Posted on May 29, 2014 at 11:00 PM
Friday, May 30 at 11:34 AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From his small room in a Charlotte assisted living center, Phan Siu sees a world of happiness, following more than a decade of heartache. His liver is failing, but his faith and fortitude are thriving.
More than four decades ago, Phan Siu was one of thousands of persecuted Montagnard villagers who helped American troops in Vietnam. “He was our civilian interpreter,” said Vietnam veteran Tom Polston. “He spoke English, Vietnamese and Montagnard.”
When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, Phan Siu and thousands of other Montagnards were left behind to face the Communists. “We abandoned the country in ’75 and these people were left to fend for themselves,” said Polston.
Phan Siu’s allegiance to America would come with a price. He would spend the next 12 ½ years in a north Vietnamese prison camp. “Terrible, I said terrible. Torture, the Communists torture,” said Phan Siu.
Polston and the other members of his platoon returned home, trying to block out the memories of a harrowing war. “When I came out of the service, I put everything behind me,” said Polston. But he never forgot his charismatic friend, Phan Siu, and nearly 40 years after the war ended, set out to find him.
After more than a decade behind bars, Phan Siu and his family made their way to America. He began working at Plastex Fabricators in Charlotte. “I met him, I think, about 15 years ago. One of the other Montagnards that were working here recommended him to me to hire,” said Plastex owner Tom Robertson. “As I met him, I saw a very special person.”
Tom Polston continued his mission to find Phan Siu and had been sent a list of United Montagnard Churches. Phan Siu’s name was on the list. He was serving as a pastor at a church in Charlotte. Polston sent a letter, along with an old photo of Phan Siu, his wife and son. But, there was no response for six weeks. “And out of the clear blue, I get a letter,” said Polston. “What was amazing was, he was in Charlotte. I’d been coming to Charlotte all these years.”
Last month, Polston and four members of his platoon converged on Charlotte for a reunion 44 years in the making. They wanted to see their old friend, Phan Siu. For two hours, they exchanged stories, hugs and tears. “Oh, I’m so happy. I was thinking about all of you. I believe that I would not see you no more,” said Phan Siu. “All my friends come together and we have to shed our tears about this.”
Max Lund is a Vietnam veteran from Northern Michigan who was brought to tears. “Very emotional. It really is. He worked for us at great personal risk and he did a wonderful job. So seeing him again is pretty tough,” said Lund.
As the day ended for these veterans of Vietnam veterans, it was one last mission accomplished. “I think there’s a plan that the good Lord has and right now, we are in the midst of that plan,” said Tom Polston. “It just is a human connection of somebody who spent almost 13 years in prison to come here with no bitterness. There’s a lot to learn from that, that we can all learn.”