June 4, 2009

Infantry officer tells of life in Vietnam for Asian Pacific Heritage Month

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia National Guard Equal Employment Office presented its Asian Pacific American Heritage Month program May 26 at the RED HORSE Auditorium to celebrate the history and heritage of Americans of Asian Pacific descent. 

  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Lt. Col. Lapthe Flora and Capt. Antoinette Allen learn to do a Nepalese dance with the instructor from the Nepal Dance School. The Soldiers and Airmen were dancing to celebrate Pacific AsianAmerican Heritage Month. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

A group of Soldiers and Airmen made their way to the Commonwealth of Virginia State Military Reservation to see special guest speaker Lt. Col. Lapthe Flora tell the story of his life in Vietnam and the struggles he overcame to be able to serve 21 years as an officer in the Virginia Army National Guard.

Born in Saigon in 1964, Flora has been through many trials and tribulations to get to where he is today. Following the Communist capture of Saigon in 1975, Flora said, he and his brothers fled the city to avoid being drafted in to the North Vietnamese military.

According to Flora, after he spent over three years in the jungle he joined the “boat people” and fled to Indonesia, where he spent a year living in three separate refugee camps.

When he arrived in the U.S., he said he was helped by people of many different backgrounds. He quickly learned English and soon finished his high school education in only three years.

  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

An entertainer from the Nepal Dance School performs the dance of Manjusharee for the Soldiers and Airmen at the Virginia National Guard's Equal Employment Office Asian Pacific American Heritage program at the RED HORSE auditorium in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Although he is from Vietnam, Flora is ethnically Chinese and speaks Cantonese, as well as Vietnamese, so when he came to Virginia he had to learn English as a third language. He said, “It’s the most difficult language of all.”

“I came here with nothing, penniless, the t-shirt on my back, sandals on my feet,” said Flora. “I did have a tremendous amount of determination and a tremendous amount of will power.”

After high school Flora attended VMI where he earned a bachelor’s degree. Following college he joined the Virginia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry regiment where he has served in every position from platoon leader to battalion commander.

Flora’s story is not only a reflection of the hard work and determination of the Pacific Asian people, but also a testament to the perseverance that has helped shape the American people for over 230 years.

“As an Asian American I am very, very proud of my heritage,” said Flora. “But I am equally proud and honored and grateful, first and foremost, to be an American.”

  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A performer from the Nepal Dance School performs a dance which integrates ankle bracelets and the smacking of his feet on the floor for the Soldiers and Airmen at the Virginia National Guard's Equal Employment Office Asian Pacific American Heritage program at the RED HORSE auditorium in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

 

 

After hearing the powerful words of Flora’s life the guests in attendance were treated to some visual stimulation by the Nepal Dance School. The school presented the Himalaya Trails Steps & Lore. The dancers told stories of the Nepalese through several dances, including the Manjusharee.

Manjusharee is said to be the creator of the Kathmandu valley and the Nepalese god of divine wisdom. During the story the dancer told of how Manjusharee sliced the mountain range with his sword and created the valley. This very stylized form of dance tells the story through soft body movements and hand signs, each which has a meaning of its own.

Following the dance routine the Solders and Airmen were invited to enjoy some traditional pacific Asian cuisine. Some of the authentic fare included sushi and egg rolls prepared by House Calls catering of Chesapeake, Va.

Overall, the program celebrated the cultural differences and the history of the Pacific Asian Americans through their dance, their food and the stories of the individuals who have fought hard to call themselves Americans.

“So today we celebrate both in hopes that no one’s heritage or history is ever forgotten,” said Air Force Capt. Antoinette Allen, the state equal employment office manager. “This event, and every special observance, is a reflection of this great nation’s ability to embrace the ideology of inclusion.”

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