. “I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a place like America. Those sailors inspired me to later serve in the United States Navy.” 

READ MORE: ‘Epitome of the warrior patriot’: Veteran held captive in Vietnam for 7-plus years laid to rest in Virginia Beach

When Nguyen retired from the Navy in October 2022, he ended his career awarded two Legion of Merits, a Bronze Star Medal, a Meritorious Service Medal, 2 Navy Commendation medals, and other awards, according to the Navy.

Nguyen’s also has deep family ties to one of the most famous war photos to emerge from Vietnam, according to The photograph, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1968, was taken by the late photojournalist Eddie Adams.

Featuring what the South Vietnamese general Nguyen Ngog Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner, the photograph depicts the execution of Bay Lop on the second day of the Tet Offensive. 

Bay Lop was captured after he murdered South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan, his wife, and their six children. 

READ MORE: South Korean bishop apologizes for Vietnam War atrocities

One child, despite being shot in the arm, thigh, and skull, survived. That child was 9-year-old Nguyen, who remained by his mother for two hours before escaping and remained in the custody of his uncle, a colonel in the South Vietnamese Air Force, until they both relocated to the United States. 

Nguyen’s early experiences shaped his life. In a retirement press release, Navy Commander Vice Adm. Bill Galinis reflected on Nguyen’s dedication. 

“NAVSEA, I — and many others — have had the opportunity to witness how you have personified your mantra of ‘Service before self,” Galinis said, “Your service has honored your family, your NAVSEA team, and your country Huan. You have a lot to be proud of.”