The Eleventh Orchid

Prolog

Serene Lăng Cô, Vietnam Coastline

Serene Lăng Cô, Vietnam Coastline

The following memoirs about the Le Tien family was recalled by Le Tien’s eleventh child from her memory and stories told by her mother, relatives and friends. This book of memoirs was written to retain memories and profiles as proofs for the family’s tradition of culture and kindness. Reading the book will allow all the family’s descendants to access and learn more about their tradition and origin, resulting in helpful lessons which can be applied to everyday life.

It is the same for all times, building a family always needs: heart, self-reliance, knowledge, talent and dignity.

Memoirs of LE TIEN by Le Thi Kim Thoa, the Eleventh Orchid and Author

October 2012, Hanoi

Mr. Le Tien was born in 1895 in Thai Phu, Vu Tien, Thai Binh and died on the eleventh day

Le Thi Kim Thoa, the 11th child

Le Thi Kim Thoa, the 11th child

of the third month of 1948 (based on the lunar calendar) at Con market, Hai Hau, Nam Dinh

His father was Le Van Thuy – a merchant who traded fabrics and his mother was Le Thi Dang – a farmer who worked dedicatedly on sericulture and weaving fabrics

Le Tien was the first child of the family and he had two younger brothers named Le Van Khue and Le Van Bich who lived and worked in Saigon port.

Memoirs of Le Tien’s life and career

As a smart and resourceful person, Le Tien had come to Hanoi with his father for studying and vocational training since he was 13, or 14 years old. With his smartness and independence, he was able to entered the first course of the Indochina University opened by the French. He had studied well so the French awarded him a special technical book at his graduation and entrusted him to build an ice company on Tran Nhat Duat Street of Hanoi. He worked as

Mr. Le Tien

Mr. Le Tien

the head of department and was granted a house located in front of Ton Dan Street. Here the family gave births to these following children Mr./Ms.: Tan, Tuyet, Thanh, Thai, Tiep, Thu, Thi, Thoa.

Later he opened a store on Quan Thanh street, selling for foreign wines and beverages. His aunt – Mrs. Sau and his older children were the managers of this store.

In 1939, with the desire to develop his knowledge and personal career, Le Tien resigned from the ice company and moved to 13 Son Tay Street, Ba Dinh District to exclusively sell manufactured welding electrodes and plastic electric tapes to The Railway Department of Hanoi.

He also invested in French techniques to produce carbonated soft drink which was rapidly consumed by provincial companies so his production could not meet demand. Then the

Le Tien's General Store and Family. ca 1936

Le Tien’s General Store and Family. ca 1936

family gave births to Thu, Thuy and Than.

In 1944, the General Governor of Indochina was aware of his open mind and came to his home to encourage him to open a brewery company, as there was only one brewery company in Hanoi at that time. However, this plan was halted by the revolution.

In this period of chaos, his family had to evacuate to his hometown of Thai Phu and then relocated to the Con market in Hai Hau. After the unsuccessful return, along with a sorrow caused by the loss of wealth and his previous achievements as well as a burden of many children and more than 20 workers, Mr. Le Tien passed away at the age of 53.

Le Tien Family 1939

Le Tien Family 1939

When he was alive, he had a farm of 7,200 square meters which was the biggest one in his hometown and was solely used for family vacations. The family of his uncle Mr. Huu took care of this farm. After the death of Huu, nobody was there to manage the farm so it was taken over by the government. In addition, he had more houses at 13, 15, 43 Son Tay and a manufacturing factory that ran from the beginning of Pham Tuan (Ong Ich Khiem) Street to the car factory near Ngoc Ha market in an area of over 1,000 square meters. Later when the revolution began, with the enlightenment, his son – Mr. Thai did let the government manage the factory. As the result, the factory was occupied.

Rendering of Le Tien vacation villa, Thai Phu

Rendering of Le Tien vacation villa, Thai Phu

Mr. Le Tien was a pioneer in his day. He achieved so many things in Vietnam at that time. He held French Indochina driving license number 002 and was the first Vietnamese to ride a motorbike and buy a car in 1934.

Mr. Le Tien was also a nature and travelling lover, he liked to learn about the outside world.

Mr. Le was the first Vietnanese to buy a car in 1934

Mr. Le was the first Vietnanese to buy a car in 1934

Every year he took his wife and children to different touristic sites in the country.

He was rich in kindness. The famine in 1945 killed many people from his company. He offered free porridges every day to wandering people, especially who came from his and his wife hometown. Many of the survivors later gratefully welcomed his family each time they saw his car heading to Co Le village.

During the occupation by the Chinese army (1945), there was an officer who was jealous with a Vietnamese that kept exchanging money with girls on the neighborhood so that officer hung that man and beat him with rifle butt to near death. To save him, Le Tien asked for intervention from the government to free this Vietnamese and then he succeeded and was forever appreciated.

In brief, Le Tien was a talented person with strong will. He had great a self-built career and nice traditional Eastern Asian family that were built on the basis of absorbing the Western lifestyle. He hated drinking alcohol and playing cards, it was unacceptable for his children and employees to play cards after the third day of each new lunar year.

He had wide relationships with many social classes such as Son Phung Giay Cuong label in Hang Da market, famous Dong Luong sweet soup, Han Bich family on 11 Hang Ma, Tan An pastries on Gia Long Street (Tran Hung Dao) which was also his wife’s family.

It was a pity for a person like that to die so soon with many uncompleted intentions and a lack of time to train successors. None of his sons continued the handed down family career because of their excitements for the revolution.  (“People’s Revolution” ~ 1945 – 1954) Mr. Tuoc was the only son who was similar to him in terms of business potential however he was incompatible with his father.

In 1950, the family returned to Hanoi. The Railway Department came back to order manufactured welding electrodes as well as plastic electric tapes but nobody could take over the handed down career. This technique was lost after unsuccessful tries of Tuyet and her husband.

This valuable French book of technique had lost its value.

Memoirs of LUONG THI THE

Mrs. Luong Thi The was born in 1903 and died on the sixteenth day of the fourth month ofLuong Thi 1985 (based on the lunar calendar) at number 16 of Son Tay Street. She was born in Ngoc Lang Village, My Hao District, Hung Yen Province. She was the oldest daughter of Mr. Luong Van Cap and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Bien.

Luong Van Cap was a soldier who helped the military to build villages in the North. Therefore, all people there were named after his family name to show their gratefulness. Nguyen Thi Bien was a trader who lived in Hang Dong, Hang Sat, Hang Long near Hang Co station (near Southern Street) where many of their relatives also settled. They had nine children: Luong Thi The, Luong Van Tang, Luong Bao Loc, Luong Van Tuy, Luong Van In, Luong Thi Sau, Luong Van Bay, Luong Van Tinh (Tam), Luong Thi Phuong.

Cu Luong van CapAccording to oral history about Cu Luong van Cap:

“For his actions it is said that he received honors from the Emperor. The formal attire he is wearing in photograph is Hanfu and worn at court. The Chinese characters on his left may be a certification bestowed by the Emperor.”

Memoirs of Luong Thi The’s life

She was a beautiful girl in the village. And, her parents were smart enough so at the age of 19 she could marry Le Tien who was a middle age widower and three innocent children: Le Thi Ty, Le Van Tuoc, Le Thi Tuat. She was scared of possible responsibility but her parents encouraged and wanted her to marry him.

Fortunately, Le Tien and Luong Thi harmoniously build up their family together. As an intelligent and kind woman, she gave births and took care of the children. She then gave her first birth soon and successfully raised 11 children and 3 stepchildren of her husband. The revolution exploded when the family was in their wealth and happiness and they moved to Thai Phu. With the awareness of the prolonged chaos, she and her brother – Mr. Na came back to Hanoi to get more money for living. She lost her youngest unborn child due to a crowd on the final bus and then got weak.

Le Tien died in evacuation in a strange land. Tan, the oldest daughter and two stepchildren

Le Van Thanh

Le Van Thanh

also died and Luong Thi The had to bear all the weight. She decided to divide the family into two halves. The first half moved to Kien Chinh village with her to sell coffee, beverages, stuffed pancake while the other half stayed near the Con market to do small businesses and making sweaters for living.

Facing so many difficulties and poorness, but she refused to sell the French book as it is a priceless asset and heritage left by husband.

In 1950, she seeked to come back to Hanoi and  the family was able to relocate a half of its member to Phat Diem. She helped Thi, Thu to come back first,  while Tuyet Thoa were firstly relocated to their grandmother’s home town and then again to Hanoi. After that the French let all the family move back to Hanoi.

Coming back to Hanoi, she had nothing and her house was occupied by strangers, her family had to live in the house of her first son Tuoc. After that she managed to get the house numbered 43 of Son Tay Street back and then the house numbered 13 of Son Tay. However due to economic difficulties, she had to sell two houses numbered 43 and 15 for money to repair the house to raise her children.

In 1951, Thanh had been assigned by the revolutionary government to operate in the city but he was found out shortly by the French, after that he was released from jail and made contact with his two uncles to find him a position as driver in Saigon port, where he continued to work and did not get married.  In 1969 he still held the position as driver at Saigon port. In April 1975, he evacuated Saigon during Operation Frequent Wind by barge and floating down the Saigon river to Vung Tau where he was rescued by a US Naval vessel.

Le Thai (Hong Minh Ky)

Le Thai (Hong Minh Ky)

Le Thai (Hong Minh Ky) served for the revolutionary government as a soldier in F320, later severed as a commander of a medical battalion. In 1968 he died at Khe Sanh – Route 9 near southern of Laos.

After the liberation of the capital city, her older daughters got married. While Thu, Thuy voluntarily worked at a site of stone production in Ninh Binh. Thoa became as a clerk handling miliary documents. Than went to study at a sports university.  Thu was her only daughter who fled to the south after the revolution.

She had excellently fulfilled the responsibility of a mother. She affected her children with dignified and serious behaviors, courage and kindness, which were also passed to her children’s characteristics.

‘Operation Passage to Freedom’

Le Thi Kim Thu with her four month old son, evacuated North Vietnam, 16 November

 Le Thi Kim Thu ~ 1954

Le Thi Kim Thu ~ 1954

1954  during ‘Operation Passage to Freedom’ aboard U.S.Montague.  She thought it strange that an American ship had a name of French origin.  She remembered how kind and helpful the American sailors were, especially to young children.

Epilogue by John T, Malch

John T. Malch

John T. Malch

 

 

 

 

 

Le Thi Kim Thu—Chronology ~ 1933 to Present

  • 1933 18 November, born in Hanoi, North Vietnam
  • 1953(?) Married Ngoc Thuy Pham
  • 1954 27 June, 1st son, Quoc Anh Pham born in Hanoi
  • 1954 Nov, family evacuated from Haiphong aboard US Vessel
  • 1955 19 Dec, 2nd son Quoc Don born in Saigon, South Vietnam
  • 1957 1 Jan, 1st daughter Kim Lan born in Saigon
  • 1959 24 Apr, 3rd son Quoc Ky born in Tam Ky
  • 1961 27 Mar, 2nd daughter Kim Ngoc born in Saigon
  • 1962 5 Feb, husband died, St Paul Hospital, Saigon
  • 1962 20 Aug, employed National Bank, Saigon
  • 1969 21 Oct, met John T. Malch, Saigon
  • 1971 31 May, engagement to John, Saigon
  • 1972 June, Anh & Don volunteered for SVN military service
  • 1975 22 Apr, resigned from bank
  • 1975 24 Apr, with 2 daughters and youngest son fled Saigon
  • 1975 27 Apr, John left via C-141 aircraft; at Guam reunited family
  • 1975 5 Apr, Arrived Cp Pendleton & relocated San Diego area
  • 1983 8 Jul, Became a US citizen as Kim Thu Thi Le aka ‘Kim Le’
  • 1984 2 Apr, Quoc Don arrived; wife and three children at SAN
  • 1992 8 Jan, Quoc Anh arrived; wife and two children at SAN
  • 1990 23 Dec, Kim revisits Vietnam; later visits 1994-97 & 2001
  • 1994 15 Apr, Le Van Thanh passed away at San Diego
  • 2016 8 May, Today Kim and John are in San Diego where they retired some years ago

After the revolution: A brief interlude of peace

Domestic Interval ~ 1954 to 1962

After arriving in Saigon, Kim hastily acclimated to domestic life as wife and mother.  It was a positive change in leaving a Communist regime in Hanoi to a young pro-western government in Saigon.

Her husband was a manager for a engineering company and frequently traveled throughout South Vietnam.   In 1959, she accompanied him to Tam Ky in Quảng Nam Province where he supervised a project.  This was where their son, Quoc Ky was born.  When her husband suddenly passed away in 1962, she became widow with four growing children and a nearly one year old infant.  From this point and for another seven years, she had to fend for herself and five youngsters.  In August 1962, Kim found work as a disbursement clerk for GVN National Bank in Saigon.  She was diligent in providing an education for her children.  All of them as they advanced their education attended St. Don Bosco school, Saigon, where learning was paramount.

The War Years ~ 1960s to 1975

Kim met John Malch in October 1969.  They became engaged in 1971 and were married in 1979 at Las Vegas, Nevada.

Kim and John Malch

Kim and John Malch

Call to Duty

Don & Anh ~ 1972

Don & Anh ~ 1972

In 1972 Anh and Don both volunteered for military service.  Their decisions were sensible, as it allowed them to select their desired branch of service.  At eighteen,

Anh chose VN Marine Division

Anh chose VN Marine Division

, (Headquarters, 369th Marine Brigade) which was patterned after the US Marine Corps.  Don at seventeen, selected VN Airborne Division, (5th Airborne Battalion) which was one of the most elite fighting forces in the ARVN.

After their respective basic and advanced training, both were assigned to military units at I Corps Tactical Zone in Quang Tri Province.  They remained in the war zone until March and April 1975.

When Vietnamese higher ranking officers abandoned their command; junior officers,

Don chose VN Airborne Division

Don chose VN Airborne Division

NCO’s and rank and file soldiers were vanquished by their enemy.   The final combat would conclude at the battle for Saigon on 30 April 1975.

During “Black April” 1975, John’s prime priority was getting his family out of Saigon.  He was successful with Kim and three teenagers.  Their two older sons being in the Vietnamese military, unfortunately did not get out during the massive evacuation before the fall of Saigon.

 

Excerpt from my story ‘Logical Action’

This letter is my closure to my Vietnam experience.  I thank God that I was able to evacuate my loving family and so many of my loyal South Vietnamese employees and their extended families.

LOGICAL ACTION:  BEFORE THE FALL OF SAIGON

Letter to Time Magazine: 25 Jun 1975 never published.

After his hasty departure from Saigon on 7 April 1975, the general agent for American President Lines and States Lines and general manager of Getz Bros & Co., (Vietnam)  had, for all intent and purposes “abandoned” the employees of his company to the fate of communism in a matter of twenty-three days after his sudden and unannounced embarkation aboard an American Mail Line vessel from the port of Saigon, South Vietnam.

On the afternoon of 7 April, the employees of Getz were in a state of shock and dismay on what efforts the parent American Company (Tucor Services Inc., division of Trans Union Inc.)  would do for them should the need arise to flee Saigon under a mass evacuation plan.

Two Ford Econoline Vans used in our excavation operation.

Two Ford Econoline Vans used in our excavation operation.

Since no advanced planning was made to remove loyal personnel and when the “mass evacuation” became a matter of fact and on a daily practice:  John Malch, manager of Getz Bros Van Line Division, a USAF captain (who arrived in Saigon two days before to get his own dependents out), and Ron Mallette, Director to Bekins International, together they decided to take matters in hand and begin their own unique escape of their employees and dependents.  Using two Ford Econoline Vans with a large empty cardboard container inside, they started moving people on 23 April, transporting them from the courtyard of Malch’s villa through the Vietnamese checkpoint at the entrance to Tan Son  Nhut Air Base and the U.S. Marine checkpoints at DAO compound, ending at the staging area at the gym within the compound.  Three trips were made Wednesday afternoon, and 27 Vietnamese were smuggled past the VN checkpoints.  On one trip, Mallette was stopped at the VN MP checkpoint, at which time he quickly responded that he was carrying blankets and cots for  the American Red Cross.  On Thursday one more trip was made, with 16 people smuggled in.  Friday 25 April two trips were made, however, the second trip was stopped at the VN checkpoint and Malch was detained at gunpoint for 5 minutes while the MP’s forced the 9 Vietnamese out of the van and also detained them until $20 US Dollars obtained their release.  Malch was also released.

In all 43 employees and families of the three Americans were smuggled to the evacuation area at DAO compound annex.  Two other Getz employees with eight dependents were to be processed through American Embassy channel on Monday 28 April; however, at this time their fate is unknown.  Mallette remained behind to insure the
expeditious departure of  these people and to close down operations for both companies.

All employees of Getz and Bekins were assured sponsorship as far as Guam and the mainland offices are expected to resettle them in the States.

Malch and the Captain arrived on Guam late Monday morning 28 April.  Mallette escaped from Saigon with the remaining employees and dependents through the American Embassy (Final) operation: “Frequent Wind” 29 April.

Between 1 and 28 April, Malch and Mallette had the responsibility to pack and crate and ship over 450,000 pounds of personal effects and household goods for the American Embassy, USAID, DAO and commercial personnel.  Their efforts were not in vain, as 95% of the personal effects and household goods embarked Saigon by 26 April 1975.

We Gotta Get out of This Place

About all I can now add to this is the gut feeling the Air Force Captain

The intensifying enemy fire forced a painful decision to stop C-141 landings at Tan Son Nhut at nightfall on the twenty-seventh. Our flight may have been one of the last C-141's to leave Saigon.

The intensifying enemy fire forced a painful decision to stop C-141 landings at Tan Son Nhut at nightfall on the twenty-seventh. Our flight may have been one of the last C-141’s to leave Saigon.

and I had Sunday morning (27 April) after NVA rockets had earlier slammed into the

roof of the Majestic Hotel.  We were billeted in temporary embassy quarters that Mallette arranged with an embassy contact and was located several blocks from Majestic.  We all had evacuated our respective families and after my unpleasant experience on Friday with the QC at TSN, we decided it was time depart.  The captain and I left at 1800 hrs that same evening aboard a C-141 among over 300 people; majority who were Vietnamese. The load-master sat us in regimented rows on the aircraft floor and belted us using cargo straps attached to the bulkheads.  Our destination was Anderson AF Base, Guam.  Mallette stayed behind to close operations and I later learned he got out the afternoon of 29 April.

6 May 1975 Camp Cristianitos at Camp Pendleton, California   

L: John and Kim R: Kim, Ngoc, Lan & Ky

L: John and Kim
R: Kim, Ngoc, Lan & Ky

Left Behind After the War ~ 1975 to 1992

Anh & Donna ~ 1976

Anh & Donna ~ 1976

Anh and Dung, aka Don, had some good luck and a lot of bad luck after the collapse of South Vietnam.  Kim owned a small home in district four.  Their good fortune; she had listed them in their Family Book, for successor ownership.

Don and his first wife and three children lived there until

Don & Family ~ 1981

Don & Family ~ 1981

1984, at which time they embarked to the United States under the UN Refugee Agency resettlement program. An American religious agency sponsored transportation from Saigon to San Diego.  Don repaid all airfare costs.  

 

 

Don and family arrival at San Diego ~ 1984

Don and family arrival at San Diego ~ 1984

 

Anh and his wife and two children lived there until 1992.  When they embarked to the States under the Orderly Departure Program, all airfare costs had to be prepaid by their American sponsor, Kim.

Anh and family arrive at San Diego ~ 1992

Anh and family arrive at San Diego ~ 1992

Their misfortune while living in Saigon; both sons were unemployable due to military service and their mother’s departure with an American.  Kim taught them self-reliance and both of them found innovative ways to provide for their respective families.  On the streets of Saigon, Don set up a portable watch repair business.  His brother Anh, did likewise with a cigarette lighter-filling business.

In the earlier years after the war and because of the United States embargo it was almost impossible to contact her sons in Communist Vietnam. The trade embargo limited telephone, telegraph and international mail service.

However, Kim frequently provided ‘care’ packages and forwarded them via Air France.  The parcels contained OTC medical supplies, food, clothes, even sewing machines and three wheeler toys for kids.  Also, and discreetly hidden among the goodies was US Currency.

Kim and John preparing "care" parcels for Anh & Don ~ 1981

Kim and John preparing “care” parcels for Anh & Don ~ 1981

Kim Le’s Living Legacy, December 2015

LegacyAnother great-granddaughter, Scarlett, was born on 5 April 2016.  In September one more great-granddaughter is due for her arrival.

From a family five in 1975, adding five more in 1984 and another four in 1992; in 2016 our extended family will be forty-three members.

Afterword

“Every now and then we reflect on our escape and on how very close we came to losing our freedom over four decades ago, had we not been evacuated to America.  We hope and pray that we will never again experience such an encounter that would lead us to our loss of our freedom in our country.”

John and Kim began their romance in Saigon and is an everlasting love for each other which continues into the second decade of the 21st century.

John & Kim twilight years in San Diego

John & Kim twilight years in San Diego

Working title:  “The Eleventh Orchid”

A perspective of success and tragedy caused by a post World War II revolution in North Vietnam.

The paradox of the lives and times of Joseph Malch and Le Tien.

Joe Malch immigrated from Prussia to America in 1909 and escaped the tragedies of World War I and the impact of the Germany’s economic consequences caused by the Treaty of Versailles.   He achieved his American dream in the 1920s through the 1950s.

Le Tien received his achievements beginning in the 1930s through the 1940s. The consequences of a post World War II destroyed his path to success during the occupation by the Chinese Army and the revolution for the Independence of Vietnam by the Viet Minh against the French colonists.

5 thoughts on “The Eleventh Orchid

    • A fabulous way to celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage month and the end of the Vietnam War, which was April 30, 1975,

  1. Kim and John: In these stories I have met people whose heroism touches me deeply. Thank you for telling the readers of freedom glow about of them. And B.F. Johnson, thank you for publishing this. Best wishes from Denver, Colorado. -leif

  2. On December 21, 2016, Kim Le passed away peacefully surrounded by her loving family.

    Private services were held at San Diego

    “Her heart was pure, and her mind clear, and her soul devout.”

    Chuyến đi an toàn đến thiên đường tình yêu của tôi.

    Ông John

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