The United States Armed Forces are the country’s military forces. The armed forces have six service branches: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. The president of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. It formulates military policy in collaboration with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, both federal executive departments that serve as the primary organs through military policy. All six armed services are part of the United States eight uniformed services. But do you know who the highest-ranking Vietnamese-born US military officer is?
Huan Nguyen is the highest-ranking US military officer of Vietnamese descent. He is the sole survivor of a family whose killer was captured in a Pulitzer-winning photograph being shot in the head.
Who is Huan Nguyen?
Huan Nguyen was born in Hu, South Vietnam, in 1958 or 1959. His father was an officer in the Republic of Vietnam Army. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, Viet Cong guerrillas murdered Nguyen’s parents and six siblings at their Saigon-area home. Nguyen, nine, was shot in the arm, thigh, and skull and stayed in the house for two hours while his mother bled to death before fleeing after dark.
Nguyen later lived with his uncle, a colonel in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force, until 1975, when they fled to the United States following the fall of Saigon. Nguyen’s family first settled in Midwest City, Oklahoma, near Tinker Air Force Base. Nguyen worked at Shotgun Sam’s Pizza Palace for $2 an hour while his uncle worked as an auto mechanic for Volkswagen.
Nguyen graduated from Midwest City High School in 1977, one of 560 students. He earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University in 1981. He also had three master’s degrees as of October 2019: one in electrical engineering from Southern Methodist University, one in engineering from Purdue University, and one in information technology from Carnegie Mellon University. Nguyen was inducted into OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology Hall of Fame in 2020 and received the Melvin R. Lohmann Medal, the school’s highest honor.
After witnessing the sailors and marines who cared for his family en route to the United States in 1975, Nguyen was inspired to join the United States Navy. He was commissioned in 1993 through the Reserve Engineering Duty Officer program.
Since then, he has worked for the Office of Naval Research, Naval Sea Systems Command, United States Pacific Fleet, and United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka. Washington, DC’s United States Navy Memorial. Nguyen was elevated to rear admiral on October 10, 2019, becoming the first Vietnamese-American to do so. Following his elevation, he was appointed Deputy Commander for Cyber Engineering at Naval Sea Systems Command in the Washington Navy Yard. (Source: US Veterans Magazine)
Huan Nguyen’s Medal of Honor
Among Nguyen’s honors and decorations are two Legions of Merit, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, a Bronze Star Medal, and a Meritorious Service Medal. (Source: Naval Sea Systems Command)