The Christmas Season is generally seen as a time of enjoyment and of all good things; family reunions, gifts and religious observances. But 2013 brought a particularly unfortunate event to the season, as on December 20 saw the death of Viet Dzung, a man who is probably largely unknown outside of the community of Vietnamese expatriates and certain American musicians who worked with him. He was a man who became a central figure in the Vietnamese Community; who was a tireless civil rights advocate, a songwriter, entertainer, and radio personality. Those who knew him will miss his presence. Those who don’t but who are members of the American Patriot movement should take a lesson from his life and his works.
Viet Dzung was born in 1958 in Saigon. His father was Republic of Vietnam Army doctor and his mother, a schoolteacher. His birth name was Nguyen Ngoc Hung Dung (note: in Vietnamese a letter D without a cross bar is pronounced as a letter Y in English). As a child he developed polio, which required him to use crutches for most of his life. He studied as a youth at the LaSalle Catholic School where his interest in music began to develop. His musical career was interrupted by the Vietnam War, which necessitated his flight to Singapore in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. By 1976 he had made his way to the United States where, reunited with his family he restarted his musical career.
While establishing himself in the U.S. he adopted the name Viet Dzung, which translates roughly as Hero of Vietnam. This, he did, as a reflection of his public stance on the lack of political and civil rights in his homeland under the Hanoi government. He began recording and publishing his music in the Vietnamese market and collaborated with American musicians on a 1985 album Children of the Ocean. In 1978 he won a first place award for a country-western number in an Iowa competition. His music ranged from patriotic to romantic, with one song’s title translating to “Love is Like an Ice Cream Tree.” His published music totals approximately 450 pieces. Many were collaborations with his adopted sister, writing and performing partner Nguyet Anh. And make no mistake; he was a top level musical talent, whose lack of national fame came from lack broader exposure
In 1993 he became a reporter and commentator for the Vietnamese language Little Saigon Radio network, headquartered in Orange County, California. Then in 1997 along with Mr. Truc Ho he was instrumental in founding Radio Bolsa, a second Vietnamese language network, also headquartered in Orange County where he became a morning drive time fixture along with co-host Minh Phuong, covering items of interest to his audience from, as he put it, “Hanoi to Hollywood.” Truc Ho has repeatedly indicated that without Viet Dzung the station would not have survived.
In 1996 he began working with the Asia Entertainment group, which produces professional quality stage shows spotlighting top level talent of Vietnamese background and provides a springboard for new artists seeking publicity. The shows are performed in many countries as well as in the U.S., are widely available on DVD and many can also be found on YouTube. He served as a musical writer and co-host, providing his unique humor and insights. In the 2012 production Joy of Christmas as co-host he dressed as Santa Claus while interviewing several of the performers.
In 2000 Viet Dzung joined Truc Ho’s Saigon Broadcasting Television Network as a news anchor and editor. SBTN provided him with additional opportunities to focus on items of importance in the field of Vietnamese civil rights. He continually focused on the lack of rights in present day Vietnam and the oppressive “communist” government that jails critics and dissidents, and which can best be described as authoritarian and in some instances as a police state. He took his message not only to the former refugees, but also to their children as an advocate for youth education and cultural awareness.
His activism spanned the totality of the spectrum of concerns from the boat people, to immigrant health, to raising money for storm relief following hurricane Katrina. But overall, his first concern was the plight of his homeland, which led to a variety of verbal shots being exchanged between Hanoi and Westminster, CA. Originally, he refused to visit Vietnam because of political issues, but was later convicted, in absentia, of crimes against the Hanoi government, which would have made it impossible to do so in any event. He also refused to play music recorded in Vietnam because the government refused to allow importation of music produced here, including his. This eventually resulted in a strong black market for music by American based artists, many of whom write and record on the theme of human rights and political freedom. Of course, Hanoi would not have permitted these to be legally imported in any event. Many of these songs have appeared in the Asia Entertainment video productions.
In recently years Viet Dzung was troubled by heart disease and diabetes but he refused to allow himself to slow down and maintained a schedule as active as before. He continued touring with Asia Entertainment and writing for publication in numerous Vietnamese language magazines, while also doing his radio and television programming. He also took time to raise money for disabled Vietnamese soldiers now living in poverty here and abroad. Unfortunately, this extremely intensive workload, which did not bring personal wealth, may have caught up with him and resulted in his death at age 55. Only about a month before his passing he was in Texas soliciting donations for victims of typhoon Haiyan that devastated portions of the Philippines. Despite his personal trials and medical issues he was known by everyone for his smiling face and cheerful personality, along with his indefatigable energy for the causes he believed in.
The Vietnamese patriot community and Viet Dzung in particular, have a lesson for the American patriot community. They have, for all intents and purposes, never given up on the idea of bring a free society back to the land of their origin and take great pains to teach their cultural heritage to the succeeding generation. Among the traits that America has lost is an understanding of how important cultural heritage is and how critical its role is in contributing to the success of future generations. Many of us have become lazy when it comes to preservation of freedom and the individual responsibility that is an inseparable part of it. We should take his tireless efforts as an example for our own.
Viet Dzung was an important voice for liberty and civil rights, albeit one who was not well known around this nation. But that should not prevent us from using him as an example going forward. What happens in 2014 may make the difference between liberty and tyranny for the U.S. And if the U.S. turns toward tyranny, then there will be no one for those fighting for the rights of oppressed people to turn to for help. Then the light of liberty will likely fade into obscurity for decades, which is something that the world should not have to accept as its future.
Videos of Viet Dzung performing his compositions may be found here.
An Asia Entertainment video featuring Viet Dzung’s music may be seen here.
Thề Không Phản Bội Quê Hương – Việt Dzũng & Nguyệt Ánh
Bên Bờ Đại Dương (Hoàng Trọng & Hồ Đình Phương) – Việt Dzũng
Hận Ly Hương (Anh Hoa) – Việt Dzũng
Thúc Quân (Văn Giảng) – Việt Dzũng & Nguyệt Ánh
Chiều Vàng (Nguyễn Văn Khánh) – Việt Dzũng
Đón Xuân (Phạm Đình Chương) – Việt Dzũng
Nha Trang (Minh Kỳ) – Việt Dzũng
Những Nẻo Đường Việt Nam (Thanh Bình) – Việt Dzũng, Nguyệt Ánh, Tuấn Minh
Nhân Quyền Ở Đâu (Nguyệt Ánh) – Việt Dzũng & Nguyệt Ánh
Vẫn Còn Đây Các Con Của Mẹ (Nguyệt Ánh) – Việt Dzũng & Nguyệt Ánh