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Tuesday, March 7, 2023

An Admiral and a Famous Vietnam Photo

Blake Stilwell at
When South Vietnam fell to North Vietnamese forces in 1975, an estimated 125,000 Vietnamese refugees fled to the United States to avoid retribution at the hands of the North Vietnamese.

Among those refugees was U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Huan Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American ever to hold an admiral's rank. Nguyen's road to becoming a distinguished Navy officer was a long and tragic one, and begins with one of the war's most iconic photographs.

"America is the beacon of hope for all of us. There is no other place in the world where a person can go for such opportunity," Nguyen said at his 2019 promotion ceremony.

Eddie Adams' photo of Viet Cong guerrilla Bay Lop being executed by South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan made newspapers around the world in 1968. It became one of the most enduring images of the Vietnam War.

The photo fueled the anti-war movement back in the United States, which saw the photo as proof that the war was unjustified. But Adams' photo only tells half the story, as the former Marine Corps photographer admitted.

Bay Lop was executed in Saigon, on the second day of the Tet Offensive. He was captured after murdering South Vietnamese Lt. Col. Nguyen Tuan, along with the officer's wife, mother and six of his children. One of his children survived, however, after being shot through the arm and thigh. Another bullet pierced his skull.
Nine-year-old Huan Nguyen stayed next to his mother for two hours after the murders.



Nguyen was taken in by his uncle, a Colonel in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. In 1975, at age 16, they fled Vietnam, seeking refuge in the United States following the fall of Saigon.

Transported through Guam, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel took care of Nguyen and his family. The U.S. 7th Fleet helped to evacuate thousands of Vietnamese refugees and transport them to safety in Guam. Seeing the U.S. Navy take care of his family would later inspire Nguyen to serve in the Navy.

“I was one of those refugees, apprehensive about an uncertain future, yet feeling extremely grateful that I was here at all. 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 hall, distributing water and hot food, helping and caring for the people with dignity and respect. 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,” said Nguyen.