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Posted on Sep 12, 2005 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey – Book Review

By Richard N Story

A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey
Quang X. Pham
Ballantine Books, 2005

The Vietnam War has left its scar on anybody who was alive during those times and the scars continue to make news and influence people today. One only needed to think back to the last Presidential elections to see how the war was used to influence the electorate. Yet, from all the various sources there has been one community strangely silent; their achievements forgotten, and services belittled. I am talking about the orphans of South Vietnam. A Sense of Duty: My Father, My American Journey by Quang X. Pham seeks to help redress this oversight and show how the South Vietnamese military suffered after the war, and how the civilian refugees had to adjust to a strange new world after South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam.


Quang’s father was Hoa Pham, one of the first pilots of the infant South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). He flew an A-1 Skyraider, and in 1964 the pilot supported Operation Sure Wind 202, which supported the assault on Do Xa which was the communist gateway to the south. His Skyraider was hit by fifty-caliber machine gun bullets fired by communist gunners and crashed, to be rescued by an American Marine flying with the Marine Helicopter Squadron 364 (HMM-364) who had airlifted the South Vietnamese Army troops into the battle. Shortly afterwards, Quang was born. While Quang spent the first years in and around Saigon, his father continued to serve in the VNAF, eventually reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before the fall of the country.

The fall of South Vietnam after the United States completely turned its back on an ally saw Lt. Col. Pham see his family off in a C-130 that flew them to safety. Instead of fleeing as he could have done, Lt. Col. Pham stayed and did his duty and for that would spend the next twelve years in a communist hell being “reeducated.” Yet for a nine year old boy separated from a father he adored and in a strange land, Quang and his remaining family had to assimilate into the country that took them in. One stroke of luck happened when the family found a sponsor who lived in California. California would have been far less xenophobic than Arkansas or other deep south states. While the father’s fate was unknown for the longest time, his influence was still felt by his son. He was impressed with a strong sense of duty that transcended the norm for the young people of his age.

Quang grew up and graduated from UCLA and entered the Marines OCS program. Entering the Marine aviation program, he wanted to be a fast jet pilot, but the needs of the service intervened and his entire class was assigned to helicopter training. It was one of the similarities that the son and father would share. Both become aviators in a country at war. For Quang, his war was Desert Storm. Of the many observations that Quang made throughout the book, the following was particularly interesting: It took the United States only four months to build up the force levels in Saudi Arabia that it took roughly ten years to reach in South Vietnam. It was after Desert Storm that Hoa Pham was released from Vietnamese custody and allowed to immigrate to the United States. Father and son tried to put their lives back together after all the years apart. Yet there was a strain, and Hoa would never talk about his time and service in Vietnam. It was not till after Hoa died from brain cancer that Quang’s search for answers took off. Culminating in the book, this work is a tribute to not only his father and family, but in essence for everyone touched by the war in Vietnam.

The book is flawlessly written with no typographical or grammatical errors. The photos are plentiful and substantially add to the text. One oversight in the review copy was the lack of an index. It is hoped that the books available for sale from booksellers will include an index. With a list price of $24.95 (US), this book represents a great value for the money for anybody interested in the Vietnam War and its consequences. As a contemporary of Quang, I give the book my highest endorsement.