By Naval Hospital Guam Public Affairs
Editor’s Note: We continue with Cmdr. Vinh Doan’s, director of dental services, Naval Hospital Guam, true story about escaping Vietnam and starting a new life with his family in the U.S.
Eventually another group of fisherman came by, recommending that they get close to shore and make a hole in their boat, and sink it if another Thai patrol boat came by, and forced them back out to sea.
Sure enough, this time when they were once again intercepted by a Thai patrol boat they sunk their boat. Close to shore, the adults grabbed the kids, jumped into the ocean and swam the rest of the way to land. While the group swam warning gun shots came from the patrol boat, reminding them they weren’t welcome in Thailand.
Doan remembers reached land his mom was crying and soon after a truck with a cage attached to its bed arrived out of nowhere. The group was rounded up and put in the cage until their captors could figure out what to do with them.
Even though the Thai government didn’t want more refugees, the people of Thailand were very kind and generous and gave them food, water, and blankets. Eventually they were placed into a refugee camp with thousands of others. It was dirty and close to a cemetery. They slept in tents on bamboo beds and there were many mosquitoes.
After a gathering of the United Nations, many western nations agreed to open their doors to the refugees. Those who sought America as their new home required sponsorship. Doan and his family were sponsored by the Maxwell Presbyterian church in Kentucky.
“When we first arrived all I can remember is that everyone was tall and big,” said Doan.
He fondly recalls the kind people who helped his family; Dr. M. Johnson, the Nadig family and many others. To this day he and his brothers refer to their main sponsors, the Logan’s, as grandmother and grandfather.
Two weeks after arriving in America, his parents found work and the family was set up in government housing. While the church helped the family learn English, the children were enrolled in a nearby elementary school.
“There was no option, but to succeed. We sacrificed our life to come here,” said Doan.
When deciding on a career path for himself, Doan never thought of becoming a dentist and certainly had no interest joining the military. He made good grades and he began studying to become a medical doctor, but then realized that it might not be the right fit for him.
At the time he had a friend whose dad was a dentist. When Doan visited, his friend’s dad told him to check out dentistry. Soon after Doan began volunteering at a dental school, discovering that dentistry was the perfect occupation combining medicine, science, art and patient care.
Doan entered dental school. When he graduated he knew he didn’t want to be stuck in a small town in Kentucky. He was uncertain of what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go, but after doing some research, he decided to join the U.S. Navy.
“It has been one of the best decisions I have made. It has been a great journey and has defined who I am. I owe a lot to Navy Medicine,” said Doan. “I try to do what I can to help Sailors. I don’t feel like I’m a great role model. The real heroes are my parents, but I do what I can to help out.”
As Director of Dental Services, Doan appreciates his influence on decisions regarding things that happen in dentistry.
“I like the fact I have a voice. If something is headed in the wrong direction I can impact the outcome to better help patients, and the Navy. I always tell people, I am a naval officer, but also a provider,” said Doan. “My job is to help folks, patients, our active duty and their dependents. That is what I do; provide a service—I just happen to be wearing a uniform as well.”
From 1975 to 1985, two million Vietnamese attempted to escape to Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. Approximately 500,000 people drowned.
Between 1975 and 1979, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea
U.S. studies show that between 1975 and 1979 private organizations placed approximately 220,000 Southeast Asian refugees within the U.S.