ARLINGTON, Vir.―Vietnam War veteran Bill Ridley hosted an evening of Vietnamese culture, called “Taste, Texture, Beauty” at Lac Viet Gallery on Oct. 3. It was his own way to pay back what he feels his countrymen owe to the Vietnamese people.
In 1970, at the age of 23, Mr. Ridley was assigned to a South Vietnamese Army unit as a combat advisor in the Mekong Delta. He was the team leader of six American soldiers who advised Vietnamese in fighting the communists.
“My position required me to live and work with the Vietnamese soldiers and their families. We were at their bases and outposts. It’s what I called ‘immersion of the culture.’ That was where I found my admiration and appreciation for Vietnamese people and the culture,” said Mr. Ridley.
Mr. Ridley left Vietnam about one year later in May, 1971. “In 1975, when the South Vietnamese Army collapsed and ultimately surrendered to the Communist North, I was enraged by our government’s failure to support the South Vietnamese military in its hour of need,” said Mr. Ridley.
Since the end of the war, Mr. Ridley has been concerned about the soldiers and his friends he knew in Vietnam, but didn’t know how to reach out to the country Vietnam and its people.
“Since that period of my life, I have dedicated myself to helping the Vietnamese people in any way I can. One way for me is through travel and tourism.” That’s why he added the annual tour to Vietnam to the programs of his company BK Travel, which he founded soon after he retired from the U.S. military in 1999, with 31 years of service.
A year ago, Mr. Ridley met Tu-Anh Nguyen, a female Vietnamese-American fashion designer and consultant, who founded “Polished by Tu-Anh Design and Creative Consulting.” Ms. Nguyen was featured and recognized in Designers & Couture of "Best of DC" (Inaugural Edition) published in 2009. Together, they designed tonight’s event to give Americans exposure to the beauty of Vietnam, its people and its cuisine.
At Lac Viet Gallery, numerous pieces of art works by Vietnamese artists were exhibited—paintings, photographs, intricate embroidered work, handicrafts, and lacquer work. Stylists and models showcased the feminine and exotic Vietnamese silk “ao dai” (Vietnamese national outfit) from various Viet designers around the globe. Royalty food from northern, central, and southern Vietnam was also served.
Mr. Ridley said, “The majority of Vietnam War veterans, I would say, would like to see the country again and a small portion of them don’t want to see it or even think about it again.”
“Some Vietnam War veterans I met felt as though the U.S. had betrayed Vietnam when our troops pulled back home…,” said Ms. Nguyen, who escaped from Vietnam at the age of nine. “Some want to return to Vietnam and visit, but are afraid that the Vietnamese people will hate them and not welcome them. But I tell them the Vietnamese do not talk about it and they have moved on, and they love American tourists.”
The exhibit attracted some who have not been much exposed to Vietnamese culture before. Maureen Walters, an IT professional, came to the event, hoping to learn a bit more about Vietnamese culture, photography, and music. She hopes to travel to Vietnam within a year.
“I like the gentle nature of Vietnamese, their honesty. Good people,” said Walters.