Vietnamese refugees’ son wanted to repay his country
An Army Honor Guard drapes a flag over the casket of Private 1st Class Tan Quoc Ngo at Friday’s ceremony at Willamette National Cemetery. Ngo was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 27. 2008.
Tan Quoc Ngo tried and tried to join the Army. But his asthma kept him out.
On his third or fourth try, after a year in the Job Corps, his health must have improved because the Army finally made his wish come true. Ngo (pronounced “No”) became infantry, on the front lines. Not only that, he volunteered to be a turret gunner and earned the nickname “Ngo Go.”
He was the oldest of four sons, born in Portland and raised in Beaverton, whose parents were Vietnamese refugees. Being in the Army was his way of repaying his nation.
“He wanted to protect his country. He didn’t want another 9/11,” said his mother, Binh Thanh Sam, 39. “He said, ‘This is our home now, I want to take care of it.’ This is the age that they enjoy life. But he didn’t even think of himself.”
Ngo, 20, was killed Aug. 27 in Afghanistan when his unit came under fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. As his Humvee passed an orchard, Ngo was exposed as the turret gunner and the enemy directed fire at him, said Brigadier Gen. William Rapp.
On Friday, incense wafted, a bagpiper played and monks in saffron robes prayed as Ngo’s body was brought to Willamette National Cemetery by a military honor guard.
“Words are certainly no match for our collective grief that this brave son of Oregon is gone,” Gov. Ted Kulongoski told his parents and mourners.
William Vuong, an adviser for the Vietnamese Community of Oregon, addressed Pvt. 1st Class Ngo.
“Your mission is complete,” Vuong said. “You are truly a Vietnamese and American hero.”
Binh Thanh Sam is led to her seat during Friday’s service for her son, Tan Quoc Ngo, who died in combat in Afghanistan
“He always said, ‘Mom, I love you,’” Sam said. “He was a big boy, but a little kid at heart.”
Ngo attended Elmonica Elementary School, Five Oaks Middle School and graduated from Westview High School in 2006.
He liked nothing better than playing pickup basketball or football, or playing cards with friends in his Beaverton neighborhood, even when he came home from the Army.
“He had lots of moms, he was a neighborhood boy,” Sam said. “They called him the neighborhood soldier boy.”
He also liked video games, including Grand Theft Auto and Halo, said his 15-year-old brother, Tien “Timmy” Ngo.
Another of Tan Ngo’s hobbies was cooking. He could turn anything, even potatoes and eggs, into a meal as long as it was super spicy, Timmy Ngo said.
“He could put anything together and make it taste good,” Timmy Ngo said.
After graduating, Tan Ngo entered the Job Corps, first working to become a chef and then as a house painter.
But he still wanted to be a soldier. Sam didn’t believe it was really happening until the day he left home. She looks at a photo of her son before he entered basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and sees a worried boy. The photo after he graduated shows a proud man.
The OregonianBrigadier General David B. Enyeart presents the flag to Binh Thanh Sam, mother of Private 1st Class Tan Quoc Ngo, at Friday’s service at Willamette National Cemetery.
He went to Afghanistan on June 23, his 20th birthday. He called or e-mailed friends and family just about every day, but he clearly didn’t want anyone to worry. He said little more about his mission than he was “keeping the peace.” The wildest story was about the crazy haircuts the guys in his unit got, Timmy Ngo said.
In Afghanistan, Tan Ngo adopted a dog he named Outlaw. It would disappear during the day, but come around at night, when Ngo would feed him.
After his three-year enlistment was up, Ngo planned to re-enlist, Sam said. He wanted to be a sergeant. Beyond that, he thought about studying medicine so he could help soldiers injured in battle.
The last time Sam talked to her son was Aug. 23, when the family was camping at Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area near Lincoln City. It was like any other day for Ngo. He was getting ready to go out on patrol.
Ngo told them the first thing he wanted do when he got home was go camping.
David R. Anderson
September 05, 2008, 10:02 PM Updated: Friday, July 16, 2010, 3:45 PM