Little Saigon’s newest memorial salutes a war hero of the 13th century... by Anh Do

(Trích nhựt báo Los Angeles Times)


SEP. 22, 2014


9:26 PM

The streets of Little Saigon have long reflected the recent history of the country that many here fled as their homeland fell to Communist forces.

The old flag of South Vietnam flies proudly from storefronts, and the sacrifices of the Vietnam War are captured in a statue of two soldiers — one South Vietnamese, the other American — erected outside Westminster City Hall.

Now, organizers have reached further back in history to salute a military hero.

Tran Hung Dao was Vietnam’s supreme commander in the 13th century, credited with three times repelling the far superior Mongol forces led by Kublai Khan. He remains a national superstar in Vietnam, where city streets and buildings are named in his honor.

Now, a statue celebrating the long-ago war hero has been erected in the heart of the largest Vietnamese American community in the U.S.

Thousands have turned out to view the carved, marble statue at Hanoi Plaza in Westminster since its unveiling this month.

“I’m here to take pictures of this man to share his brave deeds with my children and grandchildren,” said Long Huynh of Anaheim, whose sons and daughters live in the San Francisco Bay Area and Texas.

“You may know that in each corner of this community, there is something to remind us of days long ago, or the battles long ago,” Huynh said. “Why? Because we can’t forget. We can never forget.”

Volunteers worked years to make the statue a reality, persuading the owner of Hanoi Plaza to provide land at the Bolsa Avenue shopping center and artisans to provide free labor for carving and then erecting the statue. In recognition of Tran’s towering legacy, the monument stands nearly 6 feet and weighs about 1,400 pounds.

In the decades since Vietnamese refugees first began putting down roots in central Orange County, the streets and marketplaces of the immigrant community have come to more visibly reflect the country that so many left.

At the Asian Garden Mall, statues of the gods of good fortune, prosperity and longevity serve as a setting for visiting politicians trying to win votes. Every spring — on the anniversary of the fall of Saigon — hundreds gather at the Vietnam War memorial, playing patriotic songs, giving thanks to the generation that fought the war and the generations before them for dedicated military sacrifices.

But those who pushed for the newest addition believe that Tran Hung Dao — born Prince Tran Quoc Tuan — transcends even that.

“Our country is a small country. Yet he had the ability to lead ... to ultimate victory against far more powerful enemies,” said Du Mien, director of the Vietnam Library in Westminster.

“Living in America, we hear about ‘united we stand’ and this is what I hope our youth can learn from the actions of the general. It is only through unity that we can achieve victory.”

Nghia X. Nguyen, who heads the Vietnamese American Federation of Southern California and helped to launch the statue project, said he’s inspired to reach out and spread the lessons taught by Tran Hung Dao.

“East and West meet here in Little Saigon, and this statue allows us to share our cultural values with concerned world citizens and to make things better for our city, our state, the country and the world.”

Tourists strolling around Little Saigon said they were pleasantly surprised by its historical markers.

Ian Howard, visiting from Sydney, Australia, checked out the new statue as he drank sweetened iced coffee from a nearby vendor.

“It’s great to have something permanent in a place known for earthquakes.”

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