Navy SEALs Give Back to Their Guide in Vietnam

NAVY SEAL BUD-S training

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Ten thousand dollars.

Spread out over four years.

It doesn't seem like much, especially by U.S. standards.

But in a small village in rural Vietnam, the donation might change the future of an entire family -- and could help repay a 50-year-old debt.

Nhu Nguyen didn't ask for the money.

Her grandfather, Nguyen Hoang Minh, bled for it.

The former combat interpreter volunteered to fight alongside some of the first Navy SEALs in Vietnam, guiding them on hundreds of secretive nighttime missions deep in enemy territory -- work now enshrined in early SEAL lore.

But when the war ended, Minh didn't get to leave with the commandos. His association with "The Men With Green Faces," as the Viet Cong came to know them, would cost him.

Two years in a communist prison camp. Decades working in fields and doing odd jobs for little pay. No way to get ahead.

When his old SEAL teammates finally found him a few years ago, Minh was living in a tiny thatched hut with a leaky roof and a dirt floor, where he and his wife were raising their grandchildren.

The SEAL brotherhood chipped in to upgrade Minh's home. Later, they sent him money to cover medical bills. Feed his family. Fill the gas tank of his motorbike. They paid to bring him to Virginia Beach two years ago, fulfilling his dream to see America before he dies.

And now, this week, perhaps the most important contribution of all: The Navy SEAL Foundation has agreed to pay to send Nhu, his eldest granddaughter, to National University in Vietnam.

"It's a little outside of what we typically do," said Robin King, SEAL Foundation CEO. "But when someone as important as Minh needs support, we're willing to flex our mission and do what we can."

The $2,500 a year for tuition and fees isn't much for the nation's largest SEAL charity, foundation leaders acknowledge.

But in Vietnam, the money could lift a family out of poverty -- ensuring Minh's descendants won't have to struggle like he did, said Rick Woolard, the retired SEAL captain who has spearheaded efforts to help his old interpreter.

Woolard and two other veterans returned to Vietnam earlier this year to visit Minh and his family. There, they hatched the idea of sending his granddaughter to college.

"Minh is now in his mid-70s and in failing health," Woolard wrote in an email to SEAL Foundation leaders earlier this month. "Once he passes away, the family's prospects for escaping poverty are gloomy. The only hope on the horizon is Minh's granddaughter."

Nhu had to be a star student just to be accepted into the university, Woolard said. But without financial help, she wouldn't be able to go.

Minh's granddaughter wants to become a pharmacist.

Classes start next spring in Ho Chi Minh City.

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