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Stars, Community Team Up to Fund Vietnam War Memorial

A benefit concert makes more than $200,000 for the unique tribute in Westminster.

November 25, 2002|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

For weeks, Vietnamese-language radio stations in Orange County blared with pleas for help, and Vietnamese superstars walked door to door, asking for donations.

Hung Mai and his wife, Oanh, both from Anaheim, said they couldn't help but get caught up in the fervor.

On Sunday, Mai and his family joined thousands of spectators in the largest fund-raising concert staged so far for the new Vietnam War memorial statue in Westminster, which honors both United States and South Vietnamese troops.

The bronze statue in the 1.4-acre Freedom Park near Little Saigon depicts a solemn pair of soldiers standing side by side. The statue remains cloaked in canvas as workers add the finishing touches.

"They called for the community's help to complete it," Mai said. "We can't build it halfway and just leave it there. We had to help too."

The fund-raising extravaganza was sold out and became a joyous celebration by late afternoon, when organizers announced they had collected more than $230,000 from ticket sales and donations. The Westminster War Memorial Committee needed $175,000 to add a black marble fountain, a memorial urn and flags of the U.S. and the former South Vietnam.

Organizers sold 20,000 tickets, and police estimated that more than 10,000 attended.

"It's been a long time, and now a lot of people's dreams are coming true," said organizer Nam Loc Nguyen.

The memorial's grand opening is set April 27, three days before the 28th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

"They pulled our flag down. Now we can pull it back up," Nguyen said.

Flags of the former South Vietnam, the United States and U.S. military branches hung from chain-link fences during the festivities. Loudspeakers blared live rap, hip-hop, ballads and country music by famous Vietnamese singers.

One of the performers, Hung Nguyen of Canada, is the Vietnamese Ricky Martin. He was swamped by adoring fans backstage. "I wanted to pay my dues," he said as he signed autographs. "My time is worth the sacrifice for a good cause."

"It's the first time I see them in person! It's such an excitement for me!" said Mike Vu, 22, of Camarillo. "The stars definitely enticed me to go."

Mai, 50, a computer programmer who sat on a blanket with his wife, couldn't wait to have their children learn about Vietnam's history at the event. His two daughters and three sons, who range in age from 10 to 20, were born in the United States. They don't speak much Vietnamese and prefer McDonald's to Vietnamese food, he said.

"They don't understand what happened, why we are in the United States," Mai said.

He and his wife were in college when the communists took over Vietnam in 1975. Mai avoided capture by the communists, and the wartime chaos separated the couple until they were reunited in 1979 in Orange County.

"This community has many differences in politics," Mai said. "But when it comes to freedom for Vietnam, we're supportive because we've all suffered at the hands of communism."

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