Born in Vietnam, made in the U.S.A.
Grateful to his adopted nation for having rescued and afforded him freedom after escaping Communist Vietnam, Lt. Col. Lan Dalat has given back by serving in the U.S. Army.
Journey to freedom
Dalat detailed his family’s “journey to freedom” describing how by the age of 12 he had survived three wars growing up in North Vietnam. In addition, his family had been under constant surveillance by the government because his parents were suspected of spreading democracy. Dalat’s father was also imprisoned numerous times and it was during the ninth time he was in jail that his mother escaped the country with her children.
In the dark of night on March 8, 1981, Dalat’s mother crept out of her home with him and his siblings. She snuck them out of Saigon and to the coast, boarding an old fishing boat and fleeing on the South China Sea with thousands of other refugees. Luckily, after being stranded at sea for two weeks and close to death, the Dalat family, along with hundreds of others, were rescued by the Navy’s USS Ranger CV-61 commanded by Capt. Dan A. Pedersen.
Life as a refugee
The boat people, as they were called, were placed in the Palawan refugee camp in the Philippines where they were taught the English language and American culture. Dalat described conditions in the camp as being as primitive and difficult as in North Vietnam. But after six months, the family was able to settle in Orange County, California. Four years later, Dalat’s father escaped and reunited with his family, telling his children, “The reason why we left Vietnam … well the number one reason to escape was to find happiness. Every human has the right to pursuit happiness.”
Dalat experienced an adjustment to life in the U.S. after being bullied by other children because he was foreign.
“I overcame those challenges by being more aware of my environment and developing a social intelligence to prevent prejudice and discrimination,” Dalat said. In addition, he explained how hard he worked academically and physically to become “mainstream.”
Wanting to give back
Despite the hurdles Dalat faced as a teenager, he embraced his adopted country, appreciating the “opportunities and promises available for everyone.” He said he joined the Army so that he could give back to the nation that gave him his freedom, enlisting in the Army Reserve while attending California State University-Fullerton and then being commissioned through the Army ROTC as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps.
In September 1998, while stationed in South Korea, Dalat married his wife, Minnie, from Daegu, Korea. The family now has three children, Daisy, Hanna, and their oldest, Dan, named after Capt. Dan A. Pedersen. Dalat has spent most of his career overseas, including Korea, Germany, Italy, and Japan, and his family has enjoyed living in each location. Yet, he explained, “My proudest moment was serving as the U.S. Deployable Communications Module Commander because I had the opportunity to command a unique unit comprising equally of Army, Navy and the Air Force.”
He describes it as a meaningful point in his career.
“We provided communication support to representatives of 27 Nations under NATO flag in Afghanistan. That is a major achievement for a refugee,” he said.
In his role as an officer, Dalat has crossed paths with other successful refugees in the military ranks.
“Currently, I’m the G6 Director of US Army Japan serving under another Vietnamese refugee who rose to the rank of major general of the US Army, Maj. Gen. Viet X Luong, commanding general, US Army Japan.”
Grateful for freedom
Dalat wants others to understand how he and many other refugees have overcome the hardships of growing up in a war-torn country, survived dangerous escapes in which many perish, and the trials of adjusting to American life. He adds that he does not take his freedoms for granted.
“I am proud to have been vetted and accepted to serve in the U.S. Army as an officer and was entrusted with America’s precious resources: American soldiers,” he said.Read comments