*English version by Thong Ba Le (www.minhthong.net)
from the original article in Vietnamese HAI THẾ HỆ – MỘT HOÀI BẢO
(by Tran Do Cam and Nguyen Manh Tri)
After April 30, 1975, millions of Vietnamese citizens were forced to leave their homeland in order to avoid living under a Communist regime. They became refugees, scattered throughout the free countries around the globe. In the United States, there were nearly two million Vietnamese, many of whom were former military personnel as well as government employees of the Republic of Vietnam. First-generation immigrants became actively involved in their new communities and successfully integrated into American society. To date, nearly 35 years after the exodus, Vietnamese refugees have contributed a great deal to the development and success of their adopted countries.
… Recently, we received good news, that Commander Le Ba Hung, USN, was newly appointed as the commanding officer of USS Lassen (DDG 82). The change of command ceremony was held on April 23, 2009, at the U.S. Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan. The appointment is an important evolution in the United States Navy; for the first time, a Vietnamese-American has become the commanding officer of a modern warship in the world‘s most powerful navy. This historic appointment deserves further discussion.
Here we write about the Change of Command Ceremony of USS Lassen (DDG 82). We will present profiles of Commander Le Ba Hung and his father, Commander Le Ba Thong, a former naval officer of the Republic of South Vietnam Navy. Finally, we will discuss the Le family tradition and go into more depth about the USS Lassen.
According to official documents of the United States Navy, Cdr. Le Ba Hung took command of USS Lassen (DDG82) on April 23rd, 2009, in a ceremony held at the U.S. Naval base of Yokosuka, Japan. The Change of Command Ceremony was held between Cdr. Anthony Simmons, former CO, and Cdr. Le Ba Hung, new CO, and presided by Commodore Kevin Donegan, Commander, Task Force 70/75 and 5th Fleet Forces Command of the Seventh Fleet. LASSEN is currently forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and is part of Destroyer Squadron FIFTEEN.
The duties of the U.S. 7th Fleet warships are patrolling for security in the Pacific region, including the South China Sea, which is a hotspot with disputes between China and other Southeast Asian countries, especially with Vietnam in the archipelagos Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. Cdr. Le Ba Hung and USS Lassen may be sent to operate in the waters of Vietnam, where his father’s naval career started nearly half a century ago.
In his short inaugural speech, Cdr. Le Ba Hung thanked the U.S. Navy for giving him the opportunity to become the commanding officer of USS Lassen (DDG 82) and gave special thanks his father, former Navy Commander Le Ba Thong of the Republic of South Vietnam, to whom he always referred as his personal hero.
Japan’s widely circulated newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, featured a special article, in which it praised Cdr. Le Ba Hung for being a Vietnamese-Americans assuming the first major command of a large warship of the United States. Japanese newspapers quoted Cdr. Le Ba Hung saying that he likes Japanese culture and to command a ship based in Yokosuka is “his dream”. On this occasion, the media expressed sympathy and admiration for the outstanding successes of the Vietnamese refugees who had to leave their country in search of freedom.
With regard to Cdr. Le Ba Hung’s biography, we known that Commander Le Ba Hung is a native of Hue, Vietnam and was raised in Northern Virginia. He earned his commission in 1992 from the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating with merit with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. Cdr. Le Ba Hung’s initial sea tour was on USS TICONDEROGA (CG 47) in Norfolk, VA, where he served as Auxiliaries Officer and First Lieutenant. Subsequent assignments included tours as Fire Control Officer in USS WASP (LHD 1) in Norfolk, VA; Weapons Officer and Combat Systems Officer in USS HUE CITY (CG 66) in Mayport, FL; and Executive Officer in USS CURTIS WILBUR (DDG 54) in Yokosuka, Japan.
His staff assignments included tours in the Requirements, Policy, and Experimentation (N8/9) directorate at U.S. Second Fleet and in the Joint Training (J-7) directorate at U.S. Joint Forces Command. Cdr. Le Ba Hung has a Master of Science degree in Operations Research with distinction from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Master of Business Administration degree summa cum laude from Touro University International. He is a graduate of the Naval War College Nonresident Seminar Program and a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College. Cdr. Le Ba Hung’s personal decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal (four awards), and the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards).
In an interview, Cdr. Le Ba Hung said: “Certainly I’ve got my family to thank for their love and support. Also, I’ve got to thank all the leaders and Sailors with whom I’ve worked through my 17 years, without them I wouldn’t be here.” “My father, he’s my hero,” said Cdr. Le Ba Hung. “He was a South Vietnamese navy commander and his career was cut short because of the war, so I wanted to follow in his footsteps as an officer.”
He also said his sense of patriotism to the country that welcomed him and his family also influenced his decision to join the Navy. “I wanted to give back to the United States and give service to my country,” he said. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the United States.”
With those words, the new commanding officer proved that he is a thoughtful gentleman and inevitably those childhood days with his father, who lived in the VN Navy barracks stationed at the northern frontier, had influenced his later naval career. So who is his father, the former Commander in the Republic of South Vietnam, mentioned highly and respectfully by the new commanding officer of USS Lassen?
We had a bit of luck in knowing Commander Le Ba Thong at the VN Naval Academy in Nha Trang in early 60s. He was a midshipman of class 10 naval officers in charge of the two midshipman companies of class 10 and class 11 naval officers. When we met for the first time, we immediately recognized him as an ideal naval officer. He was tall, handsome, intelligent and he graduated as valedictorian of his class. During the graduation ceremony of class 10, he received the Sword of Leadership personally presented by President Ngo Dinh Diem, witnessed by Captain Ho Tan Quyen, Chief Naval Officer (CNO) of the Republic of Vietnam Navy.
After graduation, he served on several ships; as valedictorian, he could have been transferred to units that were relatively safe. Instead, he volunteered to join the most dangerous combat missions, and brought about many important victories.
The following is a summary of his biography.
Commander Le Ba Thong attended the South Vietnamese Naval Academy as a class 10 naval officer in Nha Trang, graduating in 1962. He was then sent to the United States to receive Landing Ship Mechanized (LSM)- Hai Van Ham Hau Giang HQ 406 – in Seattle, USA in 1963. Back in Vietnam, he continued his naval career, serving as executive officer of Mine Sweeper Coastal (MSC)- HQ 116 in 1964, only two years after his graduation. This was an achievement that only a few naval officers could accomplish.
In 1965, he abandoned the safety of serving on a ship at sea and volunteered to join the Coastal Security Service (CSS).
He continued to serve in the Coastal Security Service until he was appointed Commander of Task Group “Sea Tiger” operating in the Cua Dai, Thu Bon river, Hoi An. It was a very heavy and dangerous task because they were required to use small gunboats to patrol and protect many waterways controlled by the enemy. In 1970, he served as commanding officer of Da Nang naval base. In 1972, he was appointed Deputy Commandant of the Military Instruction Directory of the National Military Academy in Dalat. This position was particularly important in the training of cadets to become great leaders of the nation in the future. As a naval officer, he held a military position normally assigned to army officers, at the military college known as Dalat Army Military Academy; he showed great talent and an especially high capacity for this job. He then held many key positions such as Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations at the Sea Operations Command in Cam Ranh bay; Commanding Officer 32nd Coastal Assault Group in Hue ; Commanding Officer Cua Viet Naval Base; Commander Task Group 231.1 in Thuan An. He fought until the last minutes in Nha Be Naval Support Base, his last unit at which he served as Deputy Commander (Acting Commanding Officer). He escaped with his family to the United States on the afternoon of April 30, 1975.
Reading the life history and navy career of the former Commander Le Ba Thong, we see him as an outstanding officer who undertook many important staff as well as combat and command positions.
Young Le Ba Hung, while still in Vietnam, certainly absorbed many of his father’s talents, and is now a young commanding officer with a bright future in the U.S. Navy. “Two generations, one aspiration”, the aspiration for freedom, success, and adventure at sea !!! Sincere congratulations to “Sea Tiger” Le Ba Thong and Cdr Le Ba Hung who has followed his father’s footsteps as “like father, like son” – “Tel père, tel fils”.