USS Bonhomme Richard, At Sea -- Born in Vietnam and raised in California, Loc C. Huynh (pronounced ‘When’) began his American journey as a non-English speaking immigrant and fought through a dangerous childhood to become a United States Marine.
Private First Class Huynh, a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, had an uphill battle to achieve the kind of life that has taken him around the world.
Born in 1993 in Saigon, Vietnam, Huynh and his family of seven lived in a tiny home, dependent upon raising their own crops for food. Wanting more for their family, Huynh’s parents decided to move to the United States to seek a better life. It would take the family three years of working the fields and combining their savings to afford the trip.
“It is different in Vietnam. Nobody grows up wanting to be rich or famous,” said Huynh. “They just want to work, tend to the crops and have food on the table. My mom and dad just wanted the best for me and that couldn’t be found where we were.”
From a life surrounded by rural villages and jungle to one surrounded by miles of concrete and street gangs, the 4-year-old Huynh and his family, speaking no English at all, moved to Compton, Calif., in 1995. The family chose the city because Huynh’s extended family had moved there years prior.
When Huynh and his family arrived in Compton, it wasn’t the “land of opportunity” they expected. Adjusting to the poor, urban culture was a difficult process, especially for the young Huynh.
“It is a rough lifestyle. If you are not wearing the right colors in the correct audience, you will get shot - simple as that,” said Huynh. “It is not exactly a place a kid can expect to one day become successful.”
Compton is a place where gangs are prevalent and gunfire is an everyday occurrence; it was here where Huynh spent most of his adolescent life fighting to fit in with those around him.
Throughout middle and high school, Huynh struggled to relate with his classmates because of his inability to speak English fluently.
“Up until I was in the fourth grade, I didn’t even speak the language, much less hold good conversations with somebody,” said Huynh. “I was a Vietnamese kid, spoke no English, and was surrounded by drugs and violence.”
Huynh’s mother knew that he needed something to keep him from being caught up in the gangs. With the marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine problems in the area, along with high crime and violence rates, the young child was in danger of being enveloped by the criminal life surrounding him. With his mother’s insistence, Huynh used sports to fill his time, his favorite being basketball.
Huynh worked his way into a starting position on the varsity team his sophomore year of high school. By this time, he was fluent in English and able to relate to his peers.
But his focus on sports could not completely protect him from the dangers of his neighborhood. Walking home from the bus stop after basketball practice one day, Huynh noticed a car moving suspiciously slow alongside him. To a child raised in Compton, a creeping car meant only one thing.
“In the neighborhood I was from, when you see a slow moving car, there is only one thing that it could be doing: a drive by,” explained Huynh. “It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me.”
Looking left to the car, Huynh realized that he was about to be caught in the cross fire of a gang dispute. Although he was not the target, Huynh was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Hastened by fear of death, Huynh leapt from the sidewalk and sprinted in the other direction. His reaction was just in time as he narrowly avoided the hail of bullets that erupted seconds later.
“It was then when I realized I had to do something different; not just be another gangbanger,” he said. “I came to the conclusion that I had two choices in my life: play basketball or join the military.”
Huynh’s success on the basketball court during his senior year paved the way for a scholarship offer from the University of Nevada. Unfortunately, the scholarship would only pay a portion of his tuition. Without the financial means to cover the difference, Huynh knew he had to join the military in order to make a better life for himself.
“My mom used to always tell me, ‘when you put your mind to something you want to do, you can do anything,’” said Huynh, who earned his American citizenship at age 9. “So I did it; I signed the papers and left. The next thing I knew, I was at boot camp.”
Huynh arrived to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. in September, 2011, to begin recruit training. His difficult childhood proved to be his strength during the rigorous 13 weeks of training. Dodging drive-bys in his youth made the Marine Corps drill instructor a little less intimidating.
“Even though it was hard at times, I felt like I had been through worse,” said Huynh.
After graduating from boot camp and the School of Infantry – West, Huynh was assigned to 1/5, stationed in Camp Pendleton, Calif. The unit was recently attached to the 31st MEU in Okinawa, Japan, through the unit deployment program. As part of the 31st MEU’s battalion landing team, Huynh will be conducting multilateral training exercises in the Asia-Pacific region. Some of the areas designated for training will bear similarities to Huynh’s original home country.
“My family and I have gone back home to Vietnam to visit family, but it will be different going back to Asia as a Marine,” he said. “I left Asia as a member of a poor Vietnamese family trying to make it, and now I’m returning as a member of the greatest war-fighting organization in the world trying to help others.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.