A Tribute to My Grandfather

By Sidney Tran

            My grandfather was born in 1915 in a country that was not even allowed to have its own name.   Rather, the French colonialists of that era called it Indochine with the main regions known as Tonkin, Annam, Cochin China and the non-Vietnamese countries of Cambodia and Laos.  The effect was to neutralize the feeling of nationhood among the inhabitants of that region.  Nevertheless, the country of Vietnam has endured to exist to this day.  I’m not sure who coined this thought but it is poignant nevertheless and I will paraphrase: Vietnam is a country poor in resources but yet rich in the spirituality of her various faiths.  It is a rather sad legacy of Vietnam where the inhabitants of that land could not determine their own fate and so the inhabitants there sought the spirituality of faith in order to endure the suffering of life.  Not much then has changed since the time of my grandfather’s birth.  In contrast, the United States was already a free, independent, and sovereign country with 126 years of constitutional rule up to the time of my grandfather’s birth.  His lifespan lasted throughout the 20th Century, the most tragic period in Vietnamese history.  It is amazing that he managed to live through the most traumatic, and tumultuous period in Vietnam’s long history.  It is safe to say that more Vietnamese died in the 20th Century through wars, division, famines, and political upheavals than all of the other centuries combined.  It is with this context that I remember, reflect, and honor my grandfather at his recent passing of life. 

What I admire most about my grandfather was that he was a man of peace in an era of great bloodshed.  He was a man of faith who proselytized the belief in the redemption of God’s forgiveness.  He understood that human beings are imperfect.  But by the grace God, the imperfection of human beings can be redeemed if a person strives for a moral life and believes in the teachings of his Creator.  There are so many things that I admired about him and the life he lived.  He was such a humbled man who cared deeply about people, especially, lost souls who have never heard about the tenets of Christianity.  I’m always amazed that throughout his life his faith in God has never been shaken.  It is the resiliency of his faith that has sustained him all the years of loss, hardship and suffering.  To me, he represented and exemplified all the good virtues of a humbled, decent, moral person.

I am connected to him not only through the DNA that exists within me but also through the moral teachings that have been imbued inside me because of my family upbringing and the values that have been inculcated throughout all the branches of my family.  Story has it, that at the time of my birth, he and my mother were violating a city-wide curfew at the aftermath of the communist Tet Offensive in order to get my mother to a hospital to deliver a certain baby into the world.  So, from the earliest memory of my life, I was already connected with him.  The sight of my mother, my grandfather and me still inside the womb on his Vespa zipping through Da Nang must have been a sight to see!  These are some of the irreplaceable moments in life that I have filed into my living memory over the years about my amazing grandfather.  Another one is the perilous journey he took in order to get to this country.  I do not know the specifics but like one of the countless number of Vietnamese “boat people” around the world, he braved the unknown of the high seas in order to take the journey to be reunited with his family.  He put his fate entirely into God’s hands.  I remember the local newspaper story they did on him recounting his journey from Vietnam to Hong Kong.  In the local newspaper story, I remember how the newspaper recounted his determination and confidence that God would eventually deliver him to safety to be with my grandmother and our family.  I remember from my childhood during the years of separation from our family how each night I would pray to God in order for my grandfather safe deliverance from communist Vietnam.  Essentially, my prayers were answered by the Almighty.  Thank you.

My grandfather was the son of one of the earliest Christian Protestant ministers in Vietnam, my great grandfather.  It is a legacy that I deeply respect and cherish.  I once came across an article by a California Lutheran University student, a school I once attended, writing about early Christians at the turn of the century in the Da Nang/Tourane area of Vietnam.  I remembered reading that article so well.  I was really touched about the written report because it chronicles the story and experience of people like my grandfather.  I hope the Christian presence that my grandfather helped to foster in that area continues on today.  It is by far a better legacy of humaneness and decency than the ones left by the political leaders of Vietnam past and present.

The traumatic fall of Saigon ended the Vietnam that my grandfather once knew.  And what came after was a society based on a soulless doctrine of communist atheism.  Today’s Vietnam is one of the very worst violators of religious freedom in the world.  Communist Vietnam continues to harass and persecute Christian Montagnard believers in the central highlands.  This picture of Vietnam is quite different from the sandy beaches that tourists have only recently discovered.  In Vietnam, the years after the fall of Saigon are commonly known by Vietnamese as the “Dark Years”.  I cannot imagine what life was like for my grandfather during these years.  But he managed to endure all of life’s tragedies and became a stronger person through his belief in God who gave him the guidance and endurance to live.  Another memory that I’m vaguely aware of is the fact that during this time period, my grandfather tried numerous times in order to escape by sea from a country that was in reality became a prison for many.  He was subsequently caught and was thrown into prison.  During his time in a communist jail, he did manage to witness to other prisoners about his faith and about the compassionate message of Christian love for all human beings.  Maybe in a way it was meant for him to be there.  I just hope the message he told resonated with the people who needed it the most.  I think the strength of his faith gave others the will to endure the circumstances of their existence.  I can only imagine the despair and hopelessness that existed inside the confines of a communist prison.

The corruption of the soul is the worst corruption of all.  It is the fountainhead for all the other wrongs that a person is capable of committing.  When a person loses all notion of morality, he is capable of committing the vilest of crimes.  Once a person commits one crime it leads to a slippery slope of other crimes to follow.  In a society that reeks of this corruption, that is a society with a weak, shallow foundation.             

The image of the Vietnam that some have portrayed that is known throughout the world is not the same as the one that my grandfather built a family upon.  I want the people of the world to know that the image of Vietnam is not that of cheap, trite Broadway exploitation like Miss Saigon and bar girls.  It is not a land of a wispy, bearded old man who preached the gospel of Marxist atheism.  It is not a land of false martial pride where some people delude themselves into thinking their chauvinistic superiority about defeating a superpower.  Those images are not the ones my grandfather would call his own about a land he once lived. 

I want people of the world to know the Vietnam of my grandfather was one of compassion and the respect for the value of individual life and worth.  These values are still alive today in Vietnam through the work of righteous and conscientious, religious leaders who are armed only with their faith, conscience and values.  Sadly, these people are still persecuted for these beliefs.  Nevertheless, they continue to speak out against injustice for the behalf of the less fortunate and less powerful.  The richness of a country depends on these people because they are the moral voice in the wilderness of despair.   

In his lifetime, he has known great sorrows, too many and too personal for me to express here.  The sorrows did not embitter him about life.  Rather, it reaffirmed his faith in his religious and ethical beliefs.  During the times of great sorrows, he must have questioned why God has forsaken him but those times are the trials and tribulations of faith.  His ability for forgiveness for the transgressions of others was most meaningful to me.  It was something that never was stated to me but it was something that I understood by his deeds and actions because I never heard a word of hatred nor malice.  The notion of forgiveness is the most powerful and universal of all Christian tenets.  Without forgiveness, a person can spiral into and become the very person he most despises. 

I’m so very proud to be his grandson.  I’m also very proud to call him my grandfather, my ong ngoaiI only hope I am able to live a meaningful life that honors his memory.  The many branches of his family have spread all across this land.  I’m sure his other grandsons and granddaughters all feel the way I do.  To me he was one of the most compassionate and gentlest persons to ever to inhabit this planet.  As I write this tribute to him, he no longer lives among us.  Rather he belongs to the ages, he belongs to God.  It is so fitting that he now rest in this land that was founded on religious freedom and tolerance, rest in peace, grandfather.

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